Aarogya Setu & Right to Privacy
Authored By- Sonika Khandelwal
Abstract- In this article the author tries to convey to its readers that health/life should be given priority and we should support government steps to contain this pandemic. Instead of criticising we should commend the government’s commitment to choose to protect people’s right to health/life over the right to privacy. Here, the author briefs about the function of the Aarogya Setu App and the views of different stakeholders.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, there have been many instances of violations of constitutional rights such as the right to Livelihood, right to free movement, right to privacy, etc. And, at the same time, there is a proliferation of software mobile applications which freely infringe our right to privacy by requesting us for our personal data such as contacts, photos, media, locations, etc.
Extra-ordinary situations demand extra-ordinary measures such as the Aarogya Setu App launched by the government of India as a tracking tool for person affected with COVID-19. But since its launch it has been in controversy for its violation of right to privacy which is a fundamental right declared by SC.
The objective of Aarogya Setu App which means “Bridge to Health” is to spread awareness of covid-19 and to connect essential health services to the people and design to keep track of other app users that a person came in contact with by creating alert.
How Aarogya Setu works:
The app uses a Bluetooth based contact tracing mechanism. It records details of all the people with whom you have ever come in contact with. The application will alert you if you have come closer to any covid-19 patients. It also, provides the relevant information about the medical advisory. It gives state-wise figures of confirmed and recovered cases along with the deceased. People can also trace covid-19 patients within up to 10kms. It also provides the facility of e-pass. It tracks your health status after giving relevant information such as name, phone number, age, sex, profession, countries visited in the last 30 days and current & previous health history. It creates a unique digital ID which is used to track that person’s movement with the help of Bluetooth. It records a person’s location every 15 minutes.
According to MyGov this app has been built with privacy as a core principle and the processing of contact tracing and risk assessment is done in an anonymised manner. After registering into this app it gives you a unique anonymised device ID. All interaction with the government server from your device is done through this ID only and no personal information is exchanged. According to project head of the Aarogya Setu all the personal information collected under this app will be retained on the mobile device for a period of 60 days for sick individuals and 30 days for healthy people from the date of collection.
Former Supreme Court judge B. N. Srikrishna said that mandating use of Aarogya Setu app causes more concern to citizens than benefits. Forcing people to use the app is utterly illegal because it’s an executive order and it does not have legislative backing. It uses both GPS and Bluetooth unlike other app such as Google or Apple which only uses Bluetooth. It continuously tracks people movements making it more invasive than other such apps. No established norms that regulate the collection, storage and use of such data are in place. Even new data protection bill is still in nascent stage. In this bill government has mentioned that the period of retention of personal data shall be 180 days minimum which is not in consonance with what is said for Aarogya Setu case. There is no restriction on the sharing of personal data with law enforcement agencies. No accountability or oversight built into the system. So, no one can hold government liable for any breach to the privacy.
Indeed it is high time for positive criticism. The people should appreciate the efforts taken by Indian government to contain the spread of this pandemic at the time when no governments of the world were prepared to tackle this situation. By launching Aarogya Setu App government shows its commitment towards saving precious lives which is more important than any other right. It is the time for people to decide which should be given priority – right to privacy or right to life/health. Although in legal terms the government may be accused of stalking on one hand but on other hand the government is willing to protect privacy through the introduction of new data protection bill in the parliament. Moreover, for any offence to be committed there should be a mens rea. But, nowhere government has ever dreamt of intruding into the lives of people while launching the Aarogya Setu App. Its only purpose was to take required administrative actions to contain the spread of disease via data collected through this app and to save lives at the end. When we share our contact number, e-mail ID and other personal information for getting promotional messages at shops and other institutions isn’t it amounts to breach of right to privacy just because here is our will? So, in the war of right to life v/s right to privacy people should definitely support the right to life.
1. K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India (2017) 10 SCC 1