Launched in April, Aarogya Setu now has 110 million subscribers
As flights resume all over the country, civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri has announced that the use of the controversial contact tracing app, Aarogya Setu, will no longer be mandatory, but preferential.
To their considerable relief, fliers without a smartphone or with phones incompatible with the app will need to undergo thermal checking after making a self-declaration.
But the app will be “mandatory” only in “exceptional cases” where the receiving state permits home quarantine for 14 days.
Nevertheless, this move marks a notable departure from the government's earlier stance. During the first phase of the lockdown, the Prime Minister himself has asked citizens to download the app even while India has over 900 million smartphone non-users.
Launched in April, Aarogya Setu now has 110 million subscribers. But a paper published in ICMR’s Indian Journal of Medical Research has noted that without a well-equipped public health response, its data of little help.
But the overarching concern is one of privacy. Though as per the Supreme Court’s landmark August 2017 judgment, it is a fundamental right, India has no legal framework to ensure it online, giving rise to arguable attempts to poach it by the government.
French hacker Robert Baptiste has exposed its many security flaws and seconded Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi’s criticism of the app as a “sophisticated surveillance system”, which requires the user to keep their Bluetooth and GPS location sharing turned on at all times and stores that data in an anonymous server.
Additionally, while technologies in other countries, operate in a more transparent manner, Aarogya Setu’s code is not open-sourced. The unique digital identity in Aarogya Setu is a static number, which increases the probability of identity breaches.
A better approach would be constantly changing digital identification keys as done by Google and Apple in their joint contact tracing application.
When privacy is circumvented, data is compromised. Only last week, the Delhi High Court issued a notice to the Central government on a petition seeking directions to immediately delink Aarogya Setu from a website which is promoting and acting as a “marketing tool” for e-pharmacies.
Is India now a des of data thieves and thought policemen?