India says biometrics-backed CoWIN vaccine app will only track relevant vaccine data

facial recognition can identify people wearing masks

India’s biometrics-backed coronavirus vaccine application, CoWIN (COVID Vaccine Intelligence Network), will comply with the government’s forthcoming Data Protection and Privacy Law, reports the Hindu Business Line.

Users of the app (frontline workers to begin with) will be able to register through Aadhaar, India’s biometric digital ID system, with their existing 12 digit ID number. This will prevent any possible fraudulent registrations. However, for those who are not signed up to Aadhaar or do not own a smartphone device, it is possible to sign up via helplines, Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS), or Common Services Centers (CSC) according to Ram Sewak Sharma.

Sharma, Chairman of Empowered Group on Technology and Data Management to combat COVID-19, says the app will not be tracking or holding Indian citizens’ personal information, only vaccine related data.

“Yes, we are tracking who has had the medicines and that tracking is being done in order to ensure that somebody who has taken medicine X is not given medicine Y,” Sharma says. “Here, the government is facilitating vaccines for you and monitoring the progress and the adverse effects. I can tell you CoWIN will have no issues of privacy. It will have perfectly secured data.”

CoWIN will require identity authentication to record citizen’s vaccination details, along with issuing a vaccine certificate. Major technical guidance is being provided by a technical support unit of India’s Ministry of Health who are developing and designing the software.

In addition to biometrics, Aadhaar can be used to verify individual identity through electronic KYC using OTP, and via offline authentication, in case biometric authentication is not available or linked to the individual’s digital identity. Millions of Aadhaar ID numbers have been breached in previous incidents, and the Indian government sought help to protect personal Aadhaar numbers.

Aadhaar architect confident

Yet Aadhaar architect and Infosys Co-founder Nandan Nilekani is positive that India’s technology and systems surrounding national inoculation are an example of massive consumer and developer change as a result of the pandemic, Outlook India reports.

“What’s important is that the vaccination should be recorded online, real-time with proper authentication of identity, so that we can make sure that the person gets the message that they have to come back in three weeks for the next round, and that everybody should be issued a vaccination certificate,” Nilekani said at Redseer’s Ground Zero 4.0 event.

Like many countries, India has been part of the race to offer standard issue COVID vaccine certificates digitally. Nilekani highlights the drastic digital transformation India has seen throughout the health crisis, and believes that India is on track to deliver the vaccine to every citizen and provide a “role model” to the world.

Approximately 1.5 million people were given their first shots of the vaccine as of January 23rd, however there has been a lower turn-out than expected, reports the Wall Street Journal; around 1.3 million vaccines would need to be given per day for India to reach its 300 million target by August.

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