Monday, December 11, 2023

Rahul Gandhi calls Aarogya Setu ‘a sophisticated surveillance system’

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Congress MP Rahul Gandhi criticized the BJP government over the coronavirus tracking app Aarogya Setu as a “sophisticated surveillance system”.

“The Arogya Setu app, is a sophisticated surveillance system, outsourced to a pvt operator, with no institutional oversight – raising serious data security & privacy concerns. Technology can help keep us safe; but fear must not be leveraged to track citizens without their consent,” Rahul Gandhi tweeted today.

Gandhi adds to what some experts have said about privacy concerns over the app. 

On 14 April’s speech announcing the extension of India’s national lockdown till 3 May 2020, the country’s Prime Minister requested citizens to download the Aarogya Setu application.

The application remains a privacy minefield and it does not adhere to principles of minimization, strict purpose limitation, transparency, and accountability, said experts at Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) two weeks ago.

The app that was meant for voluntary use when it was launched in early April has been made a must for all private and government employees. If a private firm employee is found without the app on their phone, the head of the company will be held responsible, the center has said recently.

“The app runs very palpable risks of either expanding in scope or becoming a permanent surveillance architecture,” activists and researchers who are working in internet freedom and privacy policy raise concerns with the government’s new move.

In a working paper titled “Privacy Prescriptions for technology interventions on COVID-19 in India,” Sidharth Deb, policy and parliamentary counsel at IFF analyze the application, highlight how it is inconsistent with the right to privacy, is conceivably a risk toward a permanent system of mass surveillance and suggest clear recommendations to arrest these risks.

Aarogya Setu asks its users to provide both Bluetooth and location services access. This is meant to help the application identify contact traces of a Coronavirus positive patient.

The users have to enter their mobile phone number, verified with a one-time password, their name, age, gender, profession, travel history, and known contact with a coronavirus patient.

“As such, the Aarogya Setu application appears to clearly be inconsistent with privacy-first efforts which are being considered by technologists and governments,” wrote Sidharth Deb.

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