The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has shared a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) with all telecom service providers regarding the application called COVID-19 Quarantine Alert System (CQAS).
- CQAS collects phone data, including the device’s location, on a common secured platform and alerts the local agencies in case of a violation by COVID patients under watch or in isolation.
Quarantine Alert System (CQAS)
- Developed By: The DoT and the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT), in coordination with telecom service providers, have developed and tested the application.
- Working: The CQAS prepares a list of mobile numbers, segregates them on the basis of telecom service providers, and the location data provided by the telecom companies are run on the application to create geo-fencing.
- Geo-fencing is a location-based service in which an app or other software uses GPS, RFID, Wi-Fi or cellular data to trigger a pre-programmed action when a mobile device or RFID tag enters or exits a virtual boundary set up around a geographical location, known as a geofence.
- Geo-fencing will only work if the quarantined person has a mobile phone from Airtel, Vodafone-Idea or Reliance Jio, as “BSNL/MTNL” do not support location-based services. BSNL and MTNL are government-owned.
- The location information is received periodically over a secure network for the authorised cases with “due protection of the data received”.
- The System triggers e-mails and SMS alerts to an authorised government agency if a person has jumped quarantine or escaped from isolation, based on the person’s mobile phone’s cell tower location. The “geo-fencing” is accurate by up to 300 m.
Use of Powers under the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885
- The Centre is using powers under the Indian Telegraph Act to “fetch information” from telecom companies every 15 minutes to track COVID-19 cases across the country.
- The States have been asked to seek the approval of their Home Secretaries under the provisions of Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, for the specified mobile phone numbers to request the DoT to provide information by email or SMS in case of violation of “geo-fencing”.
- Section 5(2) authorises State or Centre to access information of a user’s phone data in case of “occurrence of any public emergency or in the interest of the public safety.”
Protection of Data
- As per the SOP, the phone number should be deleted from the system after the period for which location monitoring required is over and the data would be deleted four weeks from thereon.
- The data collected shall be used only for the purpose of Health Management in the context of COVID-19 and is strictly not for any other purposes. Any violation in this regard would attract penal provisions under the relevant laws.
Centre for Development of Telematics
- C-DOT was established in August 1984 as an autonomous Telecom R&D Centre of DoT.
- It is a registered society under the Societies Registration Act, 1860.
- It is a registered ‘public-funded research institution’ with the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Ministry of Science & Technology.
Global Positioning System
- The Global Positioning System is a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), used to determine the ground position of an object.
- It is a US-owned utility that provides users with Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) services.
- Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) is the use of radio waves to read and capture information stored on a tag attached to an object.
- A tag can be read from up to several feet away and does not need to be within the direct line-of-sight of the reader to be tracked.
- Wi-Fi is the name of a wireless networking technology that uses radio waves to provide wireless high-speed Internet and network connections.
- WiFi network enables a connection between two or more devices wirelessly for data sharing purposes.