Don’t misuse private info in Covid-19 apps, Putrajaya urged

The government has launched a smartphone app for people to check their health.

PETALING JAYA: A lawyer specialising in privacy laws has urged the government to regulate the collection of data from people using official apps for mobile phones aimed at efforts to curb Covid-19.

Putrajaya should review existing laws on data collection, and should set out the steps taken to protect private information provided by users, says lawyer Foong Cheng Leong.

It was necessary to make sure that the information is used only to deal with infectious diseases “and not for other purposes like political campaigning or police investigations for other crimes,” he said.

Punishments should be set out for those who misuse the data, and there should be provisions to guarantee redress for those harmed by the abuse of the data.

Yesterday the health minister launched the MySejahtera app which allows users to perform health self-assessments, monitor their health and enables the health ministry to also monitor the user’s health.

Two other apps, to trace contacts of infected people, are also being developed separately.

Foong said public health and safety should take precedence during a pandemic. However, there was a need to review existing laws to regulate data collection.

“Any laws passed should take into account the rights of the data subject,” he said.

The use of contact tracing apps in South Korea has been credited with having helped curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

However, the Galen Centre on health policy said the South Korean version gave the authorities “very broad surveillance powers” using cellphone data to track coronavirus cases.

Use of the app had been effective, said the centre’s chief executive, Azrul Mohd Khalib, but it would curb the right to privacy while providing the authorities with access to confidential medical information about people exposed to the virus, and not just patients.

He also sounded a warning that frequent alerts would result in fatigue among the public, causing the messages to be ignored. “This has apparently already started to happen,” he said.

Malaysian Medical Association president Dr N Ganabaskaran said public acceptance of these apps was needed. Health ministry decisions, already driven by data, could be enhanced through the use of apps.

But he said personal data must be protected and the accuracy of data must be verified.

More information about MySejahtera is available at http://mysejahtera.malaysia.gov.my and the app is available for download at the app centres of major mobile phone platforms.

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