Friday Newsletter: The Qatari Phone App that Does Location Surveillance on Every Visitor, Including You
Plus I Answer Your Mailbag Questions
DOHA, Qatar — I arrived in Qatar, the authoritarian country that’s hosting World Cup 2022, on February 21 and stayed for six days. The main reason for my trip was an independent journalism project that you’ll read soon enough if you subscribe to GrantWahl.com. But let’s just say there was a reason I didn’t publicize my Qatar visit on social media and didn’t say anything publicly about it until I had left the country.
The fact is that journalists can get detained in Qatar—including two reporters for the Norwegian TV World Cup rights holder in November—and I wasn’t hoping for a repeat of that during my time there.
For today’s column, though, I wanted to write about something that frankly freaked me out while I was in Qatar, something that everyone who visits the country in any capacity for the World Cup will almost certainly have to deal with. It’s called Ehteraz (“precaution” in Arabic), and it’s a phone app that every person who enters Qatar has to use as long as they’re in the country.
The way the Qatari government explains it, Ehteraz is a Covid-19 app that’s designed for public health. But as anyone who’s seen the app can tell you, Ehteraz is also a tool that the Qatari state can use to monitor your location at any time. And that’s more than a little scary.
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How does it work? Ahead of my flight to Doha, I had to apply online for clearance to enter the country. That included showing proof of vaccination, evidence of a negative PCR test within 72 hours of arrival and a reservation for a two-night quarantine stay at a state-approved hotel (where I had meals delivered to me and couldn’t leave my room). We’ll leave aside for the moment that a two-day hotel quarantine doesn’t serve any purpose whatsoever.