45 organizations, 100 prominent individuals push back against coercion of Aarogya Setu

Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob

Internet Freedom Foundation, an Indian non-governmental organization that conducts advocacy on digital rights and liberties, sent a joint representation to the Prime Minister’s Office that is endorsed by 45 organizations and more than 100 individuals against the mandatory use of the Aarogya Setu App dated May 1, 2020.

This joint representation becomes all the more urgent given direction by the Home Ministry for the mandatory use of Aarogya Setu and for it’s “100% coverage”, especially in all workplaces. Violation of this direction can lead to criminal penalties thereby Aarogya Setu now not only impacts the data privacy of workers or can lead to risks of exclusion and misidentification, a person not having it on their phone can also be charged with a criminal offense.

This marks a dramatic and clear shift in government policy on Aarogya Setu from, “encouragement” towards coercion and increases the legitimacy of the demands articulated by the joint representation.

he endorsements are from a broad swathe of Indian society including trade unions, people’s movements, digital rights organizations, public health experts, former civil servants and bureaucrats, activists, academics, technologists, journalists, lawyers etc.

“We, the undersigned organizations, collectives and individuals write this representation to your offices to express serious concern about violation of privacy of workers through mandated use of the Aarogya Setu mobile app. We acknowledge the severity of the COVID-19 crisis which has gripped the country and maintain that it is especially during such public health emergencies that we must ensure the privacy and dignity of essential frontline workers is protected,” the letter reads.

“While the government initially claimed that the use of Aarogya Setu would be purely voluntary, downloading the app was soon made mandatory for all Central Armed Police Forces personnel and employees of Prasar Bharati. However, as per news reports, army personnel have been instructed not to use the Aarogya Setu app at office premises, operational areas and sensitive locations due to data security concerns,” it added.

The letter also said: “In addition to government employees, gig and platform workers employed by private companies like Zomato and Urban Company (formerly known as Urban Clap) are also now being forced to use the Aarogya Setu app and share sensitive personal information like health and location data with the government without adequate privacy protections. At present, the Aarogya Setu app is operating in a legal vacuum and its Privacy Policy and Terms of Service do not comply with data protection principles of purpose limitation, data minimization, storage limitation, accuracy, integrity and confidentiality, and transparency and fairness in processing.”

Considering the damaging impact of the Aarogya Setu app and COVID-19 lockdown on the privacy, autonomy and dignity of workers, the joint representation urged PMO to take cognizance of privacy concerns associated with Aarogya Setu and issue an advisory clarifying that use of the app should not be made mandatory for workers in the gig economy and also the traditional economy.

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