Bengaluru: The state government recently released a list of addresses and travel details of people who have been put under home quarantine. While it seemed logical to some, who felt that the government did the right thing by making public these details, several others fumed that the government was making public the information of private citizens, including door numbers, street and locality names.
Almost immediately after the information was released on the government's website, screenshots and files were downloaded and circulated on WhatsApp groups. These files - excel and PDF - contained details such as home addresses, date of arrival, transit of individuals that were segregated district-wise.
The link was also posted to Twitter on the health department's official handle "K'taka Health Dept" (@DHFWKA) with the caption, "The list of all persons in Home Quarantine of 14 days can be found in the below link. People can access the above data and find who in their apartment or neighbourhoods is in Home Quarantine.[sic]"
Objecting the move, noted RTI activist Saket Gokhale tweeted, "Has the Karnataka Health Dept. lost it’s mind? EVERY person flying from overseas gets a Home Quarantine stamp. Doesn’t mean they are infected or even have symptoms. @DHFWKA is publicly releasing lists with home addresses & phone nos. of women to vigilantes. This is SHOCKING. [sic]" He also added a screenshot of the health department's tweet.
Has the Karnataka Health Dept. lost it’s mind?— Saket Gokhale (@SaketGokhale) March 24, 2020
EVERY person flying from overseas gets a Home Quarantine stamp. Doesn’t mean they are infected or even have symptoms. @DHFWKA is publicly releasing lists with home addresses & phone nos. of women to vigilantes
This is SHOCKING. pic.twitter.com/QtS2Es3cTq
The tweet, as well as the website, was taken down soon after. However, the website was restored once again with the same details and is still active.
According to a report by TNM, building societies have said that the lists have already caused chaos as residents of apartments have been asking seeking more details about those who are in home quarantine.
One Twitter user expressed his doubt over the accuracy of the lists as he did not find his name on the list even though he landed in the country on March 10. He also pointed out that the list was a "huge privacy issue".
"It (the list) could lead to a witch hunt of people and put lives of lot of people at risk," he wrote, asking the Bengaluru Commissioner of Police to investigate.
Chandra R Srikanth of ET NOW pointed out on Twitter that the list is "totally unnecessary considering these ppl have been hand stamped, served notice & are at home. To be treated like common criminals is terrible esp with RWA vigilantes around".
Yet another user of the social media platform argued, "Those who are walking around when they should be quarantining are criminals. It's because of them that everyone is under lockdown."
In a conversation with ET NOW, Justice Srikrishna, who helped draft India's data protection Bill, said that this list is a result of India not having a data protection law.
Chandra R Srikanth explained on Twitter that, according to Justice Srikrishna, there are exemptions for extraordinary circumstances under the privacy law that allow the government to invoke public safety and order to make private details public.
While it seems like the government is within its rights to publish the private details, it defeats the purpose of keeping the names of COVID-19 patients confidential for privacy reasons. The people are already fearful of the disease and giving out private information about COVID-19 patients or suspected patients might put them in unnecessary danger.
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