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Aarogya Setu doesn’t invade our privacy

If compared with other state government applications, Aarogya Setu adheres to much stricter standards of privacy, purpose and justification.

Brijesh Singh and Khushbu Jain

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Aarogya Setu

Four weapons have emerged in our fight against coronavirus. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls them testing, isolation, tracing and treatment. These weapons work at different stages and have limitations of their own. The only way to flatten the curve and save precious lives is to get ahead of the virus and prevent it from infecting the next person. At a stage where a person has already been diagnosed and has been an active spreader, testing can help segregate people requiring a differential degree of care and other quarantine measures. Isolation and social distancing translating into lockdowns have proved to be effective. In the absence of a vaccine, which appears to be months away on a very optimistic note, or an effective treatment, millions of innocent individuals will lose their lives. Amongst all these measures the only pro-active measure is rapid contact tracing followed by pre-emptive testing and treatment if required. In wake of limited utility of manual contact tracing, social distancing and violation of lockdowns, governments all across the world have been constrained to use technology for prospective contact tracing and establishing co-presence. Approaches range from use of aggregated telecom data to GPS location information and Bluetoothbased beacons.

The Indian government’s Aarogya Setu app works by collecting user location data locally from GPS/Bluetooth and collates it with an IT-enabled operations framework. The app asks for necessary functional permissions including access to data storage, device location and control over Bluetooth protocol. Compared with similar apps used in Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea, Aarogya Setu follows the stringent Information Technology (Reasonable security practices and procedures and sensitive personal data or information) Rules (“SPDI Rules”), 2011. If compared with other state government applications, Aarogya Setu adheres to much stricter standards of privacy, purpose and justification. A detailed report by the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) which compares Singapore’s TraceTogether, MIT’s Private Kit (Safe Path’s Project) and Aarogya Setu while raising concerns about each of these applications, explains that the Indian government app stores the location data locally and does not upload it until and unless a medical event occurs. The use of 256- bit AES, a strong encryption technology, ensures that sensitive personal information of the user remains intact.

Data is encrypted in transit as well as at rest. Personal information provided at the time of registration is encrypted and anonymised before being uploaded to the government cloud where it is stored in a secure encrypted server. Europe which has a very stringent GDPR (privacy and data protection) regime has permitted anonymised telecom data and other metadata to be used for prediction of possible infection spread. In fact, backchanneling/extralegal arrangements between government authorities and TSPs appears to be common in Europe. Belgian telecom operators are granting public authorities database access, while in Germany Deutsche Telekom is affording its Federal Disease Prevention Agency ‘regulated access’ to its location data. In comparison to the above surveillance technology-based approaches, Aarogya Setu appears to be minimally invasive, voluntary and designed with principles of privacy in mind. It also anonymises personal information of the user into a Unique Identity which is used for processing of medically significant events only. The legal framework of the Supreme Court’s judgement in KS Puttaswamy (Retd) and Anr v Union of India (2017), while developing jurisprudence on the fundamental right to privacy, also explicitly observed that when it comes to a public health epidemic, authorities may use health records, provided they ensure the anonymity of the patients. Restriction of right to privacy may be justifiable in the circumstances subject to the principle of proportionality and must be considered in relation to its function in society and be balanced against other fundamental rights.

The only check and balance for the right to privacy is that it does not harm the other individual or affect his/ her rights. Interplay of right to privacy with other rights and necessity of restriction would depend on the factual matrix of each situation. As we face an unprecedented pandemic where more than 200 thousand people have died and three million people have been confirmed Covidpositive, the right to health becomes a paramount obligation of the state. Compared to some of the other social rights, the right to health which includes the “prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases” has been articulated and recognised as an integral part of the Right to Life and its duty of the state to protect its citizens from any such infringement/violation. Even though the new draft data privacy bill in India is moving through the legislative process, the Information Technology (Reasonable security practices and procedures and sensitive personal data or information) Rules, 2011 stipulates sensitive personal data or information and reasonable security practices and procedures for collecting and processing of such sensitive information. And in case of any breach shall be punishable under Section 43A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. Various measures have been pressed in service to save lives in an unprecedented pandemic. Testing, isolation, tracing and treatment have been tried out through ground personnel and volunteers. Use of advanced and mobile communication technologies can provide huge advantages and strategic gains for identification of hotspots and prevention of contagion. Aarogya Setu in addition to all the ground measures aids in a full spectrum response. While concerns have been expressed regarding contact tracing technology and apps used in various countries, a closer analysis of privacy policy, data handling and terms of service of the Aarogya Setu app appear to be in consonance with principles of privacy laid down in the Puttaswamy judgement as well as the SPDI rules under clause (ob) of sub-section (2) of Section 87 read with Section 43A of the Information Technology Act. Brijesh Singh is Inspector General of Police, Maharashtra, and Khushbu Jain is practising Advocate in the Supreme Court.

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On the intervention of Punjab`s Minister for Agriculture, Farmers` Welfare and Food Processing Randeep Singh Nabha on DAP shortage crisis, Union Minister for Chemicals & Fertilizers Mansukh Mandaviya on Tuesday assured to supply 10 rakes of DAP (Diammonium Phosphate), 5 rakes of NPK (Complex Fertilizer) and 2 of SSP (Single Super Phosphate) within three to four days to Punjab. Considering Punjab`s demand Union Minister also assured for adequate supply of Urea to Punjab in the coming November and December.

Punjab Agriculture Minister, who called upon Mandaviya at latter`s office here, informed the Union Minister that the total requirement of DAP for rabi crops is 5.50 lakh MT, out of which 4.80 lakh MT is required during October & November for timely sowing of wheat crop. DAP is an essential input for ensuring optimum productivity of wheat, which is sown on an area of about 35.00 lakh hectares in Punjab.

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After the meeting, Nabha revealed that Union Minister has said that the shortage of DAP was due to non-availability of the fertilizers in the international market and the union government would ensure adequate supply of DAP to Punjab.

“During the meeting we also demanded that the Union Government must repeal the farm laws against which the farmers are protesting for last one year. The farmers are feeling insecure as they argue that with these farmer laws the big Corporate would get away their farm lands,” said Nabha.

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In the letter, Arjun Singh said, “As you are aware the spate of post-poll violence, which started from the day of counting after the General Election still continues.

The High court also took cognizance of the situation and ordered a CBI probe in the case.” He also mentioned that the “TMC goons” attacked the party candidates – Joy Saha from Khardah and Ashok Mandal from Dinhata – while they were doing door-to-door campaign in their respective constituencies.

Requesting to deploy more security personnel in the constituencies, Singh wrote, “In this context, we repeat our request made earlier for immediate allotment of Central Security cover for our candidates as we have no reliance on the West Bengal Police.”

The MP requested the CEO to deploy 30 companies of CAPF per constituency to ensure free and fair polls on October 30.

Requesting to deploy more security personnel in the constituencies, Singh wrote, “In this context, we repeat our request made earlier for immediate allotment of Central Security cover for our candidates as we have no reliance on the West Bengal Police.”

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The Haryana government has launched a string of new applications have been launched by the government recently. Several new applications were brought into existence for the better and fair administration as well as for the benefits of commoners.

In this series, a new app namely Swasth Haryana by Anil Vij, state Health Minister for needy people visiting the government health institutions for the treatment. New app will get rid of long queues as they can get themselves registered on the app before going to hospitals. Vij said: “Through this app, patients can get themselves registered at any Civil Hospital of the State and the app is also available on Google Play Store.”

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Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa on Tuesday said that there appeared to be a deep rooted conspiracy to defame the farmers’ stir. Referring to the recent incident of lynching of a SC labourer from Tarn Taran, and latest disclosures in media, the Deputy Chief Minister, who also heads the Home Department, promised complete justice saying the government will reach to the bottom of the case and identify and expose as who were the conspirators behind the incident.

Randhawa said, in view of the recent disclosures about one of the Nihang leaders having already been in touch with the Union Minister for Agriculture NS Tomar in particular, the lynching incident has now taken an entirely different turn. The same Nihang leader is now defending the main accused for the killing of Lakhbir Singh, he added.

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Standing at the front against the Union Government’s decision to extend BSF jurisdiction in Punjab, Cabinet Minister Rana Gurjeet Singh, on Tuesday said that the border state has been ignored while granting special package of incentives to neighboring states like Himachal Pradesh for capital investment subsidy and now the extension of BSF Jurisdiction from 15 km to 50 km is yet another jolt to Punjab. It has created a panic and a sense of insecurity in investors, he added saying that how the investor shall go to the 25,000 sq. km border belt (out of a total of 50,000) which is under the jurisdiction of the Security Force Rana asked. Even the adjoining industrial units of Home Grown Industries would consider shifting to safer places, Rana said.

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Agriculture sector especially in the Border area is already under stress and extension of the BSF jurisdiction will further add to their difficulties, said the Cabinet Minister. Urging the union government to make the agriculture sector sustainable there, liberal incentives need to be given, he said. He suggested that 90% subsidies should be given to the farmers of the Border Area under the central schemes for drip irrigation system.

Rana said there was a dire need to reconsider the jurisdiction issue in concurrence with the state and grant special incentives at par with North Eastern States. The first step in this direction would be to constitute a Western Border States Advisory Council having Chief Ministers/Governor of the states as members under the Chairmanship of Union Home Minister on the pattern of North East Council to deliberate the issue of creating of a dedicated Corpus Fund pooled through a mandatory contribution from all the Union Ministries in the Union Budget, he added.

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