Cry of privacy breach as Kerala cops tap call records of Covid patients

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Cry of privacy breach as Kerala cops tap call records of Covid patients


THIRUVANANTHAPURAM:

Kerala

, whose scientific contact-tracing strategy in the initial weeks of the pandemic became a model for others to follow, has now worked up an ethical and legal storm with a controversial police decision to collect call detail records (CDR) of Covid-positive citizens and draw up “route maps” to trace those who came in contact with them.

Opposition parties and legal experts have termed the move a serious breach of privacy, citing the Supreme Court’s 2017 judgment in the K S Puttaswamy versus Union of India case.

Coronavirus: Live updates“The decision to retrieve CDRs of infected citizens is a gross infringement on the right to privacy. The right to privacy of an individual has been explained in detail in the Puttaswamy case by the Supreme Court. The police can seek information in specific crime cases, but people cannot be put under surveillance in this manner. This is not a police state,” former state law secretary B G Hareendranath said.

The police justified the move as a necessary evil to fight the pandemic. CM Pinarayi Vijayan added to the outrage by admitting that “it has been going on for a few months now”.

In a circular to all senior police officers on Wednesday, Kerala DGP Loknath Behera said the ADGP (intelligence) and the ADGP (headquarters) should be in touch with BSNL to ensure that CDRs are promptly made available when necessary. “They will also take up the matter with Vodafone, as in some places they are delaying sending CDRs,” the circular states.

Sources said some telecom service providers had been hesitant in sharing CDRs.

Vijayan said the data collected by the police won’t be used for any other purpose other than mentioned. “Law enforcement agencies can collect such details. This is the best means for contact tracing. The data won’t be used for any other purpose,” he said.

The police said CDRs were their best bet in drawing up route maps of Covid-positive individuals with precision, although there is no provision in the law for sourcing and checking call records of an individual for medical surveillance. In 2016, the ministry of home affairs had issued guidelines to all states on seeking CDRs under the statutory provisions contained in Section 92 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, or Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, read with Rule 419A of the Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Rules, 2007.

The law is clear on this — unless it is for a matter of national security or criminal investigation, CDRs are not allowed to be retrieved.

Leader of the opposition Ramesh Chennithala told TOI, “This is a very sensitive issue that can lead to a serious breach of the privacy of individuals. What the opposition demands is that retrieving CDRs should be limited to contact tracing alone, and the data should be kept confidential. The government should be able to ensure it. Let us see how this turns out.”

Union junior external affairs minister V Muraleedharan said retrieving CDRs for the purpose cited by the police and the state government was “unheard of”. “It is also a contradiction that the same government which vouches for data privacy is doing

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