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Aarogya Setu contact-tracing data gone, Parliament told; activists want to know who saw it

Personal data was collected via the app from the onset of Covid to manage the disease and its spread; there were several concerns about privacy over the app's data-collection features.

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New Delhi: The central government has deleted all contact-tracing data collected through the Aarogya Setu mobile app as part of its Covid management protocol, it said Wednesday.

Activists had raised concerns over privacy of the data collected through the app – launched in April, 2020 around the onset of Covid-19 — with the aim to limit its spread via bluetooth-based contact tracing, and mapping of likely hotspots.

Aarogya Setu garnered nearly 50 million users in 13 days amid protests about the data collected, particularly in the absence of privacy laws in India.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi too, in his address to the nation in April, had urged people to download it and soon Aarogya Setu became one of the most-downloaded apps globally.

In the Lok Sabha on Wednesday, Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar, in a written reply, informed that the app’s contact-tracing feature had been discontinued in accordance with provisions of a Covid protocol formulated in early 2020. He also said data collected through the app till 10 May, 2022 had been deleted.

He wrote that the National Executive Committee, constituted under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, had in March 2020, selected an empowered group on technology and data management for the effective and time-bound implementation of strategies in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“As per a decision of the empowered group, its chairperson issued an order dated 11.5.2020, notifying the Aarogya Setu Data Access and Knowledge Sharing Protocol, 2020, to ensure secure collection of data by the Aarogya Setu mobile application, protection of personal data of individuals and the efficient use and sharing of personal or non-personal data for mitigation and redressal of the Covid-19 pandemic,” the minister said.

He also said that approved officials of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, state health departments, the National and State Disaster Management Authorities and district civil surgeons had been given secure access to the data collected through Aarogya Setu.

The non-governmental organisation, Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), however, has questioned whether the entire data is gone and also who all were privy to it.

Tejani Panjiar, Associate Counsel (Policy) at IFF, told The Print: “We finally have confirmation that the data has been deleted. However, there are questions that arise on gaps in timelines. For instance, they say that the data was deleted and the feature was disabled. The Aarogya Setu Data Access and Knowledge Sharing Protocol was modified in 2020, but last year we got to know that the protocol was discontinued. Now, that is the tricky part. We don’t know if the data collected after the discontinuation of this protocol has been deleted.”

On 13 May, 2020, the IFF had filed an RTI to enquire about the composition of the Empowered Group on Technology and Data Management who were involved in drafting the protocol. They also asked if any legal opinion was sought to draft the protocol.

Pointing out that the government did share this data with approved officials, Panjiar questioned whether this copy of the data had been deleted.

“The second aspect is about the ‘secure access’ that officials had been given for the data. We had filed an RTI on sending us a list of people who had secure access to this data and the list of people with whom this data was shared. We never got a list, we were just told they were approved officials related to Covid-19. Even today the Lok Sabha response does not give us a list of people who had access to this data,” she said.

Also read: National Health Authority organises 2-day Arogya Manthan in New Delhi


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