The Centre on Friday informed the Karnataka High Court that it is not mandatory for a person wishing to travel by rail or air to download the contact tracing Aarogya Setu app on their mobile phones, Live Law reported. Instead, passengers can fill a self-declaration form to undertake travel, it added.

The statement was made during the hearing of a petition filed by cyber activist Anivar Aravind, who contended that the Aarogya Setu protocol violates a citizen’s right to privacy. Aravind claimed that there was no law mandating the use of the app.

The Centre told a division bench comprising Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice ES Indiresh that the guidelines making the app mandatory for passengers have been amended and are advisory in nature. “Even if a passenger wishes to travel by air and has not downloaded Aarogya Setu application, he can travel by filing a self declaration as provided,” it added. “Therefore it is not mandatory for a citizen to provide evidence of downloading the Aarogya Setu application as a condition for air travel.”

The petitioner had also contended that in many other democratic countries, which have similar apps for contact tracing of persons testing positive for the virus, the action was voluntary, The Hindu reported. Moreover, most of these apps used Bluetooth for tracking and not the user’s location.

The bench asked the Centre to file its response to these and other larger issues raised by the petitioner on whether central and state governments can make the use of the Aarogya Setu app mandatory as a condition for accessing public offices. It also asked the government to explain if the use of the app was enforced without the backing of any law.

The bench posted the matter for further hearing on July 10.

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. Former Supreme Court Justice BN Srikrishna had described the central government’s push for the use of the app as “utterly illegal”.

On May 1, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs ordered that downloading the app was mandatory for employees of private and public sector organisations, making the heads of private organisations liable for non-compliance. It also mandated 100% coverage of the Aarogya Setu app within containment zones. The guidelines were sent out by the National Executive Committee, established under the National Disaster Management Act.

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Also read:

  1. No Covid-19 silver bullet: Aarogya Setu endangers India’s privacy – and its usefulness is uncertain