Human Rights


To curb the spread of the Coronavirus, Governments all over the world have resorted to actions that have potentially infringed upon the rights of individuals. In India, Aarogya Setu has sparked a debate on privacy.

“Big Brother is Watching You” just got a whole lot really, according to some privacy experts, when the Government of India rolled out ‘Aarogya Setu’, an application that aims to inform the people of their risk of contracting the Coronavirus and educate them on the best practices and medical advisories pertaining to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

However, the app has not exactly gone down well with certain people who argue that the system by which the app uses contact tracing and shares details with the government essentially makes it a ‘surveillance system’. Congress politician Rahul Gandhi too tweeted in this regard, and his theory was ‘proved’ by French ethical hacker, Elliot Anderson. Through this article, I am going to analyse whether or not these claims hold weight, and whether the application is truly worth it.

The first concern would be that downloading the app gives the Indian Government access to your location and personal data at all times. However, that is untrue. Firstly, the application replaces all your data with a Device Identification Number on sign-up, and this DiD becomes the basis of all future interactions. It is this DiD that is used to interact with other phones when they come in range with each other and calculate your health risk and communicate it to the server. It is only when the risk of infection to a person is too high that the personal information is reconciled with the DiD to alert the individual.

The Privacy Policy for the application, along with its Data Access protocol, explicitly states the purposes for which the data can be used and limits the possibility for misuse. One major concern remains in the fact that the data is shared not only with the Health Ministry but with any related ministry at the central or state level that is involved in addressing the pandemic, but a case could be made against the same looking at the various actors involved in the COVID response. Another concern comes from the fact that DiDs that do not change can lead to privacy issues, but the Government is currently addressing this by creating a dynamic ID that generates multiple times and offers more security.

Hacker Elliott Anderson tweeted about certain ‘risks’ which included data of the users being at risk and local files being accessed. However, various people proficient with coding have come out to deny these claims, arguing that Elliott ran basic scripts to access the data stored on his own device and portrayed it as a security issue when it isn’t. Adding to it, the creators of the app themselves chose to engage with the hacker and clarified their response to his claims. It has been by and large proved that these claims held no weight at all and should be disregarded. An important point to be noted is that this is the same person who claimed that he hacked TRAI Chairman RS Sharma’s information based on his Aadhar Number. However, it was later found that the information he ‘hacked’ was available in the public domain already and could be easily found through search engines. As Michael Scott would say “Fool me once, strike one. But fool me twice, strike three.”

More importantly, the rules and privacy policy clearly specify the duration for which the data can be stored. The application deletes all personal data 30 days from collection, and the servers purge the information after 45-60 days, depending on whether or not a particular person tested positive for the virus. This contact and location data can in any case not be retained beyond 180 days and the demographic data is deleted within six months, provided the pandemic does not extend beyond that period. Thus, the possibility of the government retaining or sharing this data for other purposes does not exist.

Contact Tracing is a difficult, labour intensive process and often leaves out people in the way it’s been conventionally done. For example, a person goes to the market to buy vegetables and meets someone they do not know who later turns out to be positive for the virus. At that point in time, it becomes almost impossible for health officials to trace who was at xyz vegetable vendor at 11:00 hours on a day. This is where the app steps in, even if the person doesn’t know the person who contracted the virus, they will be notified of the risk and be asked to take steps accordingly, thus making the contact-tracing process not only less difficult but also more comprehensive.

A case is made that apps like these cannot be put to use by people who don’t have smartphones. It’s important to note that the app isn’t a replacement for contact tracing, it is an assistance mechanism. A lack of accessibility by the entire population cannot count as an argument for the ones who can access it to not be asked to install it and use it. Even if one person can self-isolate and reduce the spread of the virus due to the app, it means tens or hundreds of others who they would have come in contact with are saved. Every single life saved is a major victory for the application. In fact, until now, the app has been used to notify 1.4 lakh people of potential exposure to the virus and asked them to take necessary precautions. Even if one percent of those, i.e., 1400 people test positive for the virus later but had taken precautions to contain its spread thanks to the notifications issued, it’s a win not only for the app but for the country.

It is a moral obligation of every citizen to try and ensure that we try and reduce the spread of the virus as much as possible and take whatever steps necessary. Aarogya Setu, with its benefits, is a huge step, and all of us who can download it should make sure that we do.

Of course, the government needs to do better in two regards. Firstly, the government must implement Aarogya Setu only through law. If an action threatens to hinder a fundamental right (such as the Right to Privacy here), it needs to be implemented through legislation that limits potential government misuse. While in the status quo, it is understandable why the app is being pushed so strongly, there are better ways to do it, especially in the absence of a Data Protection law in the country.

Secondly, app security is a major issue. Thus, the app should be made open source so that developers can check it for bugs and potential security issues, and thus make it safer and easier to use for everyone.

The Aarogya Setu app is not perfect, but there can be no denying that it can be of huge help in the fight against COVID-19. The government has actually taken measures to ensure that user privacy is respected to the extent possible, which is a welcome change from its actions from the past. Given how crucial it is, it is imperative that we download the application as a measure to not only safeguard our own health but that of others around us too.

Featured Image Credit: Flipboard

Khush Vardhan Dembla

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We live in a democratic country with a constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom. Yet are we really free to make our own decisions?

When I ask you the question, “do we have free will”, all of you would have different opinions. However, when I rephrase the same as “are we in control of our actions”, most of you would agree. We tend to believe that our actions are freely chosen by us. I chose to wear a blue hoodie today. This was an action out of free will. But, was it really?

Libertarians’ view of free will suggests that human beings are autonomous and act unfettered from any external control. Our decisions are not influenced by any prior occurrences and we could have chosen differently given the same situation. In simple words, human beings are capable of entirely free actions. 

However, on the contrary, determinists happen to advocate a differing concept. They believe that all events occur as a result of pre-existing causes; nothing other than what does occur could occur. Now, these events may include something like a cart moving after being pushed, or even simply my decision to wear a blue hoodie. Pierre-Simon, Marquis de Laplace, a French scholar, believed that the present state of the universe is the effect of the previous state and the cause of the one to follow it. This simply implies that the world is determined by cause and effect. Even Persian poet, Omar Khayyam, wrote in his collection of quatrains, Rubaiyat- And the first Morning of Creation wrote, What the Last Dawn of Reckoning shall read.

While libertarians may suggest that my decision to wear a blue hoodie today was not influenced by any prior event, hard determinists would question where this independent idea came from in the first place. Was this entirely random? Why did I decide to choose this over any other option? 

Hard determinists believe that all decisions made in our brains are a result of invisible causes that take place in our brains. The synthesis of beliefs along with desire and temperament causes a deliberate human action. For instance, my belief that my hoodie is comfortable and fetching, along with my desire for comfort, and my temperament to stay warm and look attractive, gives rise to my decision to wear the blue hoodie. 

Baron d’Holbach, a German-French philosopher, in his ‘system of nature’, suggests that man like matter, is governed by physical laws; everything is the inevitable result of what came before. For example, a cart moving after being pushed. One may argue that human decisions are not like physical objects and hence should not be bound by physical laws. However, our mental decisions are a result of neurological activities in our brain, which is a biological event in the physical world, hence being deterministic. D’Holbach proposes that the complexity of the sources of our actions makes it impossible to say why we behave as we do in some circumstances, and this inability to identify the causes of our actions encourages the illusion of free will.

So basically, every decision you’ve ever made is just an inevitable result of a combination of a bunch of mental activities. Every decision you’ve ever made has already been determined. 

Happy human rights day!

Feature Image Credits: Human Rights Watch

Aditi Gutgutia
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Ireland on Friday, 25th May, repealed the eighth constitutional amendment with a landslide two-thirds majority vote, the amendment, since 1983 recognised the rights of both mother and foetus in the same wavelength.
The historic decision came in the heels of a vigorous campaign by Together for Yes, an abortion rights campaign group that were supported by various political parties such as Sinn Fein and left-wing organisations. This campaign gained traction after the tragic death of an Indian-origin nurse Savita Halappanavar in 2012 when she was denied an abortion.

The Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar remarked in a public statement that the referendum was the “culmination of a quiet revolution in Ireland.” Simon Harris, the Health Minister addressing the public said, “there is an awful lot of people, particularly a lot of women breathing a sigh of relief today that a stigma has been lifted in this country.” while Mary Lou McDonald, the leader of Sinn Fein hailed the step towards “ a more open, tolerant Ireland”. What was remarkable was that the voting on Friday saw thousands of people returning to the country to cast their votes, an extraordinary display of combined political action. The referendum would now lead to a repeal of the eighth amendment as well as pushing for legislation of legalising abortion upto 12 weeks of pregnancy and setting up of abortion clinics.


The History

For decades, since 1987, Ireland’s story of abortion has been a matter of both national and international concern. In 2013, abortion was allowed for the first time in specific cases: when the mother is in danger of suicide or faces health risk due to pregnancy. Yet, it did not allow for abortions in cases of rape, foetal abnormalities, or incest. In 2016, the Citizen’s Assembly, a deliberative body set up to draw up reports on various issues like abortion for the consideration of the Parliament, started a series of meetings where voting on abortion took place. The results were very similar to the recent referendum, wherein the majority voted in favour of repeal of the abortion laws.

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Image Credits: Irish Examiner


Across the Irish Sea

According to reports, 170,000 women have travelled abroad for abortion, a number which pro-choice activists say reflects how the country is denying the presence of a social reality. Their destination would mostly be nearby England where abortion is legal in most cases. Moreover women of lower income households are restricted from access to such journeys, and hence from safe abortions.

The only place in Britain where abortion laws are as highly restrictive is Northern Ireland where women have no access to free abortions unlike the rest of Britain. Northern Ireland is also the only part of United Kingdom (UK) to still consider same-sex marriage illegal. The recent referendum pushes such issues of the region into the international limelight with pro-choice activists already clamouring for greater change.


Decline in Religious Conservatism

The landslide majority at the referendum as well opinion polls over the years have revealed how Ireland has changed from being one of the most conservative Catholic European nations. This has accompanied the recent child-sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Irish Catholic churches.

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Image Credits: The Irish Times


Abortion Laws Around the World

India permits abortions till 20 weeks of pregnancy (24 weeks in cases of rapes) when there is a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or the possibility of mental or physical abnormalities arising in the offspring. Yet, it is only in 60 countries in the world that women have access to safe abortions. Most countries in Europe like Malta, Poland, San Marino, Andorra, El Salvador, Nicaragua have highly restrictive abortion laws. Some of them prohibit abortion in all cases even when there is a risk to the lives of women. Most of these nations have a Christian majority population. In the United States of America too, the presence of a federal system means that abortion laws are not uniformly implemented. Trigger laws render the access to safe abortions almost impractical.


Pro-choice or Pro-life

The entire debate regarding pro-choice and pro-life has centred around religious conservatism as well as a concern for the health of women who undergo abortion. However, the rights of foetuses cannot be seen to be independent of that of the mothers as most abortions take place in the first trimester, when the baby cannot exist independent of the mother’s body. Most abortions also require very simple procedures like ingesting pills and do not pose any serious threat to the lives of the mothers. Moreover, in cases of rape or crisis pregnancies, it seems illogical to condemn a woman to pregnancy, especially in cases of minors. States which do so, operate on a slippery slope and might soon initiate more draconian measures. Most importantly, with waves of feminism taking over modern discourse, it becomes important to remember that a woman’s body autonomy should be preserved at all costs, perhaps even at the sake of the unborn child.
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Image Credits:  The Irish Times


Feature Image Credits: 4Conservative.com

Sara Sohail

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The recent upsurge of meninism on social media, when compared to an obviously feminist film like Pink, highlights a vital issue which we seem to have missed out—the question of simple human rights over that of ‘men’ or ‘women’.

“No means NO!” said a make-believe lawyer not very long ago, in a make-believe courtroom in a film. And it was enough to kick-start a storm of debates in the real world. In the recent history of Indian cinematography, a film like Pink perhaps does not give us as many reasons to celebrate feminism as it does to critique it. Nevertheless, it sets up a milestone of sorts. If it were not for Amitabh Bachchan’s fiery performance, would you and I bother to go to a movie-theatre to learn about ‘feminism’ of all things? The answer is no.
Feminism is too complex, too politically misused a term to be given a one-line definition. For simple folks like us, it is safe to assume that it includes the hope of ‘equality’ somewhere within that definition. Meninism, on the other hand, has a much shorter and bizarre history. The internet claims that it began with a group of male allies of feminism who were initially “opposed to all forms of misogynistic behaviour and sexist attitudes.” From there it went rolling down the hill, with #MeninistTwitter being used for all kinds of abuses being hurled at women. The reign of the trolls took over soon. Matters as serious as rape were trivialised through memes and crass jokes. At best, it can now be termed a reaction movement.
The problem, however, is not with rational people. It lies amongst those who actually believe meninism to be a legitimate movement, meant to satirise aggressive feminism. If women can play the ‘victim card’, so can men, is supposed to be the logic. Going by it, there are many who would find reasons to not go to a movie-theatre or waste a bucket of popcorn watching ‘wronged’ women have their justice served. This is also the point where your voice of reason should stand up and snatch that bucket of popcorns.
Long before meninism came into the scene, feminism had had its own set of vehement oppositions. And long before the term ‘feminism’ came to be detested, there was another ancient debate. But the fundamental problem with any debate between the opposite sexes has been, and still remains, in the fact that it is never seen as a battle for human rights. A woman crying out for justice after suffering years of domestic abuse is a human being first, and a woman later. It is an act of human rights violation. It is a woman asking for rights, not a debate to figure out whether women constantly use tears as a weapon to get their way.
In fact just as there emerges a ‘movement’ like meninism, there are numerous misconstrued perspectives of feminism. That is not to say that debates are invalid. But why should the value of a human life be forgotten in debate? Perhaps the greatest lesson you or I could take from Pink is not that it generates an age old debate. Perhaps what it is trying to tell us is not that either of the two parties—men or women—have to emerge victorious in the end. It is equality in the arena of human rights that matters, first and last.

Image Credits: www.buzzfeed.com

By Deepannita Misra
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