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Armenia’s parliament on March 31, 2020 passed amendments giving the authorities very broad surveillance powers to use cellphone data for tracking coronavirus cases, Human Rights Watch said today.  

“The amendments impose restrictions on the right to privacy and allow the authorities access to confidential medical information related to people exposed to the virus,” the source noted.

According to the source, while restrictions on the right to privacy to contain the pandemic may be permissible, “the government must ensure that such restrictions are lawful, necessary, and proportionate.”

“The law requires the destruction of call records and other obtained data after the state of emergency ends. However, the government should also consider imposing strict limits on the collection of phone records, the purposes for which they are used or aggregated, and the agencies or officials that may access such information. People should also be made aware when their data has been collected.”

“The government should also establish stringent security protocols that minimize the risk of data breaches and protect people’s digital safety, Human Rights Watch said.

If the state of emergency persists over a prolonged period, the government should regularly review whether phone records that are no longer relevant should be destroyed.”

“Armenia’s authorities have been respecting COVID-19 patients’ privacy rights thus far,” said Giorgi Gogia, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “But, so they do not undermine the trust that is needed for an effective public health response, they should explain how they will continue to do so and ensure that these digital surveillance measures are strictly in line with long-established human rights safeguards.”

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