Coronavirus Outbreak: In Kashmir, health surveys seeking phone numbers, Aadhaar details lead to privacy concerns

With coronavirus cases rising in Kashmir, teams of health workers, donning protective gear and collecting phone numbers and Aadhaar details, have become a common sight. These measures, however, have led to concerns about privacy and misuse of data.

During door-to-door screening, health workers also ask people about their travel history. They note down whether people are suffering from any ailments, and whether they currently have any symptoms of coronavirus.

Efforts to collect phone numbers and Aadhaar numbers have met with resistance, and there have been several cases of health teams being attacked by people. For instance, Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Budgam, Nazir Ahmad Bhat, said that health teams were attacked in central Kashmir’s Wathoora when they went for screening to contain coronavirus.

 Coronavirus Outbreak: In Kashmir, health surveys seeking phone numbers, Aadhaar details lead to privacy concerns

Representational image. AP

On 27 April, Deputy Commissioner, Srinagar Shahid Choudhary had also tweeted that there were incidents of resistance to health surveys. He had said, “House-to-House Health Survey/Audit under progress in #Srinagar. Indispensable for better planning and response. Sporadic reports of non-cooperation. Request citizens to please help visiting teams for accurate health data. It’s a collective fight against COVID-19.”

Samir Matoo, Director Health Services, Kashmir, said that the health screening is aimed at containing the spread of the disease in the region. He said, “It is the job of the health workers to obtain cell phone numbers in order to ensure a better containment strategy.”

However, for many, these measures are reminiscent of earlier instances of security forces asking people to divulge phone numbers or information about their families.

Prior to that, authorities announced the setting up of a COVID-19 call centre and an app for tracking the disease.

Many Kashmiris wonder whether the measures will be effective, particularly when the government has restricted the internet speed. There has also been concern over some people fleeing quarantine centres, and complaints of infections spreading at isolation facilities. Some doctors have also been suspended due to people fleeing quarantine centres.

Tauseef Ahmad Bhat, a 34-year-old IT training professional, said, “The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on our lives. The government claims that it is serious about controlling the disease and says that digital connectivity will help control the infection. However, the snapping of high-speed internet remains a serious issue. There are also concerns that hackers can gain access data through health apps, or through unauthorised access to our mobile numbers.”

The government has, however, said that high-speed internet services have been blocked to prevent violence and uploading of videos that fan anti-India activities in the Valley.

Commenting on the collection of phone numbers and Aadhaar data, RTI activist Sheikh Ghulam Rasool said, “Making people provide phone numbers and Aadhaar numbers is an attack on privacy. Such surveillance measures leave people’s vital information open to misuse.”

Updated Date: May 18, 2020 23:45:59 IST

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