The Delhi government has handed 25,429 phone numbers to the Delhi Police in the last two days to ensure that people ordered to quarantine by the government actually did so. “Action will be taken against people who are found to have violated the quarantine orders on the basis of the police report,” Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced in his press briefing on April 1.

Kejriwal clarified that these are are only the numbers of people who have been explicitly ordered by the government to quarantine themselves. 11,084 phone numbers were handed to the police on March 31 and 14,345 on April 1 so that the police can “monitor whether these people are complying with the quarantine orders or not”, he announced. In his press briefing on April 2, Kejriwal revealed that in all 24,250 people have been ordered to quarantine in Delhi — 21,307 are under self-quarantine at their homes, while 2,943 have been quarantined by the government (1,133 who returned from abroad, and 1,810 from the Nizamuddin Markaz).

The decision to share numbers with the police was taken by Kejriwal and Lieutenant Governor of Delhi Anil Baijal during their daily meeting on April 1. The contents of the order are not known since numbers had already been shared on March 31, before Kejriwal and Baijal made the decision on April 1. MediaNama could not find a copy of the order on the Delhi Government website.

Permanent erosion of civil liberties?

“Without an official order, it is unclear what the legal basis for such a move is. It is not clear who are the people who are being monitored. Are these people and their families who came back from abroad? Is there a cut off date? If people did not exhibit symptoms in the last 14 days, are they still being monitored? And what is the exact data the government is asking for? It is not clear how such huge swathes of data will be securely stored and managed,” Vrinda Bhandari, an advocate who focusses on privacy, told MediaNama.

“These are extraordinary powers that the state is taking unto themselves. After the pandemic ends, it is important to restore the civil liberties that have been eroded right now. The new normal should not be a surveillance state,” Bhandari warned.

Move inspired by Singapore, South Korea

The Chief Minister mentioned that this move was inspired by countries such as Singapore and South Korea that “have used technology to protect people from the coronavirus”. On March 21, the Singaporean government had released TraceTogether, an app to help in contact tracing using bluetooth. If a person is diagnosed with the virus, they can allow the Ministry of Health to access the data in the app to identify close contacts. To ensure people’s privacy, data is stored in the phone itself for 21 days and is not accessed unless the individual is identified as a “close contact”. For communication between two phones via Bluetooth, phone numbers are anonymised.

South Korea, on the other hand, interviews the patients and verifies their locations using CCTV footage, credit card records and mobile phone GPS data. The government then sends text messages to its citizens that give information about the movements of people who have recently been diagnosed with the virus. The South Korean Ministry of the Interior had also launched an app to track the quarantined and collect data on symptoms

From Chief Minister’s Arvind Kejriwal’s press briefing:
“Countries such as Singapore and South Korea have used technology to protect people from the coronavirus. Thus, if there is a patient of the coronavirus, or is suspected of being infected, or was in contact with any such person, and has been placed under quarantine, these governments have traced the phones of such people for 14 days to find out whether the quarantined person was roaming around or not. They used technology to do that. If the person’s phone was going places, then they [the governments] track all the other people the person came in contact with through their phone numbers.

“This morning, during my daily meeting with Lieutenant Governor, he and I decided that we will take the help of police to trace the phones of people who have been ordered to quarantine, to ensure whether they were staying at their homes are not. Yesterday, we gave 11,084 phone numbers to the police to monitor whether these people were complying with the quarantine orders or not. Today, we will give another 14,345 phone numbers to the police.

“These are those people whom the government ordered to stay in their homes, to not leave their houses and come in touch with anyone. But we have heard that some of these people are still not obeying the government’s orders and go outside, which endangers other people. Action will be taken against people who are found to have violated the quarantine orders on the basis of police report. And we will also have to track who are the other people these people got in touch with.”

[translated from Hindi]

At the time of publication, there were 152 cases of COVID-19 in Delhi, of which 6 had been cured and 2 had died, as per figures released by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

***Update (April 3 10:14 am): Article updated with number of people quarantined in Delhi, as revealed by CM Arvind Kejriwal on April 2 at 6 pm. Originally published on April 2 at 12:05 pm.