Plea in Kerala HC challenges Centre’s order to make Aarogya Setu app mandatory
The central government’s May 1 directive to make the mobile application, Aarogya Setu, mandatory for all working in government and private companies was challenged in the Kerala high court on Thursday for violation of the right to privacy and autonomy.
The Aarogya Setu app collects personal information of an individual without his or her consent and such coercive and forcible extraction of personal information is unheard of in a democratic and republic setup and it is the attribute of a dictatorial system, the plea by the General Secretary of the Thrissur District Congress Committee, John Daniel alleged.
“The petitioner is aggrieved by the order issued by Government of India, which makes the use of the mobile application, Aarogya Setu, mandatory for all. The petitioner is aggrieved by the dilution of the concepts of personal autonomy and informed consent effected by virtue of this mandatory imposition,” the plea filed through advocates Sriram Parakkat, KR Sripathi and Anupama Subramanian stated.
The central government had launched Aarogya Setu on April 2 to disseminate information regarding Covid-19 and to collect data from individuals.
Aarogya Setu is a tracking mobile application which uses the smartphone’s GPS and Bluetooth features to track the coronavirus infection. The application is available for Android and iOS mobile operating systems.
The petition pointed out that the application uses Bluetooth to determine whether or not an individual has been within six feet of a Covid-19 – infected person, by scanning through a database of known cases across India.
On April 29, the app was made mandatory for all central government employees. On May 1, the Centre issued another order making the app mandatory for all employees, whether employed by government or private institutions.
The petitioner’s case was built on the argument that the app is a tracking mobile application which continuously collects data of an individual once it is installed on the mobile phone.
The petitioner argued that Aarogya Setu collects the personal information of a registered user including name, phone number, age, sex, and profession, countries visited in the last 30 days and whether a person is a smoker or non smoker and his or her medical condition.
“The application continuously collects the location data of the registered user and maintains a record of the places where the user had come in contact with other registered users,” the plea said.
The May 1 order of the central government also directed state governments to proceed under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) against anyone who violates lockdown measures including the failure to install the app.
Section 188 of the IPC states that any person who disobeys an order given by a public servant can be punished with imprisonment up to 6 months.
“If a particular citizen disapproves the use of the same, it could be said that the information was forcibly and coercively taken from him without his consent and by inflicting fear of penal consequences. Such coercive and forcible extraction of personal information from an individual is unheard of in a democratic and republic setup and it is the attribute of a dictatorial system”, the petition stated.
The plea specifically assailed clause 15 of Annexure 1 of the May 1 order as per which the use of the app was made mandatory for all employees. Clause 15 also states that it shall be the responsibility of the head of the respective organisations to ensure that all employees use the Aarogya Setu app.
“Clause 15 mandating the use of the application, Aarogya Setu takes away the right of a person to decide and control the use of information pertaining to him. He is forced to give away data to a system which he may or may not approve of, thereby attacking his right of informational autonomy,” the petition said.
Autonomy of an individual is central to the right to life as per the 2017 judgment of the Supreme Court in KS Puttaswamy case, the petitioner submitted.
Aarogya Setu, it was claimed; forces an individual to give away data to a system which he may or may not approve of and, thereby, attacks his autonomy.
“There arises no question of consent in the providing of information which has been made compulsory. Hence, when a citizen of the nation downloads and uses the application, complying with the directives [of the central government], there is absolutely no consent obtained from him,” the petition stated.