Covid-19 update: Centre asks all employees to download Aarogya Setu app
The Aarogya Setu app will determine the risk, based on Bluetooth proximity (‘recent contact with infected person’) to assess whether an official is at ‘high risk’. Those marked as ‘high risk’ will have to skip office for 14 days.Updated: Apr 29, 2020 15:20 IST
The central government has asked all its employees to download the Aarogya Setu app and commute only after they have been marked “safe” or “low risk” in a move to reduce
the risk of transmission of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
The order, issued by the department of personnel and training on Wednesday, has instructed all employees, including outsourced staff to download the app. Joint secretaries (administration) across departments have been asked to ensure that the directions are strictly followed.
The Aarogya Setu app will determine the risk, based on Bluetooth proximity (‘recent contact with infected person’) to assess whether an official is at ‘high risk’. Those marked as ‘high risk’ will have to skip office for 14 days.
The directions come just a few days before May 3, the scheduled date to lift the lockdown. While ministries are still waiting for clarity on whether the full workforce has to return to offices, they are taking preventive measures such as sanitisation and thermal screenings to reduce the risk of being infected.
The app, one of the government’s flagship initiatives to fight the coronavirus pandemic, has been downloaded by nearly eight crore users so far after being launched on April 2.
It has been dogged by privacy concerns, with many critics saying there is no clarity on where the data collected is stored, and if it is stored for posterity.
“There are many problems with the app. There is a privacy concern and a cybersecurity one. All the information is stored on a backend server. There may be a possible security threat,” lawyer Apar Gupta said.
Independent security researcher Srinivas Kodali said the app collects “information but doesn’t provide essential information.”
“The app has security features, yes. It is an experiment with a good aim that may fall flat. The question remains how is data used and who has access to the data collected. The essential problem is a trust deficit when it comes to the government. It is a surveillance app,” Kodali said while speaking to HT.
Moreover, Kodali added the app doesn’t work unless a majority of people download it.
According to Arnab Kumar, program director and a member of the Aarogya Setu core team, “the benefit of the app lies in its ability to automatically contact trace”.
The app collects the name, phone number, sex and travel history of the person over the last 30 days.
According to sources in NITI Aayog, the data is stored for around 45 days after which it is deleted if a person is not at risk.
“Security and privacy concerns have been paramount while designing the app. Each phone number is assigned a unique id and once someone is found Covid-19 positive, the app traces other unique ids the person has come in contact with,” Kumar said.
“Using Bluetooth-enabled technology we can determine the time and distance the persons maintained and thus, warn others who may be at risk,” he added.
Kumar added that the data is stored with the government and accessible to only those who are directly involved in battling the Covid-19 pandemic.