Privacy Issues in government backed Apps

Source- The Hindu

SyllabusGS 3 – Awareness in the fields of IT, space, computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights IPR.

Synopsis- Data privacy issues related to government technology platforms and their possible solutions.

Background-

  • Recently, WhatsApp has rollbacked their privacy policy after facing a huge backlash from users. Many users started switching to competitor apps such as Signal and Telegram.
  • This shows that Indian consumers are becoming more aware and concerned about data privacy.
  • However, since the first COVID lockdown, at least 35 mobile apps have been launched across India. All these apps specifically address COVID-19 related information. But the privacy issues in these Apps have not been addressed. 

What are the challenges with government technology platforms?

  • First, Government monopoly – Governments typically have a monopoly in providing public services. Thus, porting out or digital migration is not possible in that case. For example, there is no alternative to Aadhar, Aarogya setu app.
  • Second, lack of consistency– Most of the COVID-19 apps launched by State governments have lacked consistency in terms of the features, functionalities, and information updates. This is due to the reason that updation of data in government tech platforms carried out manually.
  • Third, Data privacy is also a cause of concern in many of these government applications. For example- Most of the apps are only informative and intended to issue advisories. But they have sought permissions for location, photos, storage, and camera.
  • Fourth, most of these apps failed to meet the necessity and proportionality principle of data privacy.
      • Necessity- According to this principle, data must be adequate, relevant, and limited to the purpose for which they are processed. In simple words, is the data necessary for the mobile application to achieve its goal?
      • Proportionality- If the action must be sanctioned by law, then it must have a legitimate aim. Apart from that, there must be procedural guarantees against any abuses also.

What needs to be done to improve government technology platforms?

  • First, The government should work on a collective database structure by combining two or more state/organisation’s apps. This can prevent multiple unwanted permission requests in apps and can also address data privacy issues. For example, integrating Aarogya Setu app with the State mobile apps to provide integrated service.
  • Second, the government can follow a decentralized approach. Many European countries are moving towards a decentralized system for contact tracing apps. These apps offer greater protection against abuse and misuse of people’s data compared to centralized apps. This is because,
      • The chances of data abuse and misuse are less because information residing in many individual systems and not in a centralized system.
  • Third, clear regulation on government technology platforms. This can contribute to improve public services and also improve public trust in the government’s technology initiatives.
  • Fourth, structured audit on government-backed technological initiatives. The negatives can be rectified and improve public services. The positives, on the other hand, will boost the government as a potential service provider.

Way forward-

State governments launched mobile apps have proved government has the capacity to deliver technology services to people. But it needs a little course correction to improve public confidence.

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