Hyderabad: The central government, on May 1, announced that the use of Aarogya Setu app will be made mandatory for all the employees, both private and public. This advisory which was specified in the ‘National directives for Covid-19 management’, has sparked controversy after data security researchers as well politicians questioned the credibility of the app.

In fact, the Indian Army, on May 1, warned its personnel against using malicious apps that are designed similar to the Aarogya Setu app, which goes by the apk file name Aarogya Setu.apk.

Ecoing the same feeling, data security researchers have also pointed out that Aarogya Setu app was meant for surveillance and that its policy would breach the user’s privacy.

Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), an organisation working for digital rights, maintains that the very shift from voluntary to mandatory installation of the app, for all the employees in the country, is a violation of citizen’s rights. “Aarogya Setu makes a dangerous creep from voluntary to mandatory using powers that will come with criminal penalties. Privacy and exclusion concerns emerge. What does 100% coverage mean in a country where TRAI data shows an average of 53 connections for every 100 Indians?” the organisation tweeted.

The organisation also maintained that the Aarogya Setu app has no legal framework governing it, and that it does not specify which departments or ministries have access to the users’ data.

“The app is designed to track everyone’s location and store it for future reference. The government is assuming everyone installs it and then inform people who have come in contact with a Covid-19 patient. These are wildly hypothetical assumptions, which is why they have begun imposing it on people,” says Srinivas Kodali, an independent data researcher based in Hyderabad.

Meanwhile, several politicians, including Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi, Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, have questioned the credibility of the app. “My objections on #AarogyaSetu have touched a nerve. It can be misused for snooping & isn’t on par with intl standards. 6-9PM stenographers received their script from KING & they’ve to perform. Fixing their ignorance isn’t my job but defending our fundamental right to privacy is,” tweeted Owaisi.

Rahul Gandhi alleged that the app raises severe data security concerns. “The Arogya Setu app is a sophisticated surveillance system, outsourced to a pvt operator, with no institutional oversight – raising serious data security & privacy concerns. Technology can help keep us safe; but fear must not be leveraged to track citizens without their consent,” he said.

Responding to the allegation, Union Minister for Communications and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad said, “Aarogya Setu is a powerful companion which protects people. It has robust data security architecture. Those who are indulged in surveillance all their lives, won’t know how tech can be leveraged for good!”

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