Motorists ride along a street during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in New Delhi on May 5. (Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP)
India's government has made it mandatory for government and private sector employees to use the Aarogya Setu mobile application to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, a move which church leaders, activists and political leaders say is a violation of the right to privacy.
The federal government on May 1 issued an order that for the safety of all government staff and others, everyone must download the app on their mobile phones.
“In the name of the Covid-19 pandemic, this government is misusing its emergency power acquired under the pretext of providing a safe healthcare system. This app is another form of surveillance on the people of India to take away their democratic rights,” A.C. Michael, a former member of Delhi Minorities Commission, told UCA News.
“An app, whether managed by the government or a private agency, is dangerous for the survival of democracy. There is no valid reason for making it mandatory. There are many other ways of keeping people informed of Covid-19 updates.
“In times of crisis like now, national leaders across the globe are being tested severely. Some have fallen short, some have risen to the moment, demonstrating resolve, courage, empathy, respect for science and elemental decency. But our leaders are misusing the laws made to tackle ‘terrorists’ by intimidating democratically dissenting citizens and silencing the opposition to its people to its policies.”
When installing the mobile app, Aarogya Setu stores a registrant's details including name, phone number, profession, gender, age and a list of countries visited in the past 30 days.
The app continuously collects data on the location of the user and cross-references using Bluetooth and GPS to link it to the central government's database to analyze whether the user has come into contact with an infected person.
According to the circular, when a worker heads for the office, he or she must review their status on the app and commute only when the app shows safe or low-risk status.
Employees are advised that if the app shows a message that he or she has a moderate or high risk, he or she should not go to the office and self-isolate for 14 days or until the status becomes safe or low-risk.
“The Supreme Court in the 2017 K.S. Puttaswamy judgment reiterated that the right to privacy is a fundamental right and laid down the proportionality test to assess any state restrictions imposed on said right,” said Sajan K. George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians.
Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi said the app is a sophisticated surveillance system, outsourced to a private operator, with no institutional oversight, raising serious data security and privacy concerns.
Gandhi wrote on social media that “technology can help keep us safe, but fear must not be leveraged to track citizens without their consent."
Meanwhile, more than 45 organizations and 100 individuals on May 2 wrote to the prime minister protesting the mandatory use of the Aarogya Setu app for workers in both private and public workplaces.
….as we enter the last months of 2021, we are asking readers like you to help us keep UCA News free.
For the last 40 years, UCA News has remained the most trusted and independent Catholic news and information service from Asia. Every week, we publish nearly 100 news reports, feature stories, commentaries, podcasts and video broadcasts that are exclusive and in-depth, and developed from a view of the world and the Church through informed Catholic eyes.
Our journalistic standards are as high as any in the quality press; our focus is particularly on a fast-growing part of the world - Asia - where, in some countries the Church is growing faster than pastoral resources can respond to – South Korea, Vietnam and India to name just three.
And UCA News has the advantage of having in its ranks local reporters who cover 23 countries in south, southeast, and east Asia. We report the stories of local people and their experiences in a way that Western news outlets simply don’t have the resources to reach. And we report on the emerging life of new Churches in old lands where being a Catholic can at times be very dangerous.
With dwindling support from funding partners in Europe and the USA, we need to call on the support of those who benefit from our work.