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India's contact tracing app comes under fire

May 6, 2020

Data privacy advocates have launched a legal challenge against the mandatory use of a state-backed contact tracing app. The Indian government has called it a tool in the fight against the novel coronavirus.

Indien Neu-Delhi Coronavirus
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Swarup

The New Delhi-based Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) on Wednesday supported a legal challenge against the mandatory use of contact tracing app Aarogya Setu. The government-backed smartphone app has been billed as a tool to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

"To put it plainly, to criminally prosecute people for not installing a smartphone application even at the time of a pandemic is illegal," said the IFF. "Due to this, we were compelled to take steps to challenge this order."

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Authorities in Noida, a city on the outskirts of the Indian capital, have made it a criminal offense to not have the app installed on one's smartphone. However, the IFF said it fears other parts of the country will roll out similar orders.

Last week, India's Home Affairs Ministry said the "use of Aarogya Setu shall be made mandatory for all employees, both private and public."

Authorities are preparing to ease restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus, including allowing some factories to resume operations. The ministry said company leadership will be held responsible "to ensure 100% coverage" of the app among employees working in high-risk areas.

Phased exit in India

Lack of data protections

The Indian government argues that the contact tracing app will help alert users who may have been in contact with a positive case or notify them of outbreak hotspots in their area. It has also said that user data would be processed anonymously.

However, data privacy advocates have criticized the mandatory use of the app along with criminal punishment for refusing to comply. Others have warned that India does not have the legal capacity to govern the use of the app's data due to a lack of digital privacy legislation.

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"Such a move should be backed by a dedicated law which provides strong data protection cover and is under the oversight of an independent body," said Udbhav Tiwari, public policy advisor for technology company Mozilla.

India has reported nearly 53,000 confirmed cases of the deadly pathogen. At least 1,785 people have died as a result of COVID-19.

Indian health workers face danger

ls/dr (Reuters, AFP)

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