Plea in Karnataka High Court To Make Usage of Aarogya Setu App Voluntary

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Karnataka High Court, Auction of Properties, Community Spread

On April 2, the National Informatics Centre (NIC) launched a mobile application called “Aarogya Setu”, which is used for contact tracing. This came after the Central Government imposed a nation-wide lockdown in March. The app uses location services and Bluetooth to track users. Millions of users downloaded the app in the wake of rising Coronavirus cases.

Brief Background 

This App was promoted as a voluntary application. Yet, the Ministry of Railways mandated its use by a tweet on May 12. It said that all the passengers availing rail services had to download it. Furthermore, the Ministry of Civil Aviation, on May 21, released an order hinting at the app’s usage. In addition to this, the Airports Authority of India made the app compulsory for air passengers. However, children below 14 years of age were an exception.  

On May 27, Anivar Arvind filed a writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution in the HC of Karnataka. The petitioner is a public interest technologist. His petition challenged the mandatory use of the app. Sidharth Baburao appeared as the counsel for the petitioner. 

Petitioner’s Arguments 

Respondent No. 2, the Ministry of Railways, Respondent No. 3, the Ministry of Civil Aviation, and Respondent No. 4, the Airports Authority of India passed orders mandating the app usage as described above. The Contentions were based on the points below. 

  • These orders are discriminatory in nature. It doesn’t take into consideration the people who do not have a smartphone. It also affects the right to privacy of citizens as the app gets continuous access to the user’s location. The people who can’t use the app for a lack of smartphone are at a loss. Their right to carry on a profession, right to life, and education both are at stake. 
  • There is also an infringement of fundamental rights. It violates the right to equality, privacy, freedom of trade, food, and education. 
  • The privacy policy is subject to alteration after the Government has already obtained data from the user it can happen.
  • Several democratic countries across the globe have launched similar mobile applications. Most of them only use Bluetooth, without accessing the user’s location. The usage is also voluntary. 
  • The app collects excessive data. It goes against the principles of “data minimization and purpose limitation”. The much-celebrated Puttaswamy Judgement by the Apex Court had envisaged these principles. 
  • The app’s purpose is to inform the user if they came in contact with a COVID-positive person. Basing the app on Bluetooth can achieve the purpose. There’s no necessity to seek the user’s location every 15 minutes. 
  • The Massachusets Institute Technology’s Review rated the app, 1 on 5. The grounds were transparency, data destruction, voluntary nature, etc. 
  • Robert Baptiste, a French ethical hacker tweeted about the major security issue he found with the app. The location of a user can be extrapolated by a technique called “triangulation”.  
  • Many studies suggest how contract tracing apps are not effective. The risk is of registering false-positives. A person may be flagged as infected even without coming into direct contact.  

Prayer 

The petitioner prayed to issue the following: 

  • A writ of mandamus or any appropriate order, to direct the authorities to make the usage of the app voluntary.  
  • An Order to release the complete corresponding source code of current and future versions.
  • A declaration stating “app’s usage cannot be mandated for accessing any Government service or facility.” 

High Court’s Order 

Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Vishwajith Shetty led the Division Bench. The Bench issued a notice to the Central Government, seeking its response. The matter is posted for a preliminary hearing on June 12.


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