DOHA | app for tracking people infected with the new coronavirus, the use of which is mandatory in Qatar under penalty of prison, has sparked a rare public outcry, prompting the authorities to attempt to reassure the population of the small emirate gas.
Several countries have launched applications on the mobile phone to track the movements of people who are infected with the virus, and prevent those that have been in contact with them, allowing the authorities to monitor the spread of the COVID-19.
Activists for the protection of personal data have warned of the risks raised with respect to the use of this kind of applications to locate users.
Launched in April, the version qatari requires even Android users allow access their photos and videos as well as the permission to make calls, which provoked an uproar.
The installation of the application “Ehteraz” (precaution in Arabic) has been made compulsory on Friday for all citizens and residents of Qatar which has a rate of infection per capita the highest.
The measures taken by this small emirate gas to contain the pandemic are among the most stringent in the world. A person not wearing a protective mask in public can be hit by a sentence of up to three years in prison.
About 44,000 of the 2.75 million people have officially tested positive to the COVID-19, or 1.6% of the population, and 23 deaths have been reported.
“Demonstrate an understanding”
The obligation to install the application comes at a time when the authorities of the muslim countries have warned of a possible increase in infections caused by the raising of the Eid el-Fitr which marks the end of ramadan.
Any person not having downloaded can be hit by a sentence of up to three years in prison, but the authorities indicated, however, that they would show “understanding”.
Hiba Zayadin, a researcher for Human Rights Watch (HWR) raises two problems. First, “many migrant workers in the country do not have a compatible phone that would allow them to download the app”.
Then, the application is extremely invasive with a range of permissions that allow the government access to things that are not necessary to trace the contacts (…) and who represent a disturbing privacy breach,” adds Ms. Zayadin.
The simple interface of the application presents barcode colorful containing the identity number of the user: green for healthy, red for positive people to the virus, and yellow for those in quarantine, and grey for those suspected of being infected or having been in contact with cases.
According to local media reports, security forces have checked the installation of the application on Sunday during checks at the checkpoints installed throughout the Qatar.
Justin Martin, a journalism professor based in Qatar, warned on Twitter the authorities not to “undermine” the confidence of the residents by imposing the use of”an application with permissions disturbing”.
According to users, the application will use the battery and can be installed on older iPhone.
“People spend the money and queue up to buy mobile phones disposable,” writes Janko, an engineer expatriate, in a comment on Google Play store.
Information were also reports of users incorrectly classified as “quarantined” or “suspected cases”.
The criticisms against the government are rare in Qatar and the lèse majesté law makes it a crime to disrespect to high-ranking officials.
But on the groups Facebook popular among the expatriates in Doha, people have expressed their concern regarding the application and their right to privacy.
“For this to work, they need a large number of people using it. If people are discouraged because the application goes too far, this would be a problem,” said to AFP the lawyer in technology, Rahul Matthan.
“It is not necessary to have access to photos and other things. But this could be a good tool. This is a good way to choose the individuals to be tested in priority,” he said.
According to Mohamed bin Hamad Al-Thani, an official with the ministry of Health, the data collected through these applications are “totally confidential”.
Official sources insist on the fact that these data can only be viewed by people working in the health sector.
“There will be an update of the application Ehteraz to take into account these concerns and improve its effectiveness,” added Mr. Al-Thani in an interview Thursday on State television.
A new version of the application was released Sunday on Apple and Android, promising “minor corrections”.