The current pandemic has resulted in unwonted bureaucratic manoeuvres across the world. Among the many state actions that we have seen in the past few months, the increasing reliance on surveillance technology to tackle the virus stands out. From contact tracing to quarantining selfies, smartphone applications determine the course of public health actions. As a natural fallout, public debates on the use and misuse of surveillance data have re-emerged. While there is a conflict between privacy and convenience—in terms of swiping your credit card to buy groceries or sharing your Google or Facebook account information for some freebies online—in normal times, more critical issues like that of healthcare and national security come to the fore in the so-called ‘war-like’ situations.
A parallel is drawn between the post-9/11 global war against terrorism and the present crisis. While the dichotomy was between national security and individual privacy in the context of a global war and an increased use of tech-based surveillance, the present pandemic offers a much critical dilemma, between protecting personal privacy and saving lives. Whether it is the Centre’s push to a massive downloading and usage of Aarogya Setu app or the Kerala government’s Sprinklr deal, the primetime newsrooms in the country mainly seek to settle this dilemma between the right to privacy and the right to life itself.
Views expressed are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research.
Dr Harisankar K Sathyapalan is Research Fellow (International Law and Dispute Settlement) with the CPPR Centre for Comparative Studies. He is currently Assistant Professor at the School of Legal Studies, Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT), India. He holds a PhD (Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore) and an LLM (Indian Law Institute, New Delhi). Hari’s research interests include transnational commercial law, conflict of laws and international dispute resolution.