Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Saturday flagged privacy risks posed by the Centre’s Covid-19 contact-tracing app Aarogya Setu, a day after the government made it mandatory for all public and private sector employees.

“The Aarogya Setu app, is a sophisticated surveillance system, outsourced to a pvt [private] operator, with no institutional oversight - raising serious data security and privacy concerns,” Gandhi wrote on Twitter. “Technology can help keep us safe; but fear must not be leveraged to track citizens without their consent.”

Union Law and Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad hit back at Gandhi. “Aarogya Setu is a powerful companion which protects people,” he wrote on Twitter. “It has a robust data security architecture. Those who indulged in surveillance all their lives, won’t know how tech can be leveraged for good!”

“Aarogya Setu is NOT outsourced to any private operator,” he added. “Mr. Gandhi really high time that you stop outsourcing your tweets to your cronies who do not understand India.”

Earlier in the day, his cabinet colleague Prakash Javadekar dismissed concerns that the Centre’s Aarogya Setu app violates the privacy of its users, and said that it is only meant to alert people about Covid-19 risk, ANI reported. He was responding to All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen President Asaduddin Owaisi’s remark calling the app “shady” and raising concerns on the possibility that it may try to obtain user’s private information.

“The Aarogya Setu app is being preferred over all other contact-tracing apps in the world,” Javadekar told ANI. “It is is only meant to alert people and no private information is being collected through it. It is the best scientific instrument. The lockdown will be over soon but the app [will] remain in use till we win the war against the pandemic,” he added

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The Aarogya Setu app is meant to alert users if they have come in contact with a Covid-19 patient, and what measures they need to take in case that happens. Cybersecurity experts, however, have expressed concerns that it could violate the users’ privacy and become a surveillance tool in the hands of the government.

On Friday, the Centre made the app mandatory for all public and private sector employees. “It shall be the responsibility of the head of the respective organisations to ensure 100 per cent coverage of this app among the employees,” the home ministry said in guidelines related to the extension of the nationwide lockdown. The Centre also directed local authorities to ensure that people in Covid-19 containment zones have signed up for the app.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also repeatedly urged the citizens to download the app, which was launched early in April.

The number of coronavirus cases in India has gone up to 37,776, according to the Union health ministry’s Saturday evening update. Covid-19 has killed 1,223 people in the country. On Friday, the Centre extended the nationwide lockdown until May 17. During this period, limited economic activities will be allowed in designated orange and green zones.

Also read:

  1. The Aarogya Setu app endorsed by Modi to track Covid-19 cases could ramp up government surveillance
  2. From Aadhaar to Aarogya Setu: How surveillance technology is devaluing India’s democratic rights