Pakistan lacks data protection during the Covid-19 pandemic

Pakistan coronavirus

We don’t just follow stories, we follow up. Last month, Coda Story’s Ramsha Jahangir wrote about Pakistan’s use of Covid-19 tracking technology and its implications for the right to privacy. 

Our story examined a host of potential privacy concerns related to the country’s newly launched Covid-19 tracking technology, including the government’s use of a system originally developed to combat terrorism. Authorities are also using a national biometric data center that has, in the past, been subject to several major digital breaches.

Digital rights experts warned that the data collected from millions of Pakistanis was not securely protected. Days after our story was published, the personal details of thousands of Covid-19 volunteers was leaked online

One month later, many of the concerns highlighted by our story remain unaddressed. “Unfortunately, given the lack of data protection laws and in the absence of a privacy commission, there has been no investigation into these leaks,” wrote Nighat Dad, director of the Digital Rights Foundation. 

“There have not been any reported cases of harassment or individuals being targeted, but experience tells us that data leaks often lead to private companies using leaked personal data for profit through targeted advertisements and selling that data to others.”

Dad also expressed concerns that the rollout of the new technology included no sunset clauses from the government about when user data might be deleted. 

“We have seen no measures taken on their end that would boost our confidence in the retention and processing of personal data, the level of intrusiveness the state seems to exert in our lives,” she added. 

When Ramsha wrote her story about the pandemic in Pakistan in early May, the country had reported nearly 15,000 cases of coronavirus and at least 32 deaths. According to current data, figures now stand at 82,000 confirmed cases and 1,717 deaths. 

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Burhan Wazir

Burhan Wazir is the Managing Editor of Coda Story’s Authoritarian Tech and Disinformation channels. He’s an award winning journalist and editor, based in London, who previously worked at The Observer, The Times and Al Jazeera. He lived in the Middle East from 2008-2016.

Get in touch via [email protected]