Scroll spreads fake news claiming central govt’s health cards will collect ‘sensitive information’. Here are the facts

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— Consider reading the article Scroll spreads fake news claiming central govt’s health cards will collect ‘sensitive information’. Here are the facts on OpIndia website —

Online portal Scroll.in on 28th August published a report claiming that the new unique Health ID which will be issued to citizens under a ‘One Nation One Health Card’ scheme will collect and store sensitive information such as medical history, finances, genetics and even sex life.

Scroll accuses government of storing personal and sensitive information

Moreover, the Scroll article claimed that in the absence of a ‘comprehensive data protection law’, the Government is aiming to collect ‘sensitive information’ from citizens. “Data points classed as “sensitive personal data” include an individual’s financial details, their physical and mental health, sex life, medical records, gender and sexuality, caste, religious and political beliefs as well as genetic and biometric records,” the report alleged.

Screengrab of the Scroll article

Casting aspersions about privacy and data security, Scroll claimed, “It claims ownership of personal data lies with the individual. However, anonymised data, in an aggregated form, may be made available for research, statistical analysis and policy formulation.” The article also raised questions about the need of Health ID, even when Aadhaar card has been made mandatory for citizens.

Scroll alleges ‘corporatisation’ of health sector by Union government

The article claimed, “The digital health mission has already raised ethical concerns, scepticism that collecting more data is not the answer to India’s health problems and suspicion that such a system is tailored for corporate interests rather than providing affordable healthcare.” Further, the report insinuated that the ‘narrow time frame’ of one-week did nor provide scope for public scrutiny and thereby paved the path for a ‘corporate entry.’

NHA debunks misinformation about Health ID cards

Three days after the insidious report was published by the Scroll, the National Health Authority (NHA) took to Twitter to debunk the misinformation peddled by the news portal. NHA tweeted, “Grossly misinterpreted and sensationalized…Govt has not asked and doesn’t intend to ask for any such personal information. Information like only name, year of birth, state & district is required while registering for Health ID.”

NHA has clarified that the scheme is voluntary and the Union Government is not planning to make the service mandatory. It further reiterated, “Information like only name, year of birth, state & district are required while registering for Health ID. Registration & sharing any information is voluntary for all, not mandatory.”

NHA debunks claims by scroll that the scheme is being rushed

In a statement released by the National Health Authority, it has clarified that the time given for public feedback was two weeks, contrary to claims made by the Scroll. It stated, “The draft Health Data Management Policy was uploaded on 20/08/2020 for seeking feedback for two weeks and not for one week as has been stated in the news report. However, considering the feedback received, the date of seeking feedback via public consultation before the first version of the policy is finalized has been extended by one more week i.e. till 10th September 2020.” All in all, a three-week window was provided by the government for public feedback instead of one.

NHA clarifies on Aadhaar and sensitive personal data

NHA has also made it clear that the use of Aadhar as an alternative to health card is not ‘legally permissible’. “It may be noted that it is legally not permissibile to make Aadhaar mandatory for creation of Health ID,” the statement read. Addressing concerns about storing ‘sensitive personal data’, NHA emphasised that the term has been used in accordance with Information Technology (Reasonable security practices and procedures and sensitive personal data or information) Rules, 2011 and Personal Data Protection (PDP) bill.

“By virtue of said definition, sensitive personal data includes personal data related to financial information, sexual orientation, political belief, etc. However, nowhere in the operative section of the draft policy it is laid down that the said information will be called for. Further the purpose of including said terms in the definition of “Sensitive personal data” is that the said types of information must be given highest level of privacy and security if ever encountered in the information ecosystem of NDHM. It is absolutely out of place to construe the same as intent for having said information in the NDHM system especially when there is nothing in the operative section of the policy to suggest so,” the NHA clarified.

One Nation One Health Card scheme

During his speech on the occasion of India’s 74th Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. PM Modi informed that a unique Health ID will be issued to citizens under a ‘One Nation One Health Card’ scheme. However, it will be an optional service available to the public. For this purpose, a digital database will be created that will contain an individual’s medical history such as tests, diagnosis, and treatment.

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