A new study by Amnesty International analyzing COVID-19 contact tracking applications found that Bahrain and Kuwait are using their public health applications as mass surveillance tools,media reported. The study analyzed a collection of contact tracing applications from 11 countries designed to notify and monitor physical contact between people in cases of COVID-19 infection. Algeria, Bahrain, France, Iceland, Israel, Kuwait, Lebanon, Norway, Qatar, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates. The study found that three of the applications collected satellite location data for users, rather than simply relying on Bluetooth signals and matching the account to their real identity.
In one extreme case, some citizens who downloaded the BeAware Bahrain Contact Tracking app became a citizen called Are You At Home? Contestants in the TV game show. During the program, the host uses random videos collected by the government to call the phone numberof of Bahrainis, check whether they comply with the social distance guidelines, and give financial rewards to those who follow the guidelines. By registering BeAware Bahrain, users are automatically registered to “Are You At Home?” produced by Bahrain Television, a state-controlled television channel. 》
Amnesty International found that the application it analyzed in the Gulf states was one of the most intrusive, collecting and storing GPS data, making it easy for the government to identify someone based on the account ID. The Norwegian app is also marked as putting citizens’ privacy at risk because it collects and stores location data on a central server. But the country said on Monday it would suspend the launch of its app, called Smittestopp, after Amnesty International shared its findings with the Norwegian government.
Mobile contact tracing has been implemented in dozens of countries around the world, but has been slow to start in the United States. However, these approaches vary — most importantly around user privacy, and whether data should be anonymized and stored locally, or whether it should be linked to the real identity and sent to a central server. Apple and Google are also developing a more privacy-conscious system for the U.S. and other countries that can be used in Android and iOS systems, while some governments are making their own apps along different lines. The decentralized approach has raised concerns about the long-term impact of such software on human rights and privacy protections. It’s unclear how long these applications will last, which government agencies might regulate them, and whether the state will continue to use them as surveillance tools in the future.
“Bahrain, Kuwait and Norway have grossly trampled on people’s privacy and used highly intrusive surveillance tools, which go far beyond the legitimacy of efforts to deal with COVID-19. Claudio Guarnieri, head of Amnesty International’s security laboratory, said. “The Norwegian app is highly intrusive and the decision to go back to the point was the right one. We urge the Governments of Bahrain and Kuwait to also immediately cease the use of the current form of intrusive applications. They are essentially broadcasting the location of users in real time on government databases — something that is unlikely to be necessary and proportionate in the context of a public health response. “
In a statement to the BBC, the Bahraini government promoted the effectiveness of its application in tracking the spread of COVID-19, saying it was an option. “The sole purpose of designing the BeAware app is to advance contact tracking and save lives. The spokesman said: “This is a completely voluntary app … All users are told to use GPS software before downloading. The app played an important role in supporting Bahrain’s ‘tracing, testing, treatment’ strategy and helped keep the Covid-19 mortality rate in Bahrain at 0.24%. More than 11,000 people have raised the alarm through the app and given priority to testing, with more than 1,500 of them testing positive. “
Bahrain has a population of less than 1.6 million, with more than 19,000 confirmed cases and 46 deaths from the new coronavirus. Kuwait has a population of more than 4.1 million, nearly 36,000 confirmed cases and more than 300 deaths.