In India, Digital Snooping on Sanitation Workers

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: India

Publishing organisation: Undark, Popular Science, The Wire

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 2022-05-02

Language: English

Authors: Qadri Inzamam, Haziq Qadri


Qadri Inzamam is an independent journalist based out of New Delhi. He writes on the intersections of environment, technology, gender, human rights and Indian politics.

Haziq Qadri is an independent multimedia journalist based in New Delhi. He covers health, human rights, environment, Indian politics and gender.

Project description:

In several cities of India, lower-caste cleaners are forced to wear GPS-enabled smartwatches by the government. Their movements are tracked in real-time. This raises questions about their privacy and data protection.

Impact reached:

After the story was published, a plea was submitted in the Indian Supreme Court against the use of GPS-tracking device to monitor the movements of sanitation workers. The story also generated debate on social media over privacy and personal data protection of sanitation workers. The story was later followed up by many other national media houses, including one of the largest circulated English daily newspaper — The Hindu.

Techniques/technologies used:

The story was investigative in nature. No special digital tools were used. Given the sensitivity of the story, all the recordings, stings and photos were taken with mobile phones.

For the story, every source was verified and fact-checked twice.

Context about the project:

One of the significant part of the story is how the livelihood of lower-caste sanitation workers is tied to a GPS-tracker which often malfunctions. The fact that there is no digital lietracy among these workers, and no mechanism of a legal oversight for the usage of these trackers, makes it worrisome because the data can be misused and their privacy violated.
The story has to be seen in the context of India’s lack of a personal data protection framework. Also, it needs to be weighed in the context of the ill-treatment of lower-caste Hindus who are often associated and assigned the job of sanitation.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

Other journalists need to understand that the technological advancements in India come at a cost. And in the absence of a legal oversight, they should hold the government and the technology industry accountable.

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