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Asha healthcare workers protest “surveillance” tracking app: Report

Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) hired under the National Health Mission in Haryana are protesting an app that they’re being required to use for tracking their work and their GPS location out of concerns of surveillance, the Times of India reported. 22,000 workers will not be using the MDM 360 Shield app put out by the government, Asha Workers Union (Haryana) general secretary Surekha told the publication. The union leader told the times that the app was intended to conduct covert surveillance of ASHA workers to make workers “leaking” information “fall in line”. The state’s NHM coordinator Chand Singh Madaan told the Times of India that the workers were being misled by political interests.

HuffPost reported a similar tracking system with smartwatches last year that tracked municipal workers in Panchkula, Haryana. As the publication reported, state governments and municipalities are being incentivized to put such tracking systems in place as they increase the region’s Swachh Survekshan rankings, a measure of cleanliness under the Swachh Bharat mission. In that case, the government reportedly spent upwards of Rs 35 lakh on the watches and the technology, but did not provide adequate Personal Protective Equipment to the workers, indicating perversely skewed incentives.

In Chandigarh too, a similar surveillance system was blasted by workers as ineffective and as encouraging a form of “bonded labour”. In all the cases, there is little available information on the security of all the information being collected. The situation is further complicated by the fact that India does not have a Personal Data Protection legislation passed yet — the 2019 bill for the purpose is still in committee, and is expected to be passed in a future session of Parliament.

In this case, 6,000 smart-watches were acquired by the city’s Municipal Corporation of Chandigarh, as a “Human Efficiency Tracking System,” and the data had a direct impact on workers’ payrolls, which raised concerns from workers. On top of this, supervisors could remotely switch on an in-built camera and microphone on the devices, raising significant privacy risks. While not all municipalities buying such technology go this far, the fact that solutions to do so exist and their presence is incentivized by other factors raise the possibility of widespread municipal surveillance of workers in such work.

Update (June 18): This story has been updated with more detail and context.

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