Govt launches ‘Aarogya Setu’; a coronavirus tracker app

Paper: II

For Prelims:  Aarogya Setu App.

For Mains: Government Policies and Interventions for Development in various sectors and Issues arising out of their Design and Implementation.

Context of News:

  • In order to spread awareness among the citizens on the novel corona virus outbreak n India, government of India has launched a new app that will help people track Covid-19 infections more accurately and effectively.

About Aarogya Setu App:

  • The ‘Aarogya Setu’ tracking app will help track the corona virus infection by using the smartphone’s GPS system and Bluetooth and provide information that will help in determining if you have been near a Covid-19 infected person or not.
  • The Aarogya Setu app supports 11 languages and this app has been developed by the National Informatics Centre that comes under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.
  • This application determines if you are at risk by scanning through a database of known cases across India, and also via location.
  • Ensuring the data is encrypted, the app uses your location to know of the area you are around comes under the infected areas of the database and also needs an activated Bluetooth to determine if you have been within six feet from the infected person.
  • The app will share your data with the government in case you test positive for Covid-19 or if you came in contact with the covid-19 positive patient.
  • The app’s privacy policy mentions that it does not share data with other third-party apps. Your data is shared only with the government. The app does not allow your name or number to be disclosed to the public at any time.
  • The chatbot in the app can answer basic queries and help you check symptoms. It also gives you state-specific helpline numbers.

Reasons for Launching this app:

  • Creating Awareness:
  • With the launch of this app, the governments seeks to limit the spread of the Covid-19 cases in India via technology and AI as well as, help create self awareness among the citizens with relevant information on the infection. Currently, according to health ministry, the numbers of confirmed Covid-19 cases have surged to 1965.
  • Reducing pressure of Health workers:
  • With the basic aim of increasing awareness among people related to pandemic and ways of protecting oneself, it will reduce huge burden of government and health service providers by creating self assessment zone for health safety of people.

Importance of Raising Awareness in fight against Corona Virus:

  • Increasing vigorous awareness-raising campaign to educate the general public about the virus and the necessary precautions should be exercised to prevent a further increase in infections.
  • Consideration of the nature of the human to human transmission method of the virus, majority of the mentioned awareness-raising activities has been implemented in accordance with a strict no-contact policy. As such, verified information disseminated through social media platforms too has succeeded in reaching a large audience which will be catalyst in fight against corona virus.

Way Forward:

  • This step will be important in disseminating information to people about do’s and don’ts but 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 smart phones. This raises a concern of proportionality.