But many Bauls when asked to download an attendance app on their mobile phones that can track their location – adds extensive surveillance to schools in the capital that critics say violates the privacy of students and staff.
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City authorities have warned that if they fail to comply, their wages will be withheld, teachers are fighting. “We were not consulted on this app, we were not told about its features – we were just sent a link and instructed to download it on our mobile phones,” said Viva Singh, senior vice-president of the Municipal Corporation Teachers Association. (NNSS) Teachers Union.
After numerous allegations, the union filed a lawsuit in the city high court last month, arguing that the app violated their privacy. The next hearing is on 2 Sep September.
“These are our personal phones, and the app always tracks our location. We don’t know if it can access any other information, or who has access to the data – what if it is hacked? Female teachers are particularly at risk,” Singh said. .
Even before the app was launched, several public schools in Delhi turned off Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras with facial recognition technology, denounced by digital rights advocates as “overreach”.
According to technology website Comparitech, the Indian capital is one of the most surveillance cities in the world, with more than 1,800 cameras per square mile – the highest concentration in the world.
An official of the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC), who is accused in the teachers ‘union case, said the app only logs teachers’ attendance and does not pose any privacy or security risk.
“It’s a misconception that the app can compromise their privacy. We’ve had several discussions with teachers to explain the app and allay their concerns.”
“We’re moving towards increased digitization in every case – we’re downloading a lot of apps every day. If they have nothing to hide, what’s there to fear?” He told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Digital rights experts say the coronavirus epidemic has prompted governments and corporations to introduce broader technologies based on health and safety that could keep people secret.
Increasingly, workers are coming back against what they see as a violation of their rights.
Municipal employees in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh protested against GPS-enabled tracking smartwatches last year, with data attached to their wear performance ratings and pay.
Earlier this year, thousands of government-recognized community health workers – mostly women – protested against a mobile app, saying it had tracked their location and recorded their performance.
Through the attendance app, the level of surveillance from data tracking and access cannot be rationalized as a means of logging attendance, said Anushka Jain, associate consultant at the Internet Freedom Foundation, a digital rights group in Delhi.
“There’s no need to track them all day; that’s surveillance. It’s very problematic that these apps and technologies are forcing people without any data protection guidelines,” he said.
“The growing push we’re seeing is not just about the right to privacy, but the abuse of this technology is so widespread and people are realizing that the worst case scenario is not just speculative, it’s very likely,” he said.
A long-delayed personal data protection bill that aims to create a framework for what types of data can be collected and how it is collected, processed and stored, will be penalized for any misuse of personal data.
But there are numerous exceptions to the draft bill, especially in the case of government agencies, Jain said.
In Delhi, school teachers used to use biometrics machines or log on to a website to log their attendance, Singh said, a school principal, but these options have been replaced by apps.
Several teachers who failed to download the app withheld their wages, Singh said, adding that these requirements were also problematic within the family as only a smartphone that other family members could use during the day.
“If we have to use this app, give us a separate device that we can use for attendance and other school work,” he said.
“We can then leave the device at school and find out that it is not tracking us. We have no objection to it.”
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