Under fire for making the downloading and usage of Aarogya Setu app mandatory in both public and private workplaces, as well as across containment zones, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Sunday signalled a backwards shift and specified that all employers “should on best effort basis” ensure that the contact tracing app is downloaded by all employees who have “compatible mobile phones”. The new carefully worded MHA guideline differs markedly from what the MHA had stipulated in its previous guidelines issued on May 1, which had made the use of Aarogya Setu app mandatory for all employees, whether in a public or private workplace, and entrusted “the head of the respective organisations” to ensure 100 per cent coverage of this this app among staff.
“The new guidelines provide multiple exit points for those who do not want to use the app. First, it is not mandatory, that they themselves clarified. Second, the word used is ‘should’. It is more of an advisory. Third, they have said it should be on a best effort basis. The best effort is not defined,” Supreme Court lawyer and cyber-law expert Pavan Duggal told The Indian Express.
In the new guidelines announcing the extension of nationwide lockdown till May 31, the MHA also said that the district authorities “may advise individuals to install the Aarogya Setu application on compatible mobile phones”, and update their health status regularly on it.
“By making it an advisory, not making it mandatory, the government is encouraging people to walk the walk, but also clarifying that no penal action will be taken,” Duggal said. The Noida administration had made the use of the app mandatory, alongside stipulating penalties for those not having installed it.
The MHA’s May 1 notification making Aarogya Setu mandatory had drawn ire from legal and cyber-security experts, who said that making the downloading and use of the contact tracing app mandatory was illegal.
“The pandemic is global, making contact tracing aided by technology attractive to every country. While everywhere else these apps are voluntary, India is the only country to mandate such a measure. This app is not secure, its source code is not open for examination and its security vulnerabilities are already being exploited,” technology lawyer and founder of Software Freedom Law Centre, Mishi Choudhary had then told The Indian Express.
Aaroyga Setu, the government’s contact tracing app for tracking patients with Covid-19, and alerting others if they came in the proximity of those patients, has been under the lens for being invasive and violating data privacy norms. As per a statement released April 2 by the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology, the app will track its users’ “interaction with others”, and will alert authorities if there was any suspicion of the user having been in contact with an infected person.