As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to create turmoil across the world, states are faced with an unprecedented policy challenge in addressing the pandemic. In order to play our part, RSIL has dedicated its resources to conducting extensive research on how Pakistan can cope in these uncertain circumstances from a law & policy perspective.
With this in mind, RSIL will be exploring key areas including the debate on Public Health vs. Individual Privacy and Pakistan’s legal framework on Cyber Surveillance, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence and the need for safeguards. From a governance perspective, RSIL will be exploring the impact of devolution on healthcare in Pakistan with a focus on inter-provincial planning and coordination, and highlight the challenges and opportunities of devolution in fighting a pandemic. RSIL will also be conducting research and policy analysis on the future of global health law and the role Pakistan can potentially play in its development in a post COVID-19 reality.
- Public Health v. Individual Privacy
As states struggle to contain the spread of coronavirus, politicians and the media have drawn on the widely (ab)used metaphor of this crisis as a “war”. As with times of armed conflict, countries around the world have declared states of emergency and used wartime powers to justify exceptional measures. These include the use of surveillance to collect data, the expansion of police powers to enforce quarantines, and even forcing health workers to work. A key element is the use of cyber surveillance, big data, and artificial intelligence tools in combatting COVID-19. The use of these technologies is being rapidly employed by states all over the world with uncertain outcomes on public health and individual privacy.
RSIL will examine the various methods being employed globally for combatting COVID-19 using cyber surveillance, big data and artificial intelligence and consider whether these measures can be justified under human rights treaties. International human rights law does allow for States to make limitations so long as it is provided by law, undertaken in pursuit of a legitimate aim, and are necessary and proportionate to the achievement of that aim. Therefore, the human rights regime does grant States significant room for maneuver in the measures they undertake to deal with this pandemic. However, a concerted effort is required to maintain a balance between technologies which are effective for maintaining public health while remaining compliant with human rights and privacy concerns.
- Cyber Surveillance & Big Data: Pakistan’s Legal Framework and the Need for Safeguards
The on-going effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 has led to the adoption of various technologies in order to achieve public health outcomes. The proliferation of cyber surveillance through smartphone apps to monitor and map the outbreak brings with it a range of challenges and opportunities. RSIL is conducting extensive research into the international and local legal frameworks addressing some of the core issues arising out of the usage of such technologies. Concerns such as privacy and ownership of data, dissemination, anonymization and ensuring data security will be analyzed in line with the domestic legal framework in Pakistan, including laws that allow for and regulate cyber surveillance, big data/artificial intelligence, and all manner of concerns arising thereof. With this focus area, the research team aims to put forward alternatives and other recommendations that could be beneficial to Pakistan in countering COVID-19. These include enhancing legal cover of existing laws via enhanced precautions and safeguards, as well as increased policy-making along technical lines to support the safe usage of cyber surveillance technologies for health outcomes.
- Inter-Provincial Planning & Coordination on Healthcare in Pakistan
The SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) outbreak has highlighted the need for better inter-provincial coordination and planning within Pakistan’s devolved system of Government. As an immediate response to the COVID crisis, Pakistan developed a National Action Plan on Coronavirus Disease which establishes inter-provincial and federal-provincial coordination as a strategic goal to be achieved for the purposes of containment of the disease. The aim of RSIL’s research in this area is to shed light on the framework of devolution and its effects of the healthcare system of Pakistan. Through the 18th Amendment planning, legislation, service regulation, financing service deliver, human resource production and service delivery programming in relation to the healthcare system were devolved to the Provincial Governments. This brought with it major challenges including lack of decentralization at the lower tiers of local governments, budgetary constraints, service delivery, lack of a uniform health policy and inter-provincial harmonization and limited provincial capacity which ultimately leads to lack of policy reform and planning initiatives being introduced at a provincial level to improve the healthcare system.
These challenges have been brought to the fore during the COVID-19 crisis, as each province struggles to contain the spread of the virus through the adoption of policies most suitable for their territories. However, these efforts are being undertaken without coordination amongst the Federal and Provincial Governments and an expected tension between the two structures can be observed. RSIL aims to develop a range of recommendations to the Federal and Provincial Governments on uniform policies for communication and coordination amongst all tiers of government and highlight immediate areas for law & policy reform in healthcare and pandemic response.
- Obstacles & Opportunities of Devolution in fighting a Pandemic
RSIL’s research in this area will focus on the territorial politics of the coronavirus and the debate on centralizing vs. devolution of power in fighting this pandemic. Our research will aim to compare the jurisdictional arrangements of countries facing the first wave of COVID-19 and make preliminary assessments of how different political systems have responded to the challenges posed by the new virus. The early lessons learned so far can provide useful insight to policymakers in Pakistan on the challenges and opportunities COVID-19 entails for our devolved system of governance and the need for revising and operationalizing appropriate legislative and administrative mechanisms.
- Future of Global Health Law & Pakistan’s Potential Role
Global health law is not an organized legal system or a defined body of law. Instead, it comprises of legal norms, processes, and institutions that are designed primarily to attain the highest possible standard of physical and mental health for the world’s population. It encompasses international law and policy that directly or indirectly affects global health, including treaties, regulations, global strategies, and expert guidelines. However, the existing health-related legal instruments are fragmented, with no overall recognition nor movement of promoting health law as a distinct branch of international law. COVID-19 has clearly highlighted the need to strengthen existing international legal instruments and address the responsibilities of non-state actors in the health field.
RSIL’s research is focusing on analyzing the efficacy of existing frameworks for promoting global public health such as the International Health Regulations 2005 and the WHO Constitution. Importantly, we aim to highlight the potential for rapid evolution of global governance and cooperation in this area and Pakistan’s role therein.