Due to the recent worldwide chaotic pandemic, all the governments across the world are trying to trace each and every movement of its citizens. All thanks to technology, tracing in 21stcentury is not so hard.
We have noticed that different governments are using different types of method to keep an eye on its citizens’ movement. The same is done by Indian Government by releasing an app named, “ Aarogya Setu App ”. This is a contact tracing app which is designed specially to trace the spread of COVID – 19 patient in the country. Now, the installing of this app is done mandatory by the Indian government and the will of the citizens of India is suppressed due to this. Regarding these types of orders from the side of government, many cyber activists have argued regarding the security issues of Aarogya Setu app. While the Centre has said that the app is not a threat to the privacy of the data of any individual using it.
But the question is whether this app is really safe for the data of the users? OR Is this app hampering the privacy rights of its users?
How Aarogya Setu App Works?
It is an app tracing the movement of the registered users and his / her interactions with other people who have tested positive of COVID – 19. The app will notify the registered user whether he or she has come into contact with a person who is tested positive of COVID – 19. This information is shared among registered users through the means of Bluetooth and Location applications in mobile devices. Further, this information is shared without the permission of such users and it is also saved in the government data.
As this app was designed and invented by the National Informatics Centre of the Indian Government, they have said that the information about the citizens are stored in the government servers and will be automatically deleted after 45 days if the user is not at risk and after 60 days if the user is at risk to COVID – 19. Also, the government have consoled the users by saying that all the information saved in government data is safe and will be deleted as soon as the crisis of this pandemic will be dealt with.
Issues Regarding the Privacy
The advocacy group for digital rights, “ Internet India Foundation ” ( IIF ) has already written to the standing the committee, a parliamentary body which is headed by M. P. Shashi Tharoor, about the allegation regarding the privacy violations by the Aarogya Setu app. Also IIF has said that these contact tracing apps are facing much transparency issues regarding the privacy of its users as they are launched without any type of the previous legislative framework.
These allegations on the app regarding the privacy issues are made by many cyber activists and by IIF because the source code of this app is not available to the public hence there are no traces of transparency. Since the source code is not available for public scrutiny how the government can be trusted by its citizens. Also, this fact cannot be unseen that the app’s firewall is not developed solely by the government agency but by the public-private partnership, hence there is always a threat of data leakage stored by this app.
Due to these reasons, many legal experts are concerned regarding the liability in the case if the data stored is leaked or if there is a breach within the system.
Coercion behind Aarogya Setu App
On 1st May of 2020, the Ministry of Home, Affairs has issued its guideline regarding the extending of lockdown and the National Executive Committee set up under the National Disaster Management Act (NDMA), 2005 has made it mandatory for the employees of public and the private sector to install the Aarogya Setu app in their mobile devices. Also, it was ordered that the local authorities of containment zones should ensure that there must be 100 % coverage of this app.
Further the Noida Police after these guidelines said that if anyone is found not having installed Aarogya Setu app in his or her mobile device then such a person would be punished with imprisonment up to 6 months or fine up to 1,000 INR.
The Former Supreme Court Judge B. N. Srikrishna, who headed the committee which formed the first draft of Personal Data Protection Bill has said that the guidelines regarding the mandatory use of the app have no legal basis and this order is “ utterly illegal ”. He also questioned the Indian government that, “ Under what law do you mandate it on anyone? So far it is not backed by any law ”.
The question here is not on the intentions of the Indian Government behind releasing such app and making it mandate but is on the app itself i.e., whether the privacy of its users is safe or not. And this question will not be answered until the government provides the public with the source code of Aarogya Setu app for scrutiny. Also, orders of the committee under NDMA, 2005 making Aarogya Setu app mandatory for the citizens of this country should be backed by proper law or by Indian Parliament.
As a law-abiding – tax-paying citizen of this country, it is his / her right to live free from any type of unlawful coercion. And I, myself being a law student find the orders of National Executive Committee of NDMA, 2005 regarding the mandate installing of Aarogya Setu app, totally unlawful and arbitrary in nature. Further, in my opinion, this app is not safe for the users as there is no one to be held responsible in case of breach or leak of data or any infringement of the privacy of the users.
Our country is a democratic nation, hence our constitution has guaranteed us the very basic fundamental rights which cannot be suppressed by anyone and anyone includes our Indian government also.
By- Bhanu Pratap Singh Rathore
Image Credits: Times of India