In the pre-covid era, a person’s health status and ailments were well, considered classified and personal information, but with the pandemic posing a new challenge almost everyday, several states, in the interest of public welfare have gone the extra mile to obtain information regarding covid patients.

In Kerala, the ‘big brother’ is watching

A massive controversy broke out in Kerala, after the government admitted that call data records of covid-19 patients were being obtained to establish primary contacts. Kerala police dept has for months been accessing call data records to help the state govt fight covid.

However with some telecom giants such as Vodafone providing the data late, DGP Kerala police has instructed ADG Intelligence and Police to look into the matter. While BSNL will be prodded to provide data ‘promptly’

What is a Call Data Record (CDR)?

CDR is a record which is produced either by a telephone exchange or by any other telecommunications equipment which documents details of a telephone conversation/transaction passing through that facility or device.

Details of a cell phone user for a certain time includes

•Name of subscriber, details of calls made/received
•Duration of each call & how the call ended
•Estimated location of subscriber

Kerala Govt attempts to douse fire

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who faces massive flak, attempted to allay fears over the controversy

State Police instructed to collect CDRs of patients…Enforcement agencies allowed to collect data…CDRs used to collect patient information…Information collected for public safety…Most effective way for contact tracing…Using this method for a few months..Information collected won’t be passed on..

Pinarayi Vijayan, Chief Minister, Kerala

Thiruvananthapuram Police reveals the move is needed as Covid patients may not necessarily recall events or their primary contacts.

The Unimpressed Opposition

The opposition parties, such as BJP and Congress, have however used to this development as a means to up the ante against the Kerala Chief Minister.

While BJP’s KJ Alphons calls this as violation of ‘Fundamental rights’, Congress’ Ramesh Chennithala accused the left govt of mocking the citizens.

Privacy and Law

In August 2017, Supreme Court had made it clear that ‘Right to privacy is aninalienable natural right which is not conferred by the Constitution but only recognized as such’

Guidelines stipulate that operators have to preserve call data records for a year and these details must be provided to the law enforcement agencies & court if requested

Kerala mirrors Karnataka

Kerala however isn’t the only state, similar instances states accessing Call Detail Records has emerged from Karnataka, where a resident of Davangere revealed that his acquaintances were informed prior to him about his covid diagnosis.

Later both Davangere and Bengaluru cops acknowledged the used of this method to track patients and their sources.

The pertinent questions

Question 1: Can privacy of a patient prevail over public health?
Question 2: Does seeking records without consent amount to breach of privacy?
Question 3: Is it okay for states to used call data records to trace patients?

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