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Controversy brewing in Kerala over police collecting call records of COVID-19 patients

Controversy brewing in Kerala over police collecting call records of COVID-19 patients

Published:13 August 2020

A controversy is brewing in Kerala over the decision to allow police to access phone call detail records of COVID-19 patients for effective contact tracing with opposition Congress on Thursday slamming the Left government, saying it is an "infringement" on the privacy of citizens.


Thiruvananthapuram | A controversy is brewing in Kerala over the decision to allow police to access phone call detail records of COVID-19 patients for effective contact tracing with opposition Congress on Thursday slamming the Left government, saying it is an "infringement" on the privacy of citizens.
"Police collecting phone details is an infringement on the privacy of an individual, which is against the Supreme Court's latest judgment in the K S Puttaswamy case," Leader of the Opposition in the state assembly Ramesh Chennithala said.
Speaking to reporters here, he said the opposition will raise its voice against this and demand its immediate withdrawal.
"We will not allow Kerala to be converted into a Police State and health workers should take the lead in the fight against COVID-19," he said.
As there were delays in sending the CDRs by telecom operators in some places, the Additional Director General of Police, Intelligence, had been entrusted to take up the matter with BSNL and Vodafone, he claimed.
The government decided to use police help in containment measures as coronavirus cases began spiralling in the state, touching 38,144 on Wednesday.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said call detail records (CDRs) were being used by police in the state as part of adopting innovative and scientific methods for effective contact tracing.
The details would not be used for any other purpose and there would be no intrusion into the privacy of the patients, he told the media yesterday, adding this was the "most effective" way of contact tracing and the state had been using this method for a few months.
Justice D Y Chandrachud, while delivering the main judgment in August 2017 on behalf of Chief Justice J S Khehar, Justices R K Agarwal and S Abdul Naeer, held that privacy is intrinsic to life, liberty, freedom and dignity and therefore, is an inalienable natural right.
Supreme court lawyer Kaleeswaram Raj felt if collection of the phone details was in the best interest of patients, that is permissible to that extent.
But police should ensure that there was no infringement of privacy rights and larger community rights.
The judgment in the Puttaswamy case will require a contextual application, he told PTI from Delhi.
In the judgment, the apex court had said that there is a fundamental right to privacy.
But how far it is an enforceable right in a given case will depend upon a particular situation, he noted.
Two state government circulars issued this month are also adding to the confusion over COVID-19 data collection.
Chief Secretary Dr Vishwas Mehta had on August 3 stated that all district collectors should have a daily interaction with District Police Chief and the District Medical Officer to ensure close coordination on COVID-19 issues.
"The Chief Minister has given all the field officials a target of two weeks to contain COVID-19 pandemic in all the districts.
In this regard, District Police Chiefs must provide leadership to enforce strict home quarantine, contact tracing and enforcingsocialdistancing norms," he said.
However, a circular by Dr A Jayathilak, Principal Revenue Secretary, on August 8 issued guidelines stating that District Disaster Management authorities were responsible for collecting field level COVID-19 related data and sharing it with Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (KSDMA).
The KSDMA is responsible for identification and delineation of containment zones and micro containment zones inconsultation with police department.
"The police are responsible only for enforcing the restrictions imposed in containment and micro containment zones. Before enforcing containment zone restrictions in a locality advance notice has to be served to the public," it said.
Earlier, the UDF had also attacked the government for entrusting major responsibilities of COVID-19 containment such as identification of containment zones, monitoring of those in quarantine and contact tracing, from the health department to police, saying this would create "police raj." With COVID-19 cases continuing to rise, the Pinarayi Vijayan led government early this month decided to bring in stringent measures to contain the spread and had entrusted police with the task of contact tracing and enforcing quarantine protocols.
The Indian Medical Association has also flayed the decision, saying this was a job of health workers.


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