Amnesty blasts Bahrain, Kuwait for 'highly invasive' COVID-19 tracing apps

Amnesty International has warned apps used to trace the movements of possible COVID-19 cases in Bahrain, Kuwait and Norway put the privacy of citizens at risk.

al-monitor A man wearing protective gloves checks the "Be Aware" app created by Bahrain's health authorities to contain the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) at a hotel in Manama, Bahrain, April 19, 2020. Photo by REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed.

Jun 16, 2020

Smartphone apps used to trace the spread of the novel coronavirus in Bahrain, Kuwait and Norway are putting the privacy of thousands of people at risk, Amnesty International warned Tuesday. 

Researchers at the group’s Security Lab analyzed apps in 11 countries, including those in Bahrain and Kuwait, which upload GPS-captured location data to a central database that allows live or near-live tracking of individuals. 

Because the apps require users to register with their national ID number, Amnesty warns authorities in those countries could easily tie personal information to an individual. The group expressed similar concerns over Norway’s app, which uses phone numbers for registration.  

“Bahrain, Kuwait and Norway have run roughshod over people’s privacy,” said Claudio Guarnieri, head of Amnesty International’s Security Lab. “They are essentially broadcasting the locations of users to a government database in real time — this is unlikely to be necessary and proportionate in the context of a public health response.”

Amnesty said contact-tracing apps such as the one used in the United Arab Emirates can reduce the risk of mass surveillance by having users voluntarily report themselves as symptomatic, rather than automatically uploading their data. 

The group called on governments to ensure their coronavirus-related apps securely store users’ information and collect only what data is necessary. It also urged Kuwait and Bahrain to immediately halt the use of their  “highly invasive surveillance tools."

“Governments across the world need to press pause on rolling out flawed or excessively intrusive contact-tracing apps that fail to protect human rights. If contact-tracing apps are to play an effective part in combating COVID-19, people need to have confidence their privacy will be protected,” said Guarnieri. 

After Amnesty shared its findings with the Norwegian government, the country announced Monday it would suspend the use of its coronavirus app.

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