Although the central information commission (CIC) has begun hearing second appeals related to COVID-19 issues on priority basis, thanks to citizen activism, the central and public information officers (PIOs) particularly of the ministry of health and family welfare (MoHFW) continue to deny information under various sub-sections of Section 8 of the RTI Act.
However, in a queer case that should raise eyebrows and call for stern action, a corporator from Pune, in his ambition to do an a la Narendra Modi, has procured personal details of those vaccinated in his ward and is sending them copies of the official certificate which has prime minister (PM) Modi’s photograph as well as another certificate with his photograph and the Co-WIN logo embossed on it.
Bapurao Karne Guruji, the corporator in question, has allegedly procured personal details from the server at the vaccination centre of his ward and has sent soft copies of the certificates to those who have been vaccinated, the objective obviously being appeasement of ‘potential voters’.
This is a clear breach of privacy as the person shares his personal details like phone number, Aadhaar card and so on with the authority in a ‘fiduciary relationship’ in the Co-WIN App.
A couple of ‘affected’ citizens have lodged a complaint with the cyber cell Pune. This has also taken a political twist, with a politician from Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) having brought it to the notice of the Pune Municipal Commissioner, but no action has been taken as yet.
Right to information (RTI) Act activist and Aam Aadmi party state organiser, Vijay Kumbhar, who unearthed this scandal, has lodged a written complaint to the PM Narendra Modi and Maharashtra chief minister (CM) Uddhav Thackeray.
He says, “Citizens need to register online on the Co-WIN app for vaccinations. Mobile numbers and Aadhaar numbers also must be mentioned in the online application. After vaccination, the OTP number is sent to the mobile number of the concerned citizen to get his certificate of vaccination. The certificate can be viewed and downloaded only after entering the OTP number on the Co-WIN app. That means such certificates can be seen and downloaded by authorised users only and no one else. However, the way the said corporator in the Wadgaon Sheri assembly constituency obtained and sent the central government certificate to the citizens via WhatsApp is questionable.’’
In his letter to the PM and the CM, Mr Kumbhar has appealed for action against persons obtaining and disseminating citizens’ confidential information.
“Obtaining such data and revealing it to others is a serious crime. How safe is citizens' data provided to authorities in India? Some citizens have lodged complaints in this regard to the cyber cell Pune. The municipal commissioner too has failed to take action on this issue. It raises suspicion as to whether the authorities are hand in glove with the alleged criminals. Another important fact revealed is that the said corporator is using a suspicious cell number (+1 (201) 737-7387) for sending soft copies of certificates to those who have been vaccinated. Also, the certificate which the said corporator sends along with the official certificate bears the Co-WIN app image, thus personating as a certificate issued by the government,” he wrote in the letter.
Not that the government has assured the citizens of any privacy in the Co-WIN data!
Citizens now are clearly vulnerable, what with the government too being opaque about their data protection.
The Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF)’s requisition under the RTI Act confirms the worst fears. It had tweeted late last month that the data collected in Co-WIN will include users’ names, gender, date of birth, photo ID, type of photo ID and mobile number.
The information sought was:
• What privacy assessment has been made for Co-WIN App?
• How long will Co-WIN store our data?
• How many departments/ ministries have access to this data?
• What data security protocols are you undertaking to guard peoples’ privacy?
And now, we have proof that local councillors can merrily access data and use it for their public relations purpose. And who knows what next?
And now, we have proof that local councillors can merrily access data and use if for their public relations purpose.
And who knows what next?
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)