While India is being praised for its timely decision to enforce lockdown on most of its cities to contain the widespread contraction of the corona virus, its digital innovations are not at par with the government’s disaster management strategy.
The new government contact tracing application apparently is being seen as a huge privacy disaster initiative, undertaken by the Indian government. The application called Aarogya Setu has penetrated the mobile zone of many individuals in India and is repeatedly being advertised through various channels. Like a predictable AI that patterns your movements online and then keeps pushing your memory through websites and items you might have browsed in the recent past, the application keeps appearing as a pop up in various places online and offline too.
The application is meant to continuously collect data of the registered user and will then maintain a record of the places where the user comes in contact with other registered users. This is similar to the Chinese social media application Tik-Tok which was recently banned from usage in many US government offices due to its severe compromised abilities of transferring user data directly to the Chinese government.
Further, several aspects of the Indian application have been flagged by digital and cybersecurity experts. Sidharth Deb is a Delhi-based tech expert and acts as a policy and parliamentary counsel at Internet Freedom Foundation, a digital and civil rights advocacy NGO. According to Deb, “the application is prone to dictate your behaviour and travel patterns in order it can control the spread of the pandemic. But if the controls continue to remain in the hands of the government, it could actually be used to influence your freedom to decision making in personal matters of choice.”
The biggest issue at hand is personal data protection. This is a reality facing the US where post 9/11, people’s personal data was not personal anymore and their whereabouts and movements could be logged without them knowing about it. In India, because the government cannot be held accountable for misusing or manipulating personal information, access to personal information can be a dangerous bet in the longer run. The application in use has been designed by a team of young tech engineers for NITI Aayog. Users are now asking and demanding that their credentials be made public, so that the general population knows that their personal data is not going to be misused in future.
Contact tracing apps are experimental technology. The most reliable one was made available by Singapore through an open source file recently, all for countries to be able to handle their population and Covid-19 spread numbers. This is the only known successful model running, but data infringement remains a debatable issue for India.
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