Coronavirus crisis | Need to guard against contact-tracing apps increasing state power: Nandan Nilekani


Infosys Chairman Nandan Nilekani, in an interview with ET Now, has cautioned that contact-tracing applications being used amid the COVID-19 crisis run the risk of increasing government power and must be rolled back once normalcy returns.

Asked if the crisis had raised questions on surveillance technology and privacy due to the use of these apps, Nilekani said the situation had put a “whole new angle on privacy and surveillance”.

“This (coronavirus pandemic) has really done something which is unimaginable. I have to know the health of people I am meeting. Health was supposed to be private. This puts a whole new angle on privacy and surveillance. Obviously, for proper containment we will have to understand who is where and if they are following quarantine. It does run the risk of increasing state power and we have to guard against that and treat many of these things as a temporary step that needs to be rolled back once things get back,” Nilekani told the news channel.

Asked how technology could be leveraged to help inclusion in society, the 65-year-old said,“One thing we have learnt in this unprecedented situation is the need for resilient systems.”

He said that, in April, 150 million people had carried out 400 million transactions to withdraw money using Aadhaar-enabled payment systems.

“There are five principles (we need to focus on) for resilient (technology) system design: national portability, choice, universality, convenience and high volume-low cost population scale system,” he added.

Nilekani also stressed on the need to protect lives and livelihoods as the country starts relaxing restrictions after a two-month nationwide lockdown meant to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

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“There have to be measures taken at individual level like masks, hand washing, social distancing as well as at the group level by not having big events. We need to look at how to start things all over again. We are on the right track,” he added.

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