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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Legal experts raise concerns, seek more clarity from Aarogya Setu’s privacy policy

According to a statement by the Ministry of Electronics & IT, the app will track its users’ “interaction with others”, and will alert the authorities if there was any suspicion of the user having been in contact with any infected person.

Written by Pranav Mukul , Aashish Aryan | New Delhi | April 3, 2020 2:31:51 am
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Flagging concerns over the privacy policy of Aarogya Setu app, launched by the government Thursday to allow people to assess if they are at a risk of contracting Covid-19, legal experts are of the view that there was a need for further clarity on how the data collected by the app be stored and used by the government.

According to a statement by the Ministry of Electronics & IT, the app will track its users’ “interaction with others”, and will alert the authorities if there was any suspicion of the user having been in contact with any infected person. “Once installed in a smart phone through an easy and user-friendly process, the app detects other devices with Aarogya Setu installed that come in the proximity of that phone. The app can then calculate the risk of infection based on sophisticated parameters if any of these contacts is tested positive,” the government said.

The app detects other devices with Aarogya Setu installed that have come in the Bluetooth or GPS proximity of one’s phone and captures this information. It recommends users to keep the Bluetooth and location sharing settings of the device switched on at all times. The statement added that the app’s design ensured “privacy-first”. It said that the personal data collected by the app was encrypted using “state-of-the-art technology and stays secure on the phone till it is needed for facilitating medical intervention”.

However, the app’s privacy policy reads: “Any personal information uploaded to the cloud will only be used for the purpose of informing you, or those you have come in contact with, of possible infection. Such personal information may also be shared with such other necessary and relevant persons as may be required in order to carry out necessary medical and administrative reasons”.

“There isn’t enough information available on what data will be collected, how long will it be stored and what uses it will be put to. If the data gets shared with the government of India, what the government can use it for needs to be specified. Otherwise, it will be a violation of the notice and consent principles,” said Prasanna S, a Delhi-based lawyer.

On the data retention part, the app’s privacy policy mentions that all information provided at the time of registration will be retained for as long as the user’s account remains in existence “and for such period thereafter as required for the purposes for which the information may lawfully be used…”.

“This is only the app-side data. What about the server side data? How long the Government of India retains it also needs to be specified,” Prasanna argued.

Additionally, there was also a question of proportionality with the app and whether it will be as effective as envisaged in containing the Covid-19 outbreak. “We understand that these are extraordinary times and some level of data collection is required but the question is how effective is this. Our situation is different than Singapore, where a good number of people would have smartphones. This raises a concern of proportionality. There are other means for trying to achieve this for a country like ours,” said Prasanth Sugathan, volunteer legal director, SFLC.in.

Here’s a quick Coronavirus guide from Express Explained to keep you updated: What can cause a COVID-19 patient to relapse after recovery? | COVID-19 lockdown has cleaned up the air, but this may not be good news. Here’s why | Can alternative medicine work against the coronavirus? | A five-minute test for COVID-19 has been readied, India may get it too | How India is building up defence during lockdown | Why only a fraction of those with coronavirus suffer acutely | How do healthcare workers protect themselves from getting infected? | What does it take to set up isolation wards?

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