From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : AarogyaSetu App
Mains level : Privacy concerns with AarogyaSetu App
Amid concerns over privacy of data being collected by its COVID-19 contact tracing app, the union government has open-sourced the Aarogya Setu app.
Right to Privacy is an important topic for GS. The Aarogya Setu app which has a lot more to offer is under the radar due to the underlying vacuum of Privacy Law in India. To tackle this, the government has launched a bug bounty programme (a sort of hackathon).
About AarogyaSetu App
- The App enables people to assess themselves the risk of their catching the Corona Virus infection.
- It is designed to keep track of other AarogyaSetu users that a person came in contact with and alert him or her if any of the contacts tests positive for COVID-19.
- It achieves this using the phone’s Bluetooth and GPS capabilities.
- Once installed in a smartphone through an easy and user-friendly process, the app detects other devices with AarogyaSetu installed that come in the proximity of that phone.
- The app can then calculate the risk of infection based on sophisticated parameters if any of these contacts have tested positive.
- The personal data collected by the App is encrypted using state-of-the-art technology and stays secure on the phone until it is needed for facilitating medical intervention.
Issues with the app
- The AarogyaSetu app faces the same issue as every other contact tracing technology that has come up during the pandemic period — it is people dependent.
- It needs widespread usage and self-reporting to be effective.
- Given that any number of total users will be a subset of smartphone owners in India, and there are bound to be variations in the levels of self-reporting, the efficacy is not bulletproof.
1) Privacy concerns
- First of all, the app exists in the privacy law vacuum that is India.
- The policy goes into some detail on where and how long the data will be retained, but it leaves the language around who will have access to it vague.
- As per the policy persons carrying out medical and administrative interventions necessary in relation to COVID-19” will have access to the data.
- This suggests interdepartmental exchanges of people’s personal information and is more excessive than countries like Singapore and even Israel.
2) Technical issue
- Beyond the legal loopholes, there are technical loopholes as well.
- The unique digital identity in AarogyaSetu is a static number, which increases the probability of identity breaches.
- The abundance of data collected is also potentially problematic.
- AarogyaSetu uses both Bluetooth as well as GPS reference points, which could be seen as overkill whereas other apps such as TraceTogether make do with Bluetooth.
3) Other issues
- Experts emphasise that automated contact tracing is not a panacea.
- They caution against an over-reliance on technology where a competent human-in-the-loop system with sufficient capacity exists.
Back2Basics: What is Open Source?
- The term open source refers to something people can modify and share because its design is publicly accessible.
- The term originated in the context of software development to designate a specific approach to creating computer programs.
- Today, however, “open source” designates a broader set of values—what we call “the open source way.”
- Open source projects, products, or initiatives embrace and celebrate principles of open exchange, collaborative participation, rapid prototyping, transparency, meritocracy, and community-oriented development.
The source code
- “Source code” is the part of the software that most computer users don’t ever see; it’s the code computer programmers can manipulate to change how a piece of software—a “program” or “application”—works.
- Programmers who have access to a computer program’s source code can improve that program by adding features to it or fixing parts that don’t always work correctly.
What is Open Source Software?
- At the simplest level, open-source programming is merely writing code that other people can freely use and modify.
- Open source is a term that originally referred to open source software (OSS).
- OSS is a code that is designed to be publicly accessible—anyone can see, modify, and distribute the code as they see fit.
- An open-source development model is a process used by an open-source community project to develop open-source software.
- The software is then released under an open-source license, so anyone can view or modify the source code.