Data Protection

A tale of two countries: how India and Argentina are dealing with privacy during the Covid-19 crisis.

In India, says Tripti Dhar, Partner, Reina Legal, “India does not have a specific data protection legislation.”

In Argentina, it is about as different from that as you can imagine. As Mariano Peruzzotti, Senior Associate, Marval O’​ Farrell & Mairal  said: “We have a very strict data protection law in Argentina, covering a lot of features found in the EU directive.”

Later, he added: “We have very old legislation on privacy, almost 20 years since Congress enacted it.”

Given that, you could be forgiven for assuming that in India, privacy issues are of a bigger cause for concern than in Argentina.

It seems that the reality is quite different.

Tripti Dhar and Mariano Peruzzotti were participating in a recent Webinar organised by the Data Protection World Forum as part of their Last Thursday series.

A new normal that might not be as dystopian as we feared

Covid-19 is apparently creating new normals everywhere. One major concern among privacy experts is that the Covid 19 crisis will lead to a more relaxed attitude to privacy. They fear that by making contact tracing apps essential to fight the virus, we will see a kind of privacy infringement creep.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the reality might be quite different — that fears over privacy are making people reluctant to download contract tracing apps.

Then and now

A few weeks ago, a narrative emerged that we may have to sacrifice some privacy to fight the virus, but that we need to get back to protecting people’s right to freedom as soon as possible.

A different take is now coming to the fore. This new view suggests that contact tracing apps have to be designed with privacy in mind, or people won’t use them.

In short, it may be becoming essential that in order to defeat Covid, authorities have to be seen to care about citizen’s privacy.

The privacy awakening in India

This before and after sense — was highlighted by Tripti Dhar. “India does not exactly have a culture of privacy, because everyone’s business is everyone’s business in our culture, she said.

Tripti Dhar

She also warned that “we we were making an Orwellian state.”

She highlighted how, to begin with, the Indian government made it mandatory for all employers to have the contact tracing apps installed in employees smartphones.

Yet this worrying situation has given way to something more positive. “The government has very recently made the app voluntary,” for many sectors.

She said: “In India, people are becoming more aware of their rights.”

She said that at first, if someone tested positive for Covid-19, then their picture was all over social media. “But now I’ve seen over the last two months that people have understood that this is a privacy issue, and that we must respect everyone’s privacy. I think, ironically the pandemic has been a good for privacy awareness.”

Corporations lead the Argentinian change

Mariano Peruzzotti

In Argentina, it seems things are slightly different. The legislation might be there. Indeed there might be privacy legislation going back almost two decades,

Yet Mariano Peruzzotti said: “People are not very concerned about their data protection rights, and they are just downloading the [contact tracing] application.”

Indeed, while there might be privacy legislation in Argentina, at first at least, it appears the government paid scant attention to this. “The first version of this application was implemented without any, specific language on privacy, so the government was failing to comply with,” its own legislation.

Things have begun to change, but in Argentina, there was an important difference with India.

Mariano Peruzzotti explained: “in Argentina, it’s the organisations that are asking the privacy questions.”

He added: “Perhaps they will raise awareness to people.”