In Home Ministry’s sharp U-turn, Aarogya Setu not mandatory to resume office
A government official confirmed the rules warranted a rethink on pushing people to use the mobile application, particularly after people began finding workarounds that defeated the purpose of the application.Updated: May 18, 2020 00:09 IST
The Union government’s guidelines for the fourth phase of the nationwide curbs to check the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) has eased the requirement for office-goers to mandatorily install the Aarogya Setu mobile application, asking employers instead to ensure “on best effort basis” their staff have the tool.
A government official confirmed the rules warranted a rethink on pushing people to use the mobile application, particularly after people began finding workarounds that defeated the purpose of the application.
“We want users to feel that they need to download it, and making it mandatory to download was having the opposite effect. There were also some flaws that we were made aware of: in some cases, users kept screenshots of the results of the self-assessment saying they are safe and using it repeatedly; in others, many users deleted the app after downloading it,” said Abhishek Singh, CEO of MyGov and the National e-Governance Division (NeGD).
Making Aarogya Setu mandatory was never the government’s plan, he added.
The tool has been criticised by independent software researchers for having vulnerabilities and by privacy experts for collecting excess sensitive data that could aid in illegal surveillance.
In the guidelines issued by the ministry of home affairs on Sunday evening, the government said: “With a view to ensure safety in offices and work places, employers on best effort basis should ensure that the application is installed by all employees having compatible mobile phones to put in best efforts to ensure that the contact-tracing app is downloaded.”
“District authorities have been asked to advise individuals to install the Aarogya Setu application on compatible mobile phones and regularly update their health status on the app. This will facilitate timely provision of medical attention to those individuals who are at risk,” it added.
Singh, however, said that states have the liberty to make the app mandatory. “Some states have stricter norms than what the Centre has spelt out. So, if any state wants to download it, it is within the legal framework to do so,” he said.
Till now, the app has been downloaded by 105 million smartphone users.
The Internet Freedom Foundation said that while the amended guidelines were an improvement, concerns about mass surveillance and data breaches remained unaddressed. “The manner in which the term “best efforts” is interpreted by the government also remains to be seen and it will determine whether the app is still mandatory for all practical purposes. More detailed statement to follow tomorrow,” the IFF said on Twitter.