Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad once again dismissed allegations that India’s coronavirus contact tracing app Aarogya Setu can be used for state surveillance.
Speaking exclusively at the e-Agenda Aaj Tak, the IT minister said that the crores of users that have downloaded the app are proof of the public’s trust in it.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has alleged that the Aarogya Setu app is a “sophisticated surveillance system, outsourced to a private operator, with no institutional oversight”. Union IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad rejected the charges that the coronavirus-related application was a “sophisticated surveillance system” that was leveraged to track citizens without their consent.
Denying the claim, Ravi Shankar Prasad said, “Rahul Gandhi shouldn’t be the reference point for the difficulties the nation is facing during this pandemic. It should be debated if he understands technology or economy. I appeal him to not politicise this crisis.”
Elaborating on the features of the Aarogya Setu app, Ravi Shankar Prasad said, “When there is no medical cure, the Aarogya Setu app is using technology to warn and make millions of people aware of the danger that is lurking. India’s population is 130 crore, around 121 crore people have mobile and 126 crores have Aadhaar cards. More than 60 crore people have smartphones. We are proud of this Digital India. All the app does is that it warns you if you are near someone who is infected and it also does contact tracing.”
“9.5 crore people have downloaded the application. That means 9.5 crore people trust it which is not a small number. There is no violation of privacy. Your name is not mentioned. The data is encrypted and it is available only for a limited period of time. General data will be deleted from the database in 30 days and if the data is of an infected person it will be deleted in 45-60 days. This is being done in the national interest. If someone has so much issue with it, then simply don’t download it,” the Union IT minister added.
When asked about some administrations like Noida making the downloading of the Aarogya Setu app mandatory, Ravi Shankar Prasad said, “There are MHA guidelines to download this application in the national interest. If a company or society mandates that you download the app, then a person who didn’t download it then should be questioned what their issue with it is. This should not be seen from as a privacy and law debate. Many countries are using such platforms. Are such questions being raised there?”
He added that information about patients comes from the central database maintained by the ICMR and if any technology expert has any specific concerns about the app, they should raise it and the IT ministry will work to resolve the issue.
The ministry has also launched The ‘Aarogy Setu Interactive Voice Response System’ to include citizens with feature phones and landline connections under the ambit of the ‘Aarogya Setu’ mobile application.
It is now mandatory for all government and private sector employees attending office to download the app, according to a Union Home Ministry directive.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been urging people to download the Aarogya Setu app, saying it is a fantastic use of technology to combat coronavirus. “Tracks the spread of COVID-19 and notifies you if someone around you is suffering from it. Also lists help-desk numbers of various states,” he had said in a series of tweets last month.
Meanwhile, the government on Wednesday said no data or security breach has been identified in Aarogya Setu after an ethical hacker raised concerns about a potential security issue in the app.
On Tuesday, French hacker and cybersecurity expert Elliot Alderson had claimed that “a security issue has been found” in the app and that “privacy of 90 million Indians is at stake”.
Dismissing the claims, the government said “no personal information of any user has been proven to be at risk by this ethical hacker”.
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