Amidst the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic crisis, Kerala’s Communist regime finds itself under serious charges of a monsterous data scam. The opposition has charged the Pinarayi Vijayan led Communist Government with allegations of violating the privacy of the Coronavirus infected citizens and making their medical records vulnerable. Even a Public Interest Litigation has been filed against the Government. With all this going on, there still are many who are wondering what is the entire issue, and why is it being regarded so serious. Let’s understand.
As part of its efforts to curb the Coronavirus spread in its territory, the Kerala Government engaged an US based private IT firm named Sprinklr to store and analyze the pandemic related data in the state. The state’s IT department is using a mobile application developed by Sprinklr which allows health workers to record details of the citizens under surveillance for symptoms of the novel coronavirus.
However, the opposition has raised strong objections to this move by the state government saying that using a third party private application for storing and analyzing the records of Corona patients is a violation of people’s privacy. They alleged that the private IT firm, might sell the vital data to other companies and countries for profit. Though the Kerala Government is maintaining that all the data would be owned by them only and not the firm whose services they are using.
A petition filed by one lawyer named Balu Gopalakrishnan accuses the state government of “foul play” by asking on why a private firm was given precedence over native and state owned entities such as C-DIT and NIC.
The petitioner says that the data was collected on a private and foreign server by the Government without due consent of the patients. “The Data that is aggregated and supplied to the third respondent (Sprinklr) is a valuable commodity which could fetch millions of dollars. So it is a question as to why it was done so,” the petition questions.
Similar apprehensions have also been raised by opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala. He said that Sprinklr had scarce experience in monitoring epidemics or collating health data and was now sitting on a treasure trove of electronic medical records of many Keralites which could be sold to private companies for large amounts of money.
While Congress legislator KS Sabarinadhan alleged that the government’s contract with the company did not follow data protection laws. “The laws stipulate that the data should be collected with the permission of the persons concerned and also need to be destroyed after the purpose. These aren’t followed in this case,” The New Indian Express quoted.
Though the Government has refuted all all the claims and assured that the data of fully secured, there however are indeed a few reasons that raises suspicion.
1 – Just as the controversy triggered, State’s IT Secretary M Sivasankar rushed to the Government’s defense by taking all the responsibility on himself. The IT Secretary had claimed that he selected the company for the survey related to COVID-19 using his discretionary powers. However, as per a report by Mathrubhumi, State’s IT Secretary has no such discretionary powers under the law. As per the Rules of Business the IT secretary’s claims have no legal value. At present, the Law Department must approve the contracts prepared by other departments. Changes must be made in the contract as recommended by the Law Department.
2- The company incidentally was founded by a fellow Keralite named Ragy Thomas, who hails from Mavelikkara in 2010.
3- Sprinklr is reported to have a not so transparent background. During 2016 US Presidency elections, some accused it of playing a dubious role.
Whatever may be the reason behind Kerala Government opting for a Private firm instead of State owned entities, this controversy surely is not going to ending any time soon.