The Nation Wants to Know: Who Created the Aarogya Setu App?


The Nation Wants to Know: Who Created the Aarogya Setu App?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

The Aarogya Setu app has been described by the government as an important tool in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. The app was made mandatory for all government employees and citizens living in containment zones. The total downloads of the app have exceeded 150 million since the PM urged Indians to download it.

However, the Ministry of Electronics (MeitY), National Informatics Centre (NIC), and National e-Governance Division (NeGD) have all reportedly claimed to have no information about who created the Aarogya Setu app and how the website was created. Rip, data privacy. According to the Aarogya Setu website, the app was developed by the NIC and the Information Technology ministry.

Activist Saurav Das had stated in his complaint that the NIC, NeGD, and MeitY had failed to provide information about the creation of the Aarogya Setu app. The complainant had sought details including the origin of the proposal for the app as well as its approval details, companies involved, individuals and government departments included, and copies of communications between private people involved in developing the app.

The NIC reportedly said that the “entire file related to creation of the App is not with NIC”. The IT ministry transferred the query to the National e-Governance Division, which said, “The information sought is not related to (our division).”

The Central Information Commission has issued notice to the government for “evasive answers” on who created the Aarogya Setu app. The CIC on Tuesday issued show-cause notices to the CPIOs, MeitY, NIC, NeGD as to why penalty u/s 20 of the RTI Act should not be imposed on them for prima facie obstruction of information and providing an evasive reply on an RTI application related to Arogya Setu App.

“The Commission directs the CPIO, NIC to explain this matter in writing as to how the website was created with the domain name, if they do not have any information about it,” Information Commissioner Vanaja N Sarna said in the order. “None of the CPIOs were able to explain anything regarding who created the App, where are the files, and the same is extremely preposterous”, the CIC stated.

While the commission didn’t comment on the privacy aspect of the complaint, it stated that “denial of information by all the concerned authorities cannot be accepted at all” as it is a current issue and it is not possible that there was no file movement while creating the App, a citizen cannot go round in circles to find out the custodian. The Commission also noted in its decision that the NeGD CPIO could not explain why it delayed responding to the RTI application for almost two months and that too informing that the information sought is not related to the department.

While some on Twitter made jokes, others slammed the government.

Leaders from Congress brought up privacy issues raised by Rahul Gandhi.

Information delivery and transparency are key to governance, and especially in sensitive matters like the collection and hosting of personal data. Citizens have a right to know about ownership of apps like Aarogya Setu and how they are protecting our data. The country downloaded the apps when politicians asked for it, now they must furnish the information when citizens ask for it.