Qatar’s World Cup COVID app raises questions about surveillance

The 2022 World Cup in Qatar will teach everyone two things: how much terror FIFA can put up with in exchange for money, and how many rights spectators are willing to give up in order to watch the game. A new Covid app named “Ehteraz,” which is required to be downloaded by every tourist over the age of 18, is the latest addition to the long list of requirements that foreigners will need to follow while in Qatar.

It is advertised as a method for authorities to keep tabs on a potential outbreak and help with contact tracing. Although that would seem innocent enough, even responsible, there are some very horrific information about the app that are emerging.

You might be alarmed by the fact that it tracks your location, but it makes sense given that the app’s goal is to track the spread of Covid. But it goes so much more than that. A security specialist for the Norwegian news organization NRK looked into what the Ehteraz app makes users agree to in its terms and agreements, and what he found is absurd.

  • Always on, GPS-aided tracking
  • Complete access to the phone, including the ability to read, erase, or modify data
  • Remote access to connect to WiFi and Bluetooth
  • The ability to override all other apps on the phone
  • Complete control ensuring the device can’t be turned off or made to sleep

In essence, Qatar owns your device after you download the Ehteraz software, which is required upon admission to the nation. There is no justification provided as to why Qatar is requesting such total access to guests’ devices or why the Covid tracking software requires so much data. The problem is that most people don’t read the small print, therefore tourists will probably agree the terms of use if doing so is required in order to attend the World Cup.

The most favorable interpretation is that the Qatari government has all control of your device while travelers are inside the nation, but merely to keep an eye on any potential Covid spread. It is terrifying to think of the other extreme. Bank online? Your banking information has been obtained by a foreign government. Check your work email remotely? Qatar then holds all that corporate correspondence.

Ever used a rainbow flag avatar on Facebook or taken a photo during Pride? The authorities are aware of your whereabouts and homosexuality is prohibited in Qatar. Ever received a nude message from your partner? You just brought pornography into the nation, which is illegal. Also, due to its ability to prevent VPN connections, the program also assures that a VPN cannot be used to circumvent the nation’s internet restrictions.

FIFA has remained silent over Qatar’s intrusive and alarming app, as was to be expected. Qatar lifted its need for foreign nationals to produce a negative test prior to entry, which begs the question: why would they do that if the app’s goal was to actually reduce the chance of Covid spreading? There is little doubt that when the World Cup starts next month, there will be a large number of fans downloading the Ehteraz.

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