Qatar COVID-19 Tracing App Stirs Rare Privacy Backlash

(FILES) In this file picture taken on March 16, 2020 A person sporting a masks as a precaution towards COVID-19 coronavirus illness, walks alongside the Doha corniche within the Qatari capital. QATAR OUT / AFP.


Privacy issues over Qatar’s coronavirus contact tracing app, a software that’s obligatory on ache of jail, have prompted a uncommon backlash and compelled officers to supply reassurance and concessions.

Like different governments all over the world, Qatar has turned to cell phones to hint folks’s actions and observe who they arrive into contact with, permitting officers to watch coronavirus infections and alert folks liable to contagion.

The apps use Bluetooth radio indicators to “ping” close by units, which could be contacted subsequently if a consumer they’ve been close to develops signs or checks optimistic, however the resultant unprecedented entry to customers’ location knowledge has prompted fears about state surveillance.

Qatar’s model goes significantly additional — it forces Android customers to allow entry to their image and video galleries, whereas additionally permitting the app to make unprompted calls.

“I can’t understand why it needs all these permissions,” wrote Ala’a on a Facebook group in style with Doha’s massive expat neighborhood — one among a number of such boards peppered with issues over the app.

Justin Martin, a journalism professor primarily based in Qatar, warned authorities in a tweet to not “erode” belief by implementing “an app with such alarming permissions”.

The authorities launched the “Ehteraz” app, which means “precaution”, in April and on Friday it turned obligatory for all residents and authorized residents to put in it on their telephones.

Non-compliance is punishable by as much as three years in jail — the identical time period as for failing to put on a masks in public — in a state battling one of many world’s highest per capita an infection charges.

– ‘Highly invasive’ –

Almost 44,000 of Qatar’s 2.75 million folks have examined optimistic for the respiratory illness — 1.6 % of the inhabitants — and 23 folks have died.

Security forces manned checkpoints throughout Qatar on Sunday to make sure use of the app, native media reported, alongside checking to be used of masks.

Criticism of the federal government is uncommon in Qatar and legal guidelines prohibit disrespect in the direction of officers.

However, officers have mentioned that the legislation on the app shall be enforced with “understanding”.

The app’s easy interface shows colored bar-codes containing the consumer’s ID quantity — inexperienced for wholesome, pink for COVID-19 optimistic and yellow for quarantined instances. Grey signifies suspected instances or those that have come into contact with contaminated people.

Mohamed bin Hamad Al-Thani, a director at Qatar’s well being ministry, mentioned that knowledge gathered is “completely confidential”.

“There will be an update for the Ehteraz app to address the issues of concern and further improve its efficiency,” he added in an interview on state tv on Thursday.

A brand new model of the software program was duly launched for Apple and Android on Sunday, promising “minor bug fixes”, however with out indicating that the invasive facets had been eliminated.

The app was launched simply as authorities throughout the Muslim world warned that gatherings throughout Ramadan and the Eid al-Fitr competition that marks the top of the holy fasting month may result in a surge of infections.

– ‘Burner’ telephones –

“There are two key concerns… with the app,” mentioned Human Rights Watch researcher Hiba Zayadin.

It “is highly invasive, with a range of permissions allowing the government access to things that are not needed for the purpose of contact tracing, permissions that are unnecessary and present a concerning invasion of privacy.”

But additionally “many migrant workers in the country don’t have compatible phones that would allow them to download the app and comply”.

Online critiques have additionally complained that the app drains battery energy and can’t be put in on older iPhone handsets.

Some have seemed for tactics across the coverage.

“People are spending money and waiting in queues just to get burner phones to protect their privacy,” wrote expat engineer Janko on one discussion board, referring to low cost handsets that would subsequently be disposed of.

There have been reviews of some customers being wrongly categorized as “quarantined” or “suspected cases”.

“There’s no need for photo access and other things. But it could be a good tool. It is a good way to prioritise whom to test,” know-how lawyer Rahul Matthan informed AFP.

But “to work, they need a large number of people to use it. If people are dissuaded because of the app’s overreach, then that would be a worry.”


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