Aarogya Setu: From Voluntary to Mandatory – And Back to Voluntary
Aarogya Setu was made mandatory on 1 May in all containment zones and among public and private sector employees.
The Union Home Ministry’s latest guidelines extending the prevailing lockdown till 31 May has, in a striking move, significantly diluted the mandatory provision of Aarogya Setu app.
The guidelines issued on 17 May state, “With a view to ensuring safety in offices and workspaces, employees on best effort basis should ensure that Aarogya Setu is installed by employees having compatible mobile phones.”
The latest guidelines are a sharp contrast to the MHA’s guidelines issued on 1 May which had stated that “The local authority shall ensure 100% coverage of Aarogya Setu app among the residents of the Containment Zone.”
Further, the annexure to the previous guidelines had expanded the mandatory scope of the contact tracing app stating“use of Aarogya Setu app shall be made mandatory for all employees, both private and public.”
On Sunday, however, the watered down orders also stated that district authorities “may advise individuals to install the Aarogya Setu application” on compatible mobile phones.
Launched on 2 April, Aarogya Setu, developed by private sector volunteers and the Government of India, is a contact tracing tool. It is meant to help determine if you have come in contact with someone “who could have tested COVID-19 positive.”
The app has come under severe criticism for lack of transparency and has been clouded by major privacy and data protection concerns. Despite calls to make the app open source in order to make it transparent and auditable, the source code has not been opened for scrutiny.
Two aspects of the latest guidelines stand out:
- First, the change in wording from “mandatory” and “shall ensure 100% coverage” to “best effort basis” and “advise individuals”.
- Second, the specification regarding installation of the app “in compatible phones” indicates the genuine difficulty of getting the app running in non-smartphones.
Those found to be without the app were also liable for criminal penalties, including imprisonment upon conviction from six months to two years.
Soon after the order, there were instances of executive overreach and expansion of the mandatory nature to beyond containment zones and workplaces to entire districts.
On 3 May, Gautam Buddh Nagar District police in Uttar Pradesh had passed prohibitory orders under section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) and also directed that the non-installation of the Aarogya Setu App will be treated as a violation of the order and attract criminal penalties.
On 5 May, residents of Gautam Buddh Nagar District, which includes Noida, Greater Noida and Dadri, led by Internet Freedom Foundation and advocate Ritwick Shrivastav , submitted a representation to Additional Deputy Commissioner (Law & Order), Ashutosh Dwivedi, challenging the legal basis for making the installation of Aarogya Setu mandatory.
The legal challenge, facilitated by the IFF, contests the issue of breach of personal liberty. commenced proceedings of the challenge through advocate Ritwik Shrivastav, who himself is a resident of Greater Noida.
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