Exploration: Ethical, legal and human rights issues in digital technology-based applications to respond to Covid-19

Themes | Subthemes | Tags: Digital and AI based technologies: Ethical and legal matters | Covid-19, public health emergencies
Duration: May 2020 onwards
Team:  Sunita Sheel in collaboration with other organizations
Funding support:  None
Product/s delivered and expected:

  • A position paper on Aarogya Setu by Jan Sawsthya Abhiyan, Internet Freedom Foundation, and All India Peoples Science Network (Sunita Sheel contributed on behalf of JSA)
  • Statement on Aarogya Setu informed by the aforesaid position paper
  • Public engagement related materials
  • Webinar and/or podcasts

Overview: The public health emergency of global concern caused by the virus, namely Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2, henceforth Covid-19) and its impact on all spheres of our lives is unprecedented. The reasons for it to be unprecedented, amongst others, are its global spread, largely ‘novel’ nature of the virus and its behaviour, asymptomatic high infectious character, and no prevention or treatment options available at the moment and that it would be some time before these might be available and accessible to all. The other concerns are serious adverse impact it has on the overall economy leading to serious adverse impact on the marginal and vulnerable sections of our population. It has become an existential crisis for many in India which we have reason to believe is on account of how the government of India has been responding to the pandemic. A multi-prong approach to contain pandemic remains essential.  Digital tracking mobile phone technology is one amongst the multiple strategies being resorted to in India and globally.

While innovative approaches, including digital technology-based ones, may be required to augment and complement other containment efforts during the pandemic, these innovations must comply with broader legal, ethical frameworks and constitutional rights of citizens. There is an inevitable challenge of striking a balance between ‘safeguarding individuals’ rights and freedom’ and ‘achieving greater public good’ in such pandemics in alignment with foundations of public health ethics. The evolving scholarship on usefulness of apps such as AS for containment lacks consensus since the evidence of its effectiveness is varied and context-dependent. We are taking a critical look at digital technologies, specially Aarogya Setu, to appreciate the challenges and opportunities involved in deploying such apps in Indian context.

Past contributions:

  • A round table on the theme titled, ‘Emerging AI technology in health care in India, health equity and justice: Critical reflections and charting out way forward’, hosted by HEaL Institute in collaboration with Centre for Policy Studies, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Mumbai (CPS, IITB), MH, India at IITB on July 13, 2020.
  • Wadkar N. A draft manuscript titled, ‘Emerging AI technology in health care in India, health equity and justice: Critical reflections. Being submitted to a peer reviewed journal.
  • Bhan A., and Bandewar SVS. (2011). The UIDAI project: why some of the optimism might be nir-aadhar. National Medical Journal of India. 24(6):375-377.