Within hours, the Aarogya Setu app became the fastest downloaded app on record… India was not the first country to deploy technology for coronavirus contact … But in a country with no meaningful anti-surveillance, privacy or data protection laws (the 1885 Telegraph Act is still in use) and a nationalist government with unprecedented snooping powers, many fear it has sinister implications.
The app has fuelled concern that the pandemic is being used as a pretext to erode privacy and freedom of speech in the name of “winning the war” against coronavirus. “In this context, the justification for restrictions on civil liberties is a lot more palatable to the public and it is less closely scrutinised,” said Sidharth Deb, counsel at the Internet Freedom Foundation, who wrote a paper on the app.
Privacy violations and unprecedented surveillance have already been rife at the state level… The app presents similar issues, but on a scale that could affect hundreds of millions of people. All data used to calculate risk of infection, from age and address to travel history… is sent to an external server under the control of the federal government.