As the number of coronavirus cases in India is rising, the country is trying hard to contain the outbreak through strict lockdown measures. Amid this situation, the Health Ministry issued an advisory yesterday asking not to share details of people who’ve tested positive or are under quarantine.
This was an important step after a number of incidents that targeted folks who were infected or under insolation after their details became public. These people faced heavily discriminatory behavior from society, receiving threats and racist comments from unknown people. Some of these incidents have even led to suicide.
The advisory asked people to “never spread names or identity of those affected or under quarantine or their locality on social media.” Plus, it suggested not to single out any community and area, and hold them responsible for the spread of COVID-19.
We have come across social media posts of a government advisory (attached) against disclosure of the names & identity of those affected. Not yet been uploaded on official portal. We will make a statement on what further measures we intend to take after assessing its authenticity. pic.twitter.com/lK8IBnWly1
— Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) (@internetfreedom) April 8, 2020
Last month, the Karnataka state government published a list of people under quarantine, including their names and addresses, with the intention of keeping them from wandering around. Later, a PDF containing a consolidated list was being circulated on WhatsApp.
A report from the Times of India published last month noted that 19 people who were under quarantine in the southern city of Hyderabad experienced discriminatory behavior, after their details were leaked. Plus, personal details about people under quarantine shared on social media were also registered in several parts of New Delhi.
Apart from these data leaks, fake news and inflammatory videos have also created a stigma around the coronavirus disease. This has resulted in health workers and airline staff facing hostile treatment from house owners and neighbors, and people from the North East of India being subjected to racism.
Last month, the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), a digital rights organization based out of India, sent letters to the health ministry and the housing ministry to issue advisory against sharing data on social media channels.
Today, in a statement, the IFF said that a specific advisory needs to be sent to state governments to stop sharing data about people affected by coronavirus:
The advisory which has been issued against the disclosure of the names of patients as well as those placed on the quarantine is a positive move which needs to be substantiated with further action. The specific form of the advisory needs to be sent across to all state governments and they should be requested to examine whether there can be rules which can be made under the Epidermic diseases act.
The IFF said it plans to write to chief ministers and health ministries of states to speed up the process.
While it’s important that people under quarantine stay at home to not affect others, it’s also critical that their privacy is intact and they’re not ostracized. This advisory is a welcome step in this direction, but the government has to follow up strictly and take action against people or organizations sharing this data.