Making Aarogya Setu app mandatory can lead to legal challenges: Experts
The Government’s move to make Aarogya Setu application mandatory for everyone, particularly for private companies and individuals, may have legal complications and misuse of its data for monitoring activities other than Covid-19 cannot be ruled out, according to experts.
Pavan Duggal, one of the top cyber law experts in the country, told HT that – “First of all, the intention of the government to do contract tracing through Aarogya Setu app is indeed noble. However, there is no law passed by the Parliament authorizing the creation and making mandatory of this app which is in contravention of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and Act and rules and regulations. So, while it could be used as an emergency measure (in this case for tracing Covid-19 patients), it could open up a Pandora ’s Box of legal challenges for the government.”
Tarun Wig, co-founder of Innefu - data analytics and cyber security company, said “Aarogya Setu app can definitely be made a little less intrusive but I personally feel that in such times, privacy can somewhat take a back seat.”
Around 45 organisations and more than 100 individuals on Saturday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, home minister Amit Shah and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad against the mandatory use of the Aarogya Setu app for workers in both private and public workplaces, as mentioned in the ministry of home affairs order.
“While the government initially claimed that the use of Aarogya Setu would be purely voluntary, downloading the app was soon made mandatory for all Central Armed Police Forces personnel and employees of Prasar Bharati,” the letter signed by the groups stated. The move could also violate privacy laws as well as the Puttaswamy privacy judgement, the letter says.
The government representative, however, denied that there were privacy issues.
Abhishek Singh of MyGov termed the concerns as non-issues and said that the app is mandatory only till the pandemic exists. “Till the epidemic law is in force, only those who are travelling to offices will have to download the app. Once the epidemic is over, a user can delete the app,” Singh said.
He said that due to demand from all quarters to open business, which brings in the possibility of contamination, offices were asked to ensure that the app is downloaded. “Commercial organisations have not raised the issue, neither have industry bodies like FICCI, ASSOCHAM or NASSCOM,” said Singh.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi too called the app intrusive. He tweeted – “The Aarogya Setu app is a sophisticated surveillance system, outsourced to a private operator, with no institutional oversight -- raising serious data security and privacy concerns. Technology can help keep us safe; but fear must not be leveraged to track citizens without their consent.”
In a directive issued on Friday as part of the third phase of lockdown, which begins from Monday with graded easing of curbs, the ministry of home affairs (MHA) stated that “use of Aarogya app shall be made mandatory for all employees, both public and private” and that “head of the respective organizations to ensure 100% coverage of this app among the employees”.
For containment zones, which are high risk areas sealed in a particular district, the local authorities have been asked to ensure 100% coverage of the app among all residents.
The government order states that anybody violating the latest guidelines could face action invoking the Disaster Management Act and Indian Penal Code.
Eight crore people, including almost all government officials had downloaded the government app till Friday.