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‘Aarogya Setu a Sophisticated Surveillance System’: Rahul Gandhi

Rahul Gandhi, in a sharp criticism of Aarogya Setu app, described it as a “sophisticated surveillance system.”

Updated
Tech and Auto
3 min read
Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, in a sharp criticism of the government’s Aarogya Setu App, on Saturday, 2 May, described it as a “sophisticated surveillance system”.
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Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, in a sharp criticism of the government’s Aarogya Setu app, on Saturday, 2 May, described it as a “sophisticated surveillance system.”

Attacking the contact tracing app for continuously tracking the users’ location and its development by private sector volunteers, Gandhi said it was “outsourced to a pvt operator, with no institutional oversight - raising serious data security & privacy concerns (sic).”

Echoing surveillance concerns raised by researchers, activists, and scientists, Gandhi added, “Technology can help keep us safe; but fear must not be leveraged to track citizens without their consent.

Launched on 2 April, Aarogya Setu, developed by 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 privacy and surveillance concerns as well as the lack of audit and transparency. The app is not open source and its source code is not open to scrutiny.

Moreover, the app, since its launch has steadily moved from being voluntary to mandatory for all public sector and private sector employees according to the guidelines issued by the Union Home Ministry on 1 May.

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IT Minister RS Prasad Hits Back

Shortly after Gandhi’s tweet, Electronics & IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad responded on Twitter saying “Aarogya Setu is a powerful companion which protects people. It has a robust data security architecture.”

He also denied Rahul Gandhi’s claim of the app being outsourced to private sector and iterated that “The app is NOT outsourced to any private operator.”.

‘App to Continue for 1-2 Years’: Javadekar

Rahul Gandhi’s tweet came hours after news agency ANI released an excerpt of its interview with Information & Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar, where he said, “this app will continue for next 1-2 years till we come out of it.”

“This app will be a permanent help till we win the war against the pandemic,” Javadekar added.

The I&B minister’s statement evoked strong reactions on social media. While Medianama founder Nikhil Pahwa said the move “should be challenged in court,” advocate and author Gautam Bhatia reacted saying “willing to bet that the "1-2" years is going to turn into "forever," just like "voluntary" turned into "mandatory" with Aadhaar.”

App Mandatory for All Public & Private Sector Employees

The new guidelines issued by the Union Home Ministry have stated that contact tracing app Aarogya Setu must be installed by all individuals residing within containment zones.

However, the national directives in the annexure to the order also states that all public and private sector employees will have to install the app, thereby expanding the mandated areas beyond the containment zones.

According to the latest directions, “the most sensitive areas of the country, from the spread of COVID-19 point of view, and falling within the Red and Orange Zones, are designated as Containment Zones.”

This essentially means that containment zones will comprise 414 out of the country’s 733 districts. The Union Health Ministry, in a letter, identified 130 districts as red zones and 284 as orange zones.

‘Aarogya Setu a Sophisticated Surveillance System’: Rahul Gandhi
(Image: Union Home Ministry)

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