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Is transparency too much to ask for?

28th May 2020
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Photo Credit: Mint

By Sushant Kumar

While sheltering at home to keep herself safe from the novel coronavirus, Neela Chandra was overwhelmed with updates on TV and social media but wasn’t certain how to sift through the clutter. One message on how technology was helping fight the disease caught her eye. It urged her to download Aarogya Setu, the contact-tracing app endorsed by the government, but she wondered about the privacy risks. Would it get access to all her data? Would she be able to restrict access after deleting the app?

Many of us have been in Chandra’s shoes, sceptical about new technology. Digital technology will be part of any solution in the future, though not the panacea. World Health Organization has outlined a protocol of test, trace, isolate and support as a strategy for tackling covid-19. For each person that tests positive, officials aim to trace every contact that was exposed to that person and isolate them in a quarantine centre. This offline approach, adopted for communicable diseases, has now been supplemented with mobile-based contact tracing.

Based on Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s covid tracing tracker, over 25 countries have some form of contact-tracing mobile application, with a combination of Bluetooth and GPS-based proximity and location tracking. The Indian version of this app is Aarogya Setu, which has seen a significant offtake but has also faced spirited critiques from privacy advocates.

Government support for Aarogya Setu has placed technology in the spotlight. Technology applications should stand on three pillars of good governance—transparency, accountability and fairness to meaningfully invigorate our response to this crisis. There has been progress on all counts, but with scope for improvement.

To know more, read the full op-ed here.