Covid response tech leaves Indians more exposed to data collection: briefing


India’s e-governance has gained momentum during the COVID-19 pandemic and mobile phone money transfer through the country’s Aadhaar biometric system has become the main method of distributing welfare and relief aid. urgency, but at what cost to confidentiality and trust asks Åshild Kolås in a policy brief for the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO).

“Indian authorities have engaged in unprecedented collection, sorting, storage and processing of uniquely identifiable health data in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Public trust in India’s e-governance architecture is vital for good citizen-state relations,” concludes Kolås.

The national e-governance plan, e-Kranti, was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015 and used Aadhaar. Despite the data leaks, the private sector and government agencies were equipped to verify digital ID numbers online and social assistance was distributed to linked bank accounts.

One of them is the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY), which aims to bring low-income and unbanked Indian households into the formal financial sector. Four hundred million of these accounts had been opened by August 2020, the brief notes, with various other benefits paid to them.

When in March 2020 Prime Minister Modi announced a first stay-at-home order, migrants were barred from workplaces and forced to return home, despite transport being shut down. This put enormous pressure on the welfare system.

Emergency payments began and the Aarogya Setu app for contact tracing, infection mapping with geolocation and self-assessment was launched the following month. It was mandatory for the public and some private sectors and evolved into a travel and entry pass. It was quickly downloaded 120 million times.

This became controversial when updates linked Aarogya Setu to Aadhaar and people feared their data would be shared with the health system, via the new cloud-based National Health Stack. Kolås states that the stack developer has admitted this. This has created a new way for the government to monitor public health.

However, it was up to individuals to decide whether or not to report positive results or keep Bluetooth active.

Through his research in the literature up to the post-pandemic era, Kolås arrives at a series of questions about the ability of the Indian government and Modi in particular to lead the country in such a situation while protecting the vulnerable and keeping pace with modernization plans. .

“How are India’s digital and social divides affected by the growing need to own a smartphone to access services when large swathes of the population do not have these devices?”

“How will the privacy rights of Indian citizens be protected? Who is legally responsible for protecting citizens against identity theft, misuse of data and illegal surveillance? »

Kolås finds that the pandemic “has stretched the capacity of India’s e-governance infrastructure and the fabric of Indian society, accelerating Indian people’s reliance on digital infrastructure, mobile networks and ‘smart’ devices. “”.

IMF leaders recently praised Aadhaar’s role in digitalization and social service delivery and expressed hope that it would impress the importance of digital identity on other nations during India’s upcoming presidency of the G20. Meanwhile, Kolås concludes, “Post-pandemic, the integration of e-governance in India and extensive data collection enables the Indian government to transform individual citizens into datasets that can be much more easily known, governed and plotted.

Article topics

adhar | biometric data | biometrics | data collection | data privacy | data sharing | digital government | digital identification | India | social security | surveillance


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