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Had a Covid-19 test? Your personal info isn't safe

  • Published at 07:47 pm November 3rd, 2020
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Representational photo: Bigstock

A mobile number is all that is needed to collect Covid-19 test results

Your personal information is not at all safe if you go for a Covid-19 test in Bangladesh.

The Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) allows the collection of Covid-19 test reports from its website. A person just needs to put in his or her mobile number and will be allowed to check or download the report.

This provision makes it extremely easy to access Covid-19 test results, for both Covid-19 suspects and those who are looking to steal their personal data.

Information that is easily accessible through the report includes the Covid-19 suspect’s name, age, sex and address.

Information Dr Mohammed Hasan Mahmud has had three Covid-19 tests, and the minister’s test results, passport number and home address were all accessible by this correspondent at the time of the filing of this report.

Through the DGHS website, this correspondent also learned that  Minister of State for ICT Zunaid Ahmed Palak went for a Covid-19 test on June 21 and the result came back negative.

Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal went for two tests on September 30 and October 25, and both came back negative. His passport number was also available on the website.

Also Read - Covid-19: Death toll in Bangladesh nears 6,000

Education Minister Dipu Moni and  Minister of State for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Nasrul Hamid were tested for Covid-19 on July 30 and August 11, respectively. Both tests were negative.

Similar to information about cabinet members, personal information of everyone who has been for a Covid-19 test is accessible through the individual’s mobile number.

Risk and concern

The accessibility of Covid-19 test results compromises both the security and privacy of the test subjects, said many people who went for Covid-19 tests.

“What will happen if this information about my family members somehow gets leaked? It is a clear violation of privacy. The government may keep the information for research or its documentation, but I feel very insecure if it is easily accessible to the public,” said Shahed Mehbub, husband of a person who went for a Covid-19 test.

“The government could have used some form of OTP system. Keeping the information public may lead to its being used for forgeries or harassing families of the patients,” he feared.

Dhaka Tribune contacted one person who had gone for a Covid-19 test.

Taken aback by the ease with which the information was accessible, the Covid-19 suspect said: “We are seeking support from the government with the tests, and they are spreading all our personal information among the public. This is unbelievable.”

Another suspect who had gone for a Covid-19 test in Cox’s Bazar said the health authorities had not taken her consent before making her information so easily available.

“I would never want the public to know my address or any other information in my Covid-19 test report. This makes me concerned about my safety,” she added, demanding that the government make the information confidential.

Violation of privacy

Post and Telecommunications Minister Mustafa Jabbar had undergone a Covid-19 test in August and his report and residential address were accessible on the DGHS website.

Also Read - PM: Boost Covid-19 testing at all ports of entry

When asked about the matter, Jabbar told Dhaka Tribune that placing individual information in the public domain would definitely put such individuals at risk and this was not acceptable.

“This is a violation of our privacy act and the confidentiality given to any citizen by the constitution,” he said.

“My privacy is my asset. If the government wants to use my information for any research, that is absolutely fine. However, making this information public may lead to crimes or harassment if it falls in the wrong hands,” said Jabbar.

The minister also said it was not difficult to protect the information, and the Health Department may not even have considered the issue of privacy.

“They [DGHS] can introduce a sign-in system, maybe using the user ID given during sample collection as the password. This is simple,” he added, urging the health authorities to protect the information of the public.

When contacted, DGHS Additional Director General Nasima Sultana claimed there was no problem with the information being public.

“This information is needed for contact tracing. If the information is public, neighbours or the people of a community will be aware of a patient and it will help them keep a distance and keep them safe from transmission of this disease,” she said.

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