FEATURE-Trackers to hide detectors: India relies on COVID technology amid privacy fears

In this news, we discuss the FEATURE-Trackers to hide detectors: India relies on COVID technology amid privacy fears

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By Annie Banerji NEW DELHI, November 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – From a tracker that can tell where someone is sleeping at night to a device that detects whether they have a mask or not, the Indian government is banking on high solutions. technology to fight COVID -19, despite growing privacy concerns.

Officials called on local businesses to develop artificial intelligence (AI) -based technology to help stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. More than 8.5 million people in India have been infected with the virus, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker, making it the most affected country after the United States.

With nationwide lockdown restrictions lifted, people are starting to return to work and travel again, prompting public and private actors to turn to data-driven technology to track their movements, verify temperatures and reinforce social distancing. “The world is getting back on its feet and a new sense of normalcy is returning. Now is the time to put these solutions in place to make people feel safe, ”said Akshata Kari, co-founder of Pixuate, an AI-based video analytics company in the Bengaluru tech hub.

Pixuate was one of six companies selected in May by the government Technology Development Board (TDB) to develop “an inexpensive solution to identify people with abnormal body temperature in a crowd” and alert authorities. Pixuate’s product, which uses thermal cameras, has features like facial recognition and the ability to track a person – even if they’re wearing a mask – and predict their age, gender and race, TDB said. in a press release.

These data-driven technologies are gaining momentum across the world as countries seek ways to slow the spread of the virus, but their merit and effectiveness are questionable, warn privacy advocates. Urvashi Aneja, founding director of the political and advocacy collective Tandem Research, which reviewed the technological tools used during the pandemic, described some as “alarming.”

“When you create a society where you constantly monitor citizens, you also create a situation where people start to self-sanction or self-censor. And that’s fundamentally not good for a democracy, ”Aneja said. Pixuate is expected to install its new product by the end of the year in “some very large companies and also government entities,” Kari said, without naming them.

Authorities last week installed the device at a popular shopping mall in southern Bengaluru city as part of a clean air project to make the area reserved for pedestrians on weekends, Kari added. . “There are behavior changes happening, and the controls, like the temperature, the wearing of masks, social distancing protocols or the way we greet each other… have changed for good,” she says.

“In the post-COVID world, this will be the new normal, especially if we want to prevent another contagion.” ‘PROBLEMATIC’

At least 88 technological tools have been deployed to support India’s public health response to the pandemic, said Aneja, a speaker at the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s annual trust conference on Wednesday. In April, the federal government launched the Aarogya Setu mobile contact tracing application, or “Health Bridge,” which collects users’ GPS location data via Bluetooth to create a centralized database.

While use of the app is generally voluntary, it has been made mandatory for food deliverers, the government, and some private sector employees. Also earlier this year, municipal workers in the northern city of Chandigarh were told they had to wear GPS watches that track their effectiveness, which sparked backlash from employees, activists and experts. in technology regarding privacy issues.

Authorities say certain measures are needed to keep people safe. “Technology should be used to improve access and quality of health care, ”said Praveen Gedam, deputy director general of the National Health Authority, in comments via email.

“Advances in digital health must be accompanied by the necessary guarantees and protections for the privacy of individuals, and due process must be followed.” In April, government tenders for a “staff tracking GPS solution” and a “COVID-19 patient tracking tool” raised red flags among rights groups digital, who warned they were going beyond healthcare and venturing into mass surveillance.

Broadcast Engineering Consultants India Limited (BECIL), under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, said it wanted the first device to be wearable, like a wristwatch, so it could track the location of medical workers during working hours. The patient-tracking tool, BECIL said, is expected to detect “where the suspect has spent most of his time and who all he’s encountered” as well as where he’s ordering food is walking around and sleeps at night.

This prompted the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), a New Delhi-based digital rights advocacy group, to file a legal opinion with BECIL to stop the procurement process. Devdutta Mukhopadhyay, an IFF lawyer, said BECIL had yet to respond to the organization’s legal opinion and it was not clear whether the government company had acquired the devices.

BECIL did not respond to several requests for comment. Mukhopadhyay noted that as long as India does not have a data protection law or independent data protection authority, there are few guarantees and no remedies for misuse of user data or violation of their digital privacy rights.

The draft law on the protection of personal data currently under consideration by a parliamentary committee does not cover surveillance activities. The bill contains provisions allowing the government to circumvent protection standards and consent in certain circumstances, such as national security or the investigation of a crime, Mukhopadhyay said.

“It’s extremely problematic because it’s a blanket exemption given to the government,” she said. Neither the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting nor the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology were available for comment.

SUNSET CLAUSE Electronics and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has pledged India will have a strong personal data protection law that will address citizens’ concerns about privacy Datas.

“The data must belong to the sovereign nation concerned to protect the privacy of its inhabitants,” he said at a virtual G20 meeting in July. But with the wave of technological measures launched in response to the coronavirus, campaigners warn of ‘function creep’ – the use of data for purposes other than those for which it was collected – after the pandemic ends .

A “sunset clause” – or expiration date – on tech tools, which would include deleting data after the pandemic, could be a solution, Tandem Research’s Aneja said. “Otherwise you’ll just see these technologies being reallocated to something else and that’s dangerous,” she said.

IFF’s Mukhopadhyay added that companies should provide access to independent third parties and allow independent third parties to publicly audit their technologies to build trust. She also called on the government to introduce digital literacy and awareness classes in schools, teaching children about issues such as cybersecurity, data privacy and fake news.

“It’s something that needs to be taught from an early age because we need everyone to care about it,” she said.

News Highlights:

  • FEATURE-Trackers to hide detectors: India relies on COVID technology amid privacy fears
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