Is it safe to use the government’s Covid-19 app?

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Shafaqna Pakistan: اThe federal government on Wednesday said that there was no rhyme or reason for citizens to believe reports of security flaws and bugs in its Covid-19 Gov PK application aimed at providing easy access to information on ventilator availability in hospitals across the country. Analysts are mulling over is it safe to use the government’s Covid-19 app?

According to a press release by the National Information Technology Board (NITB) in this regard, the issues put forward by a French researcher were “incorrect”.

“The purpose of the app is to stop the epidemic’s spread. A very limited personal information of the user is collected. The app does not show the exact coordinates of the infected people, instead, it shows the radius parameter that is fixed by default at 10 meters for self-declared patients and 300 meters at a quarantine location. Hence, self-declared patients have given their consent to reveal their coordinates for the safety of other citizens. Moreover, they have accepted our app privacy policy/terms and conditions,” it said.

The Android app requests users to allow it to access their mobile location data to show Covid-19 patient within a radius of 30 to 300 metres. It also allows patients to mark their location on the app to help others identify if there is a positive case in their locality.

Government’s Covid-19 app: Using authoritarian tech to get more control?
To ensure lockdowns and physical distancing, the governments around the world are using various tactics ranging from the imposition of fines to digital cameras to restrict people’s movements. Analyst are mulling over is the use of authoritarian tech eroding privacy?

Sindh, province of southeastern Pakistan, Police Department’s Security and Emergency Service Division has recently launched an application dubbed “Citizen Monitoring App.” The Citizen Monitoring App is designed to keep tabs on citizens roaming around the city. It will be available only to the officials and will be installed on Mobile Phones used by officers deputed at police checkpoints.

Similarly, the Moscow police claimed to have caught and fined 200 people who violated quarantine and self-isolation using facial recognition and a 170,000-camera system. According to a Russian media report some of the alleged violators who were fined had been outside for less than half a minute before they were picked up by a camera.

In Israel, the Shin Bet security service has shifted its powerful surveillance program to retrace the movements of coronavirus patients or suspected carriers. The mechanism is similar to that used in Russia — phone and credit card data are used for mapping, and health officials must then alert and quarantine people who were within 2 meters, for 10 minutes or more, of someone infected with the virus, according to the country’s Health Ministry.

In South Korea, the government used data from credit card transactions, phone geolocation, and surveillance footage to give detailed information on coronavirus patients, without identifying them by name, according to a government website. The result was a map where people can see if they were in close proximity to a coronavirus carrier. Detailed histories led to some patients being doxxed — having their personal information outed without consent — and authorities decided to scale down the data-sharing policies.

As citizens have been asked to use the government’s Covid-19 app, experts believe that these tools will become a permanent part of our lives, and the governments will use them to control citizens. Is the use of authoritarian tech eroding privacy? Yuval Noah Harari, author of ‘Sapiens’, ‘Homo Deus’ and ‘21 Lessons for the 21st Century’, believes that “many short-term emergency measures will become a fixture of life. That is the nature of emergencies. They fast-forward historical processes. Decisions that in normal times could take years of deliberation are passed in a matter of hours.”

Moreover, Harari notes that “immature and even dangerous technologies are pressed into service, because the risks of doing nothing are bigger. Entire countries serve as guinea-pigs in large-scale social experiments. What happens when everybody works from home and communicates only at a distance? What happens when entire schools and universities go online? In normal times, governments, businesses and educational boards would never agree to conduct such experiments. But these aren’t normal times.”