The government of Qatar is planning to use technology on the fight against Covid-19. A new app called Ehteraz is its latest weapon in the attempts to curb the transmission of the virus.
Last week, it was mandatory for citizens and residents of Qatar to have the Ehteraz contact-tracing app installed on mobile devices when outside their homes, allowing the government to track them if the user has been in contact with an infected person. Anyone found without the app, warned the authorities, could face a fine of up to $55,000 or three years in prison.
However, the app has sparked major privacy concerns as it requires access to files on users’ phones and permanent use of their GPS and Bluetooth for location tracking. On Tuesday, Amnesty International alerted the authorities to serious privacy flaws in the Ehteraz app.
“Serious security vulnerabilities in Qatar’s mandatory coronavirus contact-tracing app, uncovered by Amnesty International, must act as a wake-up call to other governments to ensure privacy safeguards are central to the roll-out of similar apps,” said the human rights organisation.
Following Amnesty’s warning, the Qatari government said on Twitter that the app’s user privacy and platform security are of the utmost importance.
The Ehteraz app’s user privacy and platform security are of the utmost importance. A comprehensive update of the app rolled out on Sunday 24 May with expanded security and privacy features for all users.
— وزارة الصحة العامة (@MOPHQatar) May 26, 2020
As Qatar has a large expat community, hosting more than a million foreign workers, the government has taken serious precautions to curb the spread of Covid-19. The first case was confirmed in Qatar on 27 February, but the number began to rise steeply from mid-March onwards.