Aarogya Setu is an Indian contact tracing, syndromic mapping and self-assessment digital service developed by National Informatics Centre under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. It logged more than 100 million downloads within 40 days of its launch during the first Covid-19 wave in India.
The app is a government-recommended tool. It traces users’ contacts through bluetooth and GPS and informs them whether they have crossed paths with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus.
No Data Pertaining To Kerala Was Shared With US Technology Firm
Kerala, a first-digital state in India with the highest percentage of households with computers, the internet and mobile phones, has been an early adopter of digital technology for education and health. Its COVID-19 response demonstrates how digital tools can be used across the domains of communication, surveillance, clinical management, non-clinical support and core health system readiness and response.
However, there is concern that the use of high-tech solutions like contact tracing apps can lead to exclusions and increased socioeconomic inequalities. As an example, in India, Aarogya Setu has excluded millions of working class Indians without mobile phones from essential services such as public transit.
In the case of Kerala, top opposition lawmaker Ramesh Chennithala has raised privacy concerns and argued that the state government must inform citizens before sharing their data with private firms. In addition, he has pointed to a Supreme Court ruling that says privacy is a fundamental right and that governments can’t decide on sharing information with private companies.
No Authorisation Was Granted By Kerala Government
The Kerala Government has denied any authorization for the data being shared with US technology firm Sprinklr. It has also constituted a committee to inquire into the matter but it lacks the power to summon documents or interrogate the chief minister.
In the meantime, privacy experts have warned that India’s Aarogya Setu app is prone to surveillance abuse as it uses a mix of GPS and Bluetooth data. Moreover, the source code of the app is not open-source.
As nations across the world have started adopting digital contact tracing as part of their coronavirus response, the issue of privacy and safety has raised concerns. The app collects location data and sends it to a central server in an encrypted format.
It aims to alert users when they are in proximity with people who have tested positive for COVID-19, and if needed, initiate isolation procedures or alert law enforcement agencies to enforcing lockdowns. The data is stored for 60 days on a centralised server, and it can be used through the consent of the user or when a person tests positive.
No Data Was Shared With US Technology Firm
In a written reply to a Congress MP, the Union Minister of State for Information and Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar said no data pertaining to Kerala was shared with the US technology firm. The Ministry also told the House that the contact tracing feature of Aarogya Setu had been discontinued.
The app, which was launched last April to fight the COVID-19 virus, is a popular tool in India for finding people carrying the coronavirus. But it has been criticized for privacy concerns and the way it stores user data.
Experts have also questioned whether citizen surveillance measures put in place across the world to fight the COVID-19 pandemic can remain after the disease is over. They say they run the risk of being repurposed for more political or commercial means.
Despite these worries, the government has continued to promote Aarogya Setu, arguing that it is the best tool in the world for fighting COVID-19. The app combines Bluetooth and GPS technology to trace people who have the disease. It has 50 million users and is billed as a “privacy-first by design” tool.