Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is accusing the federal government of preventing tech companies like Google and Apple from working with provinces to improve their contact tracing apps.
"Unfortunately the government of Canada has told Google and Apple not to work with the government of Alberta — or other provincial governments — on improving the TraceTogether app," Kenney said during a press conference earlier today.
Alberta's app, called ABTraceTogether, uses Bluetooth technology to identify other nearby smart phones that also have the app installed.
But the province's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said that the app doesn't function on iPhones unless the app is open and the phone is unlocked.
A report released last week by Alberta's privacy commissioner indicated that leaving the app open could be a privacy concern.
Watch: Jason Kenney on the Albert vs. national contract tracing app row:
"Running the app on Apple devices requires a device to remain unlocked, which significantly increases risk in case of theft or loss," privacy commissioner Jill Clayton said in a press release.
Kenney said he wants to work with Apple and Google to fix the problem, but Ottawa wants to deal with tech companies itself.
"They [the federal government] want cooperation on a single national platform, but there isn't one," Kenney said.
"They are effectively reducing the functionality of an app which can help us in the midst of a public health crisis."
Apple and Google have said they are restricting use of their technology to one app per country, to avoid creating a patchwork of apps and to promote their use. The two companies are leaving some room for exceptions, however.
Kenney isn't the first premier to accuse Ottawa of interfering with provincial plans for a contact tracing app. New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said in June that the feds have stifled his province's attempts to implement its own app.
Last month, the federal government announced it would be developing a national contact tracing app to be used across the country.
The project is being spearheaded by the Canadian Digital Service, a federal initiative, and the Ontario Digital Service, with help from volunteers from the tech firm Shopify. It incorporates Bluetooth technology provided by Apple and Google.
The app was supposed to launch in Ontario last week before being launched in other provinces, but the initial Ontario launch was delayed.
In reaction to Kenney's comments, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the federal government has been working with Apple and Google and the national app will be launched soon.
"We continue to work with Apple, Google and our partners in jurisdictions across Canada on a voluntary national app that will be ready for download very soon," Hajdu said in an email to CBC.
Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the province would support a national app but it still wants to be able to work with the companies to fix Alberta's app.
"If we're going to be asked to help [the federal government] in the development of another app, that's fine. But look, let's allow Google and Apple to work with us to make sure the ABTraceTogether is fully functional," Shandro said.
Kenney said he brought up the issue with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a recent weekly call with the premiers. The Council of the Federation is expected to hold another such call later this week.