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Data deals during Covid times


Migrant labourers watch a movie on their mobile phone while resting under a bridge during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Mumbai on April 16, 2020.


Technical experts have termed Covid-19 as the first pandemic after smart phones have become universal.  When ways to fight the pandemic and follow the infected were explored, surveillance of the mobile phones came up as the answer.  Hence, almost all countries started to come up with applications with the help of telecom departments and internet service providers to spy on civil life. China was the first to start tracking of citizens with the assistance of multinational corporate Alibaba.  Arrests within ten minutes of defying quarantine rules,  made headlines. Soon, Singapore, South Korea and others followed suit.

These applications were accepted worldwide as the most effective method of public health preservation.  Those in power called on the people to download such apps. Panic-stricken people got frenzied to download such applications which alerted users on the proximity of Covid infected persons. Meanwhile, Amnesty International, European Union and a section of technical experts seriously raise concerns that governments, technical giants and internet service providers are working on data mining  of more than half of the global population. Joseph Canttaci, special rapporteur of United Nations on privacy rights, said on such applications,  “Things are happening very fast. But no one is doing sufficient scrutiny”.

The discussion over the decision of Apple and Google to jointly develop a technology to ensure social distancing and public health preservation easy, attracted the expert’s probe on the probability of data exploitation. The app revleasedby Israel government to fight Covid was to monitor those  suspected of spying.  It is also found that apps used by Germany, Russia, Poland, France, United States and others are breaching data privacy rights of the citizens. Criticism is also raised against ‘Arogya Sethu’ app,  released by the Ministry of Central Information Technology, that it enables the monitoring of civil life of citizens by the government. The technological health measures during Covid 19 are becoming a great opportunity to mine the personal data and breach the privacy of the individuals. The rulers are smartly exploiting this opportunity to enmesh their citizens to the massive surveillance system.  Corporate giants and governments are seizing the situation as the right time for amassment of investment for data economy that is expected to be in place in a post-Covid world. Kumi Naidu, Amnesty International secretary said: “Such platforms raise gross human right challenges of our times.”

Though inherent with such dangers, collection of personal data for health preservation and research and their interpretation thereafter with the help of technology cannot be denounced altogether. Indeed they are highly beneficial to human welfare.  However, it is beyond doubt that large scale exploitation may happen if that goes uncontrolled by checks and balances.  Almost all technology giants, including Google and Facebook, are facing legal measures in the United States and Europe for illegal data mining.  As a big race is on for data to dominate the post-Covid world, data of Kerala, as a state which effectively contained the disease, is highly crucial.  It is alarming that Kerala Government was highly negligent while handing over data of the quarantined people to Sprinklr, a data trading company.  The Left, which is vocal against Aadhaar and warns of the hidden dangers of Individual Data Security Bill, is not expected to perform in such a negligent manner in the matters of data collection. If this is not rectified, the Left government will be denying itselfthe moral right to fight against the surveillance of citizens of the union government through ‘Arogya Sethu’ application.

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