Aarogya Setu: A Safe Bet?

Aarogya Setu App: an app launched by the Modi government in order to achieve or make corona free India. The disadvantage of coronavirus is that it is hard to detect and even people of India have been hiding their travel history. Also, if they have any symptoms of COVID-19 they were not aware and treating themselves in their home, which leads to infecting their family members also. To overcome this situation, the Modi government launched a contact tracing app for those people who are migrating and are home quarantine to get complete knowledge about COVID-19 in India.

After the release of the app, it became India’s main contact tracing app in this pandemic. The app was launched by the government on 2nd April 2020. National Informatics Centre developed the Aarogya Setu app under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.

The sole purpose of the Aarogya Setu app is to spread awareness about COVID-19.

Aarogya Setu app was promoted by our hon’ble Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, and was mainly developed for all passengers travelling in special trains (Shramik), or domestic flights that were opened recently to ferry migrants back to their hometowns.

Aarogya Setu app is available in many Indian languages to ensure easier acceessibility. Thereafter, on 14th April 2020, the hon’ble prime minister addressed the nation and appealed to the whole nation to download the app.[1]

Why Setu App?

According to the central government, the Aarogya Setu app is one of the factors or a key to completely remove coronavirus from India. It helps the person to know whether he/she or someone else is infected.

Aarogya Setu app has an option of self-analysis test. By this, the app asks some of the questions and further answering them, the app will let you know whether you are corona positive or not. If someone comes in contact with that person, the app will automatically alert you that you are coming in contact with a corona positive patient.

How does it work?

The app works with the help of Bluetooth and GPS of the device. The app records and saves the data of corona positive who are tested on the app itself by using self-assessment survey. Then the app displays all the Aarogya Setu app users who are detected nearby by using Bluetooth. Once a user downloads the app and sets up the account on the application, the app asks the user to on the Bluetooth and GPS location. It asks for the basic info like age, gender, name, etc. just to build the data of the user and also ask any travel history in the past 2 weeks. The application also asks if the user belongs to the exempted category of a profession. In the next step, the app asks the user to take a self-assessment test. This step is very important as it helps the government to keep the records of the corona positive patients, even where the government is unable to reach.[2]

After all these steps, as soon as you will come in contact with a corona positive patient, it will alert you.  GPS is used by the app to keep a log of all the places in India where the app was used in the last 15 minutes. Also, a new feature is added recently. Now you can see the number of corona positive patients near your locality in the radius of 500M, 1KM, 1.5KM, 2KM, and so on.

How does contact tracking work?

Now, most of the users ask, why is Bluetooth being used. It is mainly used to establish a range between two people, having the Aarogya Setu app installed. As soon as two phones come in contact with the help of Bluetooth, it will start collecting the information. Suppose you come in contact with a corona positive person, the app will alert you and with the help of a GPS tracker, the government can trace the potential cases.

After this, the app will also tell you what you can do forward. The app will give the instruction to self-isolate yourself and with self-assessment, the app will support you if you will develop any symptoms after this.[3]

Advantages

  1. The first and most important thing is to find the helpline numbers in the situation. The app provides helpline numbers of every state in India. 
  2. Now, the next every citizen should know the basic symptoms of COVID-19. Aarogya Setu app provides basic questions on COVID-19 by a system or technology of chatbot with the answers.
  3. Now, after a strict lockdown, people want to commute between the cities. For this, as per the statement of Prime Minister Office, the app provides the window to apply for e-pass to facilitate the travel from one place to another.
  4. Now the main reason for which the app was launched is it informs the user if he/she has crossed the line of 6-feet with a positive COVID-19 case.
  5. This risk factor or alert is also based on the data available for a particular area or locality.
  6. In any case, if a user is at high risk, the app will automatically advise the user to go and test for COVID-19 at a nearby testing centre or hospital and call the toll-free number 1075 immediately.
  7. The app provides the user with the basic precautions to be taken and how to follow social distancing in times of global pandemic.
  8. As we have discussed above the app works on Bluetooth and GPS based technology which helps to determine the risk factor at a certain distance and a specific location.
  9. At last, the app always reminds the user to take a self-assessment test, follow social distancing and do’s and don’ts in this lockdown.[4] 

Concerns for The Aarogya Setu App

A week after the launch, the app received an overwhelming response. But it came into a debate not just because of its importance to track corona patients but because of data security of the users.

A French hacker Elliot Alderson tweeted about this problem on 5th May 2020 stating that “A security issue has been found in your app. The privacy of 90 million Indians is at stake. Can you contact me in private?”. This incident raised the alarms in the nation which lead the debate to start in the nation about the app.

After looking into the app, French hacker tagged congress leader Rahul Gandhi and confirmed that his fear was right regarding the app.[5]

Also, the terms and conditions of the app state that the user “agrees and acknowledges that the Government of India will not be liable for any unauthorized access to your information or modification thereof”

“This also goes against the provisions of the IT Act and the proposed Personal Data Protection Bill as the app service provider would fall under the definition of an intermediary and is obligated to ensure the security of the data collected and is liable for loss of it under the intermediary guidelines,” said Salman Waris, Partner at Tech Legis Advocates and Solicitors.[6]

After all this, the government worked a lot on this and ensured the public that the app is safe to use and there is no privacy issue any more on the app.

“Lot of work has been done over data privacy. A good privacy policy has been made to ensure that personal data of people are not misused. We provide this information to check an area from becoming a hotspot. Privacy is an important aspect of Aarogya Setu” Ministry of Electronics and IT Secretary Ajay Prakash Sawhney told reporters.[7]

Conclusion

This app was launched by the government to provide the doctors with a helping hand to trace the COVID-19 positive patients and treat them. Although, there were some flaws in the app which we have seen in the article. Privacy and data protection were one of them. As soon as the government came to know about this problem, they tried their best to fix it.

This app was also aimed to spread awareness amongst the public about COVID-19. But the question arises, whether it was successful or not. In the author’s opinion, Yes, it was a good step by the government and it also helped the doctors and police to trace patients and treat them on a timely and immediate basis. It also helped the person self-isolate himself/herself if they showed symptoms of COVID-19. Lastly, the fact that it alerts one if they are getting closer to a COVID-19 positive patient is a crucial indicator of its success.


[1] Hindu Net Desk, How does the Aarogya Setu app work?, The Hindu, https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/how-does-the-aarogya-setu-app-work/article31532073.ece.

[2] Cruze, D., Aarogya Setu App: How Bluetooth helps in identifying COVID-19 suspects. Livemint., https://www.livemint.com/technology/tech-news/aarogya-setu-app-how-bluetooth-helps-in-identifying-COVID-19-suspects-11587730877077.html.

[3] Supra note 2

[4] Javaid, A, Aarogya Setu App: What is it, its benefits, how to download, privacy issues and more. Jagranjosh, https://www.jagranjosh.com/general-knowledge/aarogya-setu-app-1586848268-1.

[5] Lohia, S., In-Depth | Aarogya Setu app: From efficacy to privacy concerns, what’s under the hood of Centre’s COVID-19 contact tracing app, Moneycontrol, https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/india/in-depth-aarogya-setu-app-from-efficacy-to-privacy-concerns-whats-under-the-hood-of-centres-COVID-19-contact-tracing-app-5271681.html.

[6] Chandrashekhar, A., & Agarwal, S., Legal experts point out liability concerns with the Aarogya Setu App, The Economic Times, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/software/legal-experts-point-out-liability-concerns-with-the-aarogya-setu app/articleshow/75561944.cms#:~:text=MUMBAI%20%7C%20DELHI%3A%20A%20cla

[7] Press Trust of India, Centre Issues Data Processing Rules for Aarogya Setu App Amid Privacy Concerns. NDTV.com, https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/coronavirus-pandemic-centre-issues-data-processing-rules-for-aarogya-setu-app-amid-privacy-concerns-2227143#:~:text=New%20Delhi%3A&text=Amid%20concerns%20expressed%20about

Shivam Bansal from Symbiosis Law School, Noida

“Dream only when you have a passion to fulfill them”

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