Coronavirus: India makes government tracing app compulsory for all workers

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Privacy advocates warn over nation's lack of privacy laws

World | The Independent

Officials in India have ordered all private and public workers across the country to use a government-backed app designed to trace the spread of the virus - prompting concern from privacy advocates.

Dubbed Aarogya Setu - or Health Bridge - the Bluetooth and GPS-based contract-tracing app developed by India’s National Informatics Centre alerts users who come into contact with someone who is later found to have been carrying the virus. 

India has reported over 37,000 cases and 1,218 deaths from the virus so far, leaving the nation with a fatality rate of 0.76 deaths per million compared to the UK’s 413 per million.

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"Use of Aarogya Setu shall be made mandatory for all employees, both private and public," India's Ministry of Home Affairs said, adding that it will be the responsibility of those in charge of firms and organisations "to ensure 100% coverage of this app among the employees”.

It comes as Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government attempts to gradually ease restrictions on the nation with the largest number of people in lockdown worldwide.

Nationwide measures are expected to remain in place for at least another two weeks from Monday - however New Delhi has allowed "considerable relaxations" in lower-risk districts.

However while tracing apps have proven effective in other countries including South Korea, experts believe it will have to be downloaded by at least 200 million people in the 1.3billion population country.

India’s smart phone users are believed to total around 500 million people - with android phones the most commonly used in the country. So far the app has been downloaded around 50 million times through the Google Play Store.

However with few privacy laws enshrined by India’s legislature and an increasingly authoritarian bent to the leadership of Mr Modi’s ruling BJP party, privacy advocates have warned there is little to prevent the system being abused.

Before the lockdown the Indian government was criticised for growing dependence on surveillance networks during outcry over controversial citizenship legislation - including the use of cameras and drones used to track protestors and the curtailing of mobile networks in areas of widespread dissent.

"Such a move should be backed by a dedicated law which provides strong data protection cover and is under the oversight of an independent body," said Udbhav Tiwari, Public Policy Advisor for internet company Mozilla.

New Delhi, which during development stages said the app was "only for administering necessary medical interventions", responded to concern by stating Aarogya Setu will not infringe on privacy as all data is collected anonymously.

Additional reporting by Reuters.

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