NEW DELHI, Oct 28: Millions of Indians have downloaded the app in their mobiles during the Corona pandemic-infused lockdown and even afterwards. The app was considered the entry passport at many public places, was must for boarding a flight or train, was referred to repeatedly by the prime minister Narendra Modi appealing to the people to download it, and has even earned accolades for the country from the world body like the World Health Organisation for helping the health warriors to identify the COVD-19 clusters. But shockingly, no one seems to know who created “Arogya Setu” app that was the buzzword during the lockdown.
Even as the website of the mobile application states that it was developed jointly by the Ministry of Electronics and the National Informatics Centre (NIC), both the government departments deny having knowledge related to its creation.
The National Informatics Centre, which designs government websites, has said it had no information about who has created the Aarogya Setu app and how it had been created. The Chief Information Commission has pulled up the NIC, which comes under the ministry of electronics, and issued a show-cause notice to various chief public information officers asking them to provide a reply to an RTI application which questioned about the Covid-19 contact tracing app. The reply can’t be evasive, the CIC has said.
The complaint was filed by one Saurav Das who claimed to have approached the NIC, National E-Governance Division (NeGD) and the ministry of electronics and information technology seeking to know about the creation of the application. Downloading the mobile application is also a must before entering restaurants, cinema halls, metro stations, as stipulated by the ministry of home affairs. But Das said neither NIC nor the ministry had data regarding the creations of the app.
The CIC has also asked the NIC to explain why its name is there on the website if it does not have any information regarding it.
The Central Information Commission (CIC), irked over what it described as “evasive answers” from the concerned departments and officials, issued a show-cause notice to three senior officials in the government.
The action by the top RTI body came after the concerned government departments claimed to have “no information” related to the Aarogya Setu app. The IT and Electronics Ministry, in its response to the information query, transferred the same to the National e-Governance Division (NeGD). The latter responded by stating that “the information sought is “not related to our division.”
“The Commission directs the CPIO, NIC to explain this matter in writing as to how the website https://aarogyasetu.gov.in/ was created with the domain name gov.in, if they do not have any information about it,” Information Commissioner Vanaja N Sarna has ordered.
The CIC noted that not only about the creation of the app, nobody “seems to have” any knowledge about the files created, the inputs received, audit measures taken to check whether personal data are being misused or not.
Concerns over the app and its security aspects had been raised before. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had earlier accused the government of breaching data security. “The Aarogya Setu app is a sophisticated surveillance system, outsourced to a private 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,” he had tweeted.
Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had then refuted the allegations and asserted that Aarogya Setu has not been outsourced to any private operator.