Bahrain and Kuwait are using their COVID-19 contact tracing apps as mass surveillance tools, it has emerged. According to a new report released by Amnesty International, the two Gulf states, along with Norway, have released “some of the most invasive COVID-19 contact tracing apps around the world, putting the privacy and security of hundreds of thousands of people at risk.”
In its investigation, Amnesty’s Security Lab reviewed apps released in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, focusing on 11 products from Algeria, Bahrain, France, Iceland, Israel, Kuwait, Lebanon, Norway, Qatar, Tunisia and United Arab Emirates. According to the NGO, Bahrain’s ‘BeAware’, Kuwait’s ‘Shlonik’ and Norway’s ‘Smittestopp’ emerged as the “most alarming mass surveillance tools” with the three reportedly carrying out live or near-live tracking of users’ locations by frequently uploading GPS coordinates to a central server. Most contact-tracing apps rely solely on Bluetooth signals.
“Bahrain, Kuwait and Norway have run roughshod over people’s privacy, with highly invasive surveillance tools which go far beyond what is justified in efforts to tackle COVID-19,” stated Claudio Guarnieri, head of Amnesty International’s Security Lab. “Privacy must not be another casualty as governments rush to roll out apps.”
THE LARGER CONTEXT
Prior to the release of Amnesty’s report, Norway’s government had announced it would halt release of its app. The organisation had already shared its findings with Norwegian authorities earlier this month.
“The Norwegian app was highly invasive and the decision to go back to the drawing board is the right