India is forcing people to use an app to monitor COVID, unlike any other democracy

India is forcing people to use an app to monitor COVID, unlike any other democracy

If you don’t install the Indian coronavirus tracker app, you could lose your job, get fined, or even go to jail .

It is a hard line of action that no other democracy has yet crossed in the fight against COVID-19.

Aarogya Setu

Aarogya Setu (which means ‘a bridge to health’ in Hindi), India’s app for coronavirus contact tracing, has nearly 100 million users .

Prime Minister Narendra Modi propelled it into its launch by urging every one of the country’s 1.3 billion people to download it, and the result was that, within two weeks of launch, it became the fastest app to reach. 50 million downloads, surpassing even Pokémon G.

While the official policy is that downloading the app is voluntary, the truth is that government employees are required to use it , while major employers and private owners require it as well. The city of Noida is now reportedly fining and even threatening to arrest anyone who fails to install the app on their phone.

Rahul Gandhi , a prominent Indian parliament member and former leader of the opposition Indian National Congress, is one of those who has criticized the app, claiming it has no ‘institutional oversight’ and raises ‘serious privacy and data security concerns’.

India does not have a national data privacy law, and it is unclear who has access to the data from the app and in what situations. There are no strong and transparent policies or design limitations for accessing or using the data . The developer roster, made up largely of volunteers from the private sector, is not entirely public. Since the application is not open source, its code and methods cannot be easily reviewed by third parties, and there is no public expiration clause indicating when the application will cease to be mandatory.

There’s more: while many countries are developing limited services that use Bluetooth or GPS to give ‘exposure notifications’ to people who have interacted with someone found to have covid-19, Aarogya Setu goes further by giving each user an Color-coded badge showing risk of infection .

And on top of all this, Aarogya Setu also offers access to telemedicine, an electronic pharmacy, and diagnostic services. To top it off, it is whitelisted by all Indian telcos, so its use does not count towards the mobile data limits .