Why govt must address the question of access inequity before making mobile apps mandatory during COVID-19

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The Issues

Several concerns have been raised about the implications on multiple fronts. Privacy, and the risk of its evolution into a vehicle for mass surveillance. Security, and the potential information security risks to individual users as well as a large centralised database of citizen data. Legal – whether the National Disaster Management Act confers the necessary powers to do so, as well as the absence of Data Protection legislation. Technological – efficacy of contact tracing apps/algorithmic risk detection and the associated issues with false positives and false negatives. Transparency – opaque processes and the fact that the code has not been open-source yet. Some reports suggest that this may happen when the app is considered to be ‘stable’. It is unclear, though, how stability is defined.

The Ada Lovelace Institute has published a rapid review titled “Exit through the App Store” which warns of the risks of ‘rushed deployment of technological solutions without credible supporting evidence and independent oversight’.

On Equity

An aspect which is under explored is Equity, or the lack of it. In designing public policy, Equity is a crucial part of policy design. It deals with the social allocation of benefits and deals with the questions of ‘who pays’ and ‘who benefits’. In the book ‘Policy Paradox’, Deborah Stone lists 3 dimensions and 8 issues and associated dilemmas with each distribution method. Ultimately, this is a complex undertaking and no matter what criteria is for distribution, some group or the other will feel that they have been left-behind by the policy.

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