Right To Privacy

What are the concerns around the AarogyaSetu app?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Aarogya Setu App

Mains level : Privacy issues with the app

  • Recently the AarogyaSetu app — for pan-India use was launched as the main contact tracing technology endorsed by the Central government.
  • Soon it became one of the most downloaded apps globally and has crossed the 75 million mark.
  • However, there are concerns for more transparency on the inner workings of an app that seeks the personal details of millions.

RIght to Privacy is a very much contested topic for GS. The Aarogya Setu app which has a lot more to offer, is under the radar due to underlying vacuum of Privacy Law in India.

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 has tested positive.
  • The personal data collected by the App is encrypted using state-of-the-art technology and stays secure on the phone till 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.
  • The terms of use of the app also say as much, distancing the government from any failure on the part of the app in correctly identifying COVID-19 patients.

Are there privacy concerns?

  • First of all, the app exists in the privacy law vacuum that is India.
  • With no legislation that spells out in detail how the online privacy of Indians is to be protected, AarogyaSetu users have little choice but to accept the privacy policy provided by the government.
  • 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.

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.

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.
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