Following the footsteps of Singapore and South Korea, India has launched its own contact tracking app, called Corona Kavach. The app tracks the data of the user every hour to alert them whether they have crossed paths with any person who tested positive for coronavirus. While this might be beneficial for the user, privacy activists flag concerns.
The contact tracking app is a joint effort of the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and the Union Ministry of Health & Family Welfare. The user’s location is mapped through GPS on the app to assess whether they are at a high-risk geographical zone or not. Data experts believe that this could be beneficial for a country like India that has a large number of cellphone users.
The description for Corona Kavach mentions that the identity of the user would not be disclosed to anyone, including the government. However, privacy expert Apar Gupta told India Today, “These applications by themselves aim towards providing data-rich insights. However, they also run the risk of mass surveillance given that these apps are coming without any underlying legal framework for privacy protections being in place. As India does not have a pre-existing data protection law and there is a lack of statutory protection in place there is also a further problem given that these specific applications on the Play Store itself do not link to applicable privacy policies.”
However, data expert Karnika Seth believes this app is for a good cause. Seth told India Today that since this app is for public health and safety, it falls in the parameters of the law and is justified, considering the extreme circumstances. “While the government launches any apps for surveillance they fall under the purview of the IT Act – Section 69 and 69A of the IT Act where it can monitor traffic and data,” said Seth.
The British government has also announced the launch of a similar contact tracking app but also plans to appoint an ethics board to oversee the project. Activists believe a similar board by the government might ease concerns.