Central Information Commission, the top appellate body under the Right to Information Act, on Tuesday issued show-cause notices to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and two other government offices for providing “evasive answers” to an RTI application related to the creation of the Aarogya Setu app, reported Live Law.

The notices were issued after a complaint was filed by a person named Saurav Das, stating that the National Informatics Centre, the National e-Governance Division and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology had failed to furnish answers to his query on the creators and the process of creation of the app.

Replying to his query, the National Informatics Centre said that the “entire file related to the creation of the app is not with NIC”, reported NDTV. The ministry, on the other hand, transferred the query to the National e-Governance Division, which said: “The information sought is not related to [our division].”

“Denial of information by authorities cannot be accepted,” the Central Information Commission said. “It is a current issue and it is not possible that there was no file movement while creating this app,” the commission said, adding that the authorities “cannot simply wash their hands off by stating that the information is not available with them”.

The RTI body issued notices to the chief public information officers of the ministry and the two government bodies, saying that their failure to explain about the creation of the app and the whereabouts of its files is “preposterous”, according to Live Law. The officials have been asked to reply by November 24.

The Central Information Commission also asked the National Informatics Centre to explain why it was mentioned on the Aarogya Setu website that the centre had designed, developed and hosted the platform, when it had no relevant information.

Screenshot from Aarogya Setu website, which mentions it is designed, developed and hosted by National Informatics Centre.

‘Could be grave breach of right to privacy,’ says RTI applicant

In his complaint to the commission, Das had submitted that the lack of information on the data could lead to “security compromise of millions of Indians’ personal and user data”, which, he said, would be a “grave breach of fundamental right to privacy”.

He added: “No one has any information on how this app was created, the files relating to its creation, who has given inputs for this App’s creation, what audit measures exists to check for misuse of the personal data of millions of Indians, whether any anonymisation protocols for user data have been developed.”

The Aarogya Setu app was launched by the Narendra Modi government in April with an aim to establish contact tracing from those infected by the coronavirus. However, data security experts and hackers pointed out flaws and privacy-related issues within the app soon after its launch.

An ethical hacker who goes by the name Elliot Anderson had warned that the “privacy of 90 million Indians” was under threat. The Centre had subsequently dismissed the charges and had cited the expertise of the National Informatics Centre and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology in the creation of the app.

“This is a technological invention of India, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, our scientists, NIC [National Informatics Centre] Niti Aayog and some private [entities], whereby it is a perfectly accountable platform to help in the fight against Covid-19,” Union Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said in May.

The Aarogya Setu team too had issued a statement at that time, clarifying its stand on the questions raised against it.