Response to the COVID-19 pandemic needed an all-around approach. Propagating credible information which is easily available is of critical importance in the times of crisis and confusion. Especially, the novelty of Coronavirus made proper information management important as it was new and for a long time, there was an air of confusion regarding its nature, spread, and response. In an attempt to manage information tracking and propagation, Government of India launched Aarogya Setu App.
What is Aarogya Setu App?
- Aarogya Setu is mobile App developed by Ministry of Electronics and IT to help citizens identify their risk of contracting COVID-19.
- The App seemingly replaces earlier Corona Kavach App and available for both Android and iOS users and can be downloaded from Play Store and Apple’s App Store.
- The app works in 11 different languages. It designed to take huge workloads and to work on all India basis.
- It lets users check whether they have, knowingly or unknowingly, come in contact with corona infected patients. For this it uses location and Bluetooth data from smartphones.
What are its objectives?
- To spread awareness among Indian citizens about the Novel Coronavirus.
- It is aimed at augmenting efforts to proactively inform citizens about advisories and best practices pertaining to contain the spread of virus.
- To establish link between the government and people to inform them about health services, updates and facilities form Health Ministry.
How Aarogya Setu App works?
- The app requires users to give continuous access to their smartphone’s location that would let it figure out if the user has travelled and been in contact with the infected person.
- The Bluetooth location helps users to know if a person is in proximity to others.
- If a person stands near someone who is normal it will show a green zone. Also, if the contact becomes corona positive after 10 days, this app will alert the user immediately.
- It also informs about the hotspots so that user can avoid the areas or change the route of travel.
- The user, upon installation, is asked to answer a number of questions regarding his/her health. If he doesn’t show any symptoms then he/she is in green zone.
- If the answers suggest user having COVID-19 symptoms, the information will be sent to a Government server.
- The data will then help the Government take timely steps and initiate the isolation procedure if necessary and it also alerts if someone comes in close proximity with a person tested positive.
What is the status of its usage?
- It has already become world’s highest downloaded app as it reached 50million users in just 13 days.
- The central government has made all its employees mandatory to use the Aarogya Setu app. In its statement it said that all the officers, staff (including outsources staff) working in Central government should download ‘Aarogya Setu’ App on their mobile phones. Before starting for office, they must review their status on ‘Aarogya Setu’ and commute only when the app shows ‘safe’ or ‘low risk’.
- The government has said that the states are appreciative of the app and its usage. It also suggested that similar solutions for feature phones will be launched soon.
- The center has allowed e-commerce companies to operate provided their employees download the app.
- Eminent personalities like Bill Gates have lauded India’s efforts in bringing its digital technology potential to full use in the fight against the pandemic.
What are the concerns around the App?
- The Aarogya Setu app faces the same issue as every other contact tracing technology- it is people dependent. The app needs widespread usage and proactive self-reporting to be effective.
- The smartphone penetration is low and hence it is limited in its reach.
- The privacy law vacuum makes India vulnerable to privacy issues and data breach.
- The Internet freedom foundation states that the Aarogya Setu app is something like a black box. There is no documentation publicly available about the app.
- Beyond legal issues, there are some technical issues too. The unique identity of a user in the app is a static number which increases the probability of identity breaches.
- Aarogya Setu in a statement said that a bug exposed some user data to YouTube. Though it has been fixed according to it, it exposes the security threats related to the app.
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What can be done to fix the issues?
- The Government should come forward to allay the fears about privacy and security issues regarding the app.
- As the app is being downloaded in the highest numbers, it is necessary to update the security features.
- If Aarogya Setu is to be shut down after the COVID-19 episode ends, then it becomes necessary for data retaining policy to be clear of its usage and maintenance.
Aarogya Setu has become one of the key tools for the government in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The contact tracing technology has been effective in other countries like Singapore. But the privacy concerns raised are equally important as the issue brings forth question of proportionality while using technology while fighting the pandemic. It must be kept in mind that the Puttaswamy case clearly puts the right to privacy under the ambit of fundamental rights.
Practice Question for Mains
What is Aarogya Setu App? Assess its use in fighting the Corona Pandemic and issues around it. (200 words)