Qatar’s mandatory Covid app during the World Cup is scary as hell

The 2022 Qatar World Cup is an exercise in two things: How much horror FIFA is willing to tolerate for money, and how many personal liberties people are willing to give up in order to see the event live. Oh, also global soccer prowess, I guess — but that feels tertiary at this point.

Adding to the laundry list of rules foreigners will be required to follow while in Qatar is a new Covid app called “Ehteraz,” which must be downloaded by every visitor over the age of 18. It’s being billed as a way for officials to monitor a potential outbreak and aid with contact tracing. While that might sound innocuous enough, responsible even, there are some absolutely horrifying details coming out about the app.

Naturally it tracks location, which might cause you to pause, but understandable given the aim of the app to monitor Covid spread. However, it goes so much further. Øyvind Vasaasen, a security expert for Norwegian news outlet NRK examined what the Ehteraz app requires from users, and it defies belief.

  • 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

Once a user downloads the Ehteraz app, again, which is mandatory upon entry to the country — Qatar essentially owns your device.

“They can simply change the contents of your entire phone and have full control over the information that is there,” Vasaasen said. There’s no explanation why Qatar is asking for such complete control over visitors’ devices, or why the Covid tracking app needs so much information. The issue is, most people don’t read the fine print — and visitors will likely accept the terms of use, especially when it’s a prerequisite for attending the World Cup.

Under the most Qatar-friendly reading, it gives the government complete device control while in the country, but only to monitor possible Covid spread. The extreme on the other end, is horrifying.

Use online banking? A foreign government now has your banking details. Check work email on your phone? Corporate correspondence is now in Qatar’s possession. Did you take a photo from Pride, or ever use a rainbow flag avatar on Facebook? Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, and officials have your location. Ever receive a nude from your significant other? You just imported pornography into the country — which is also a crime.

Sure, these examples are very extreme, but the potential existing is scary enough to cancel your trip — or as Vasaasen suggests, “It’s not my job to give travel advice, but personally I would never bring my mobile phone on a visit to Qatar. ” The app also ensures a VPN can’t be used to get around the country’s heavily-filtered internet, because it can erase the app and block any VPN access.

So, your choices if you are still planning to go to Qatar are:

  • Give all your personal data and location to a country with a history of human rights atrocities
  • Have no contact with your loved ones while you’re abroad

Soccer loves a good tie, just normally not one for “which of these two shitty options is worse?” While it might be fun to be flippant, it’s unclear if these same rules apply to every broadcaster, journalist and foreigner working in Qatar for the World Cup.

As expected, FIFA has not made a statement on Qatar’s far-reaching and scary app. Meanwhile if the aim of the app was to truly limit a risk of Covid spread, why did Qatar lift its requirement for foreign nationals to present a negative test prior to entry? One thing is clear, there are certain to be plenty of users next month when the World Cup begins.

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