To curb the spread of the Coronavirus, Governments all over the world have resorted to actions that have potentially infringed upon the rights of individuals. In India, Aarogya Setu has sparked a debate on privacy.

“Big Brother is Watching You” just got a whole lot really, according to some privacy experts, when the Government of India rolled out ‘Aarogya Setu’, an application that aims to inform the people of their risk of contracting the Coronavirus and educate them on the best practices and medical advisories pertaining to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

However, the app has not exactly gone down well with certain people who argue that the system by which the app uses contact tracing and shares details with the government essentially makes it a ‘surveillance system’. Congress politician Rahul Gandhi too tweeted in this regard, and his theory was ‘proved’ by French ethical hacker, Elliot Anderson. Through this article, I am going to analyse whether or not these claims hold weight, and whether the application is truly worth it.

The first concern would be that downloading the app gives the Indian Government access to your location and personal data at all times. However, that is untrue. Firstly, the application replaces all your data with a Device Identification Number on sign-up, and this DiD becomes the basis of all future interactions. It is this DiD that is used to interact with other phones when they come in range with each other and calculate your health risk and communicate it to the server. It is only when the risk of infection to a person is too high that the personal information is reconciled with the DiD to alert the individual.

The Privacy Policy for the application, along with its Data Access protocol, explicitly states the purposes for which the data can be used and limits the possibility for misuse. One major concern remains in the fact that the data is shared not only with the Health Ministry but with any related ministry at the central or state level that is involved in addressing the pandemic, but a case could be made against the same looking at the various actors involved in the COVID response. Another concern comes from the fact that DiDs that do not change can lead to privacy issues, but the Government is currently addressing this by creating a dynamic ID that generates multiple times and offers more security.

Hacker Elliott Anderson tweeted about certain ‘risks’ which included data of the users being at risk and local files being accessed. However, various people proficient with coding have come out to deny these claims, arguing that Elliott ran basic scripts to access the data stored on his own device and portrayed it as a security issue when it isn’t. Adding to it, the creators of the app themselves chose to engage with the hacker and clarified their response to his claims. It has been by and large proved that these claims held no weight at all and should be disregarded. An important point to be noted is that this is the same person who claimed that he hacked TRAI Chairman RS Sharma’s information based on his Aadhar Number. However, it was later found that the information he ‘hacked’ was available in the public domain already and could be easily found through search engines. As Michael Scott would say “Fool me once, strike one. But fool me twice, strike three.”

More importantly, the rules and privacy policy clearly specify the duration for which the data can be stored. The application deletes all personal data 30 days from collection, and the servers purge the information after 45-60 days, depending on whether or not a particular person tested positive for the virus. This contact and location data can in any case not be retained beyond 180 days and the demographic data is deleted within six months, provided the pandemic does not extend beyond that period. Thus, the possibility of the government retaining or sharing this data for other purposes does not exist.

Contact Tracing is a difficult, labour intensive process and often leaves out people in the way it’s been conventionally done. For example, a person goes to the market to buy vegetables and meets someone they do not know who later turns out to be positive for the virus. At that point in time, it becomes almost impossible for health officials to trace who was at xyz vegetable vendor at 11:00 hours on a day. This is where the app steps in, even if the person doesn’t know the person who contracted the virus, they will be notified of the risk and be asked to take steps accordingly, thus making the contact-tracing process not only less difficult but also more comprehensive.

A case is made that apps like these cannot be put to use by people who don’t have smartphones. It’s important to note that the app isn’t a replacement for contact tracing, it is an assistance mechanism. A lack of accessibility by the entire population cannot count as an argument for the ones who can access it to not be asked to install it and use it. Even if one person can self-isolate and reduce the spread of the virus due to the app, it means tens or hundreds of others who they would have come in contact with are saved. Every single life saved is a major victory for the application. In fact, until now, the app has been used to notify 1.4 lakh people of potential exposure to the virus and asked them to take necessary precautions. Even if one percent of those, i.e., 1400 people test positive for the virus later but had taken precautions to contain its spread thanks to the notifications issued, it’s a win not only for the app but for the country.

It is a moral obligation of every citizen to try and ensure that we try and reduce the spread of the virus as much as possible and take whatever steps necessary. Aarogya Setu, with its benefits, is a huge step, and all of us who can download it should make sure that we do.

Of course, the government needs to do better in two regards. Firstly, the government must implement Aarogya Setu only through law. If an action threatens to hinder a fundamental right (such as the Right to Privacy here), it needs to be implemented through legislation that limits potential government misuse. While in the status quo, it is understandable why the app is being pushed so strongly, there are better ways to do it, especially in the absence of a Data Protection law in the country.

Secondly, app security is a major issue. Thus, the app should be made open source so that developers can check it for bugs and potential security issues, and thus make it safer and easier to use for everyone.

The Aarogya Setu app is not perfect, but there can be no denying that it can be of huge help in the fight against COVID-19. The government has actually taken measures to ensure that user privacy is respected to the extent possible, which is a welcome change from its actions from the past. Given how crucial it is, it is imperative that we download the application as a measure to not only safeguard our own health but that of others around us too.

Featured Image Credit: Flipboard

Khush Vardhan Dembla

[email protected]


A brief look at the Ministry of Human Resource Development’s (MHRD) letter to all higher education institutes to link all student accounts to the social media accounts of the institutes, and the ministry and the reactions of college students.

A letter sent on 3rd July 2019 by the MHRD to all higher education institutes requesting them to identify and designate a faculty/non-faculty member as the “Social Media Champion” (SMC) whose duty it will be to get all the students of the college to connect their Twitter/Facebook/Instagram accounts to that of the MHRD and the educational institution by the 31st July. This move has already received a lot of backlash with the AISA saying on 9th July, that this step was aimed at curbing the freedom of expression of students. While the MHRD has replied that this step is completely voluntary for the students and they will not have any access to the student’s posts or data if a student follows them on social media, this move is still a cause for concern among the student community.

A copy of the MHRD’s letter sent to all Higher Education Institutes
A copy of the MHRD’s letter sent to all Higher Education Institutes

On talking to several students, it was found that some students felt the very act of asking students to follow certain pages was wrong, even though the MHRD ministry claims that it will just use this as a way to promote good work done by them and the educational institutes. Srijan Vaish , a first-year student from Dyal Singh College said, “The MHRD ministry is run by the government which is run by a  political party with its own particular ideologies, in this case the Bharatiya Janta Party  and the ideology of ‘hindutva’. So if students are compelled to follow their page, as young students, we can fall prey to the ideas that the central government is trying to promote. I feel that this manipulating the youth and not giving us the right to think for ourselves.”

While most students disagreed with the idea of following the MHRD, there was some who felt that something more sinister was going on behind the scenes, and felt that this would be the first step to monitoring students, their posts and their data. Prachi Johri, a second-year student from Indraprashta College for Women said that this could open the door for the government to “invade the privacy” of students. Prachi went on to say that if the government does take this extreme measure, it would “make the minorities, Muslims, LGBTQIA+ community, tribes and people with ideologies against the BJP lives very hard to survive, as the government will probably bully or lock them up for speaking against the government. It’ll disclose a lot of things to public which a student might not want to share. This will create a sense of fear and will stop students from pursuing higher education.”

In conclusion, while the MHRD might have good intentions and want to share their good work with students, perhaps connecting social media is not the best way to do it as lots of students are against this step, and additionally, feel that “sharing good work” is not the real motive of the government behind taking such steps.

Feature Image Credit: The Quint

Prabhanu Kumar Das
[email protected]


At a time when everyone is demanding Right to Privacy as a Fundamental Right, it is important to understand how much do we actually follow the concept of privacy in our day to day life.

Ours is a generation that is obsessed with putting all our information on the social media platforms. We find ourselves juggling between Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, or Twitter. Somehow just one platform is not enough for us to keep our thoughts and ideas across. We are a generation that believes in clicking the photo of food on the table first before eating it. We believe in telling the entire world about our personal life by updating our relationship status on Facebook. We are trying to maintain Snapchat streaks alive and keep a check on the exact time when the other person read our Whatsapp message. We do not understand the concept of boundaries. We like to tell the entire world the place we are visiting, the food we are eating, the dress we are wearing, the song we are listening, the emotions we are feeling, and the list goes on.

There is nothing about our life that we really want to keep private. This paranoia does not stop here. We are equally eager about to know the personal details of someone else’s life too. We are not satisfied till we know all the secrets of our favourite celebrities. We stalk them while trying to capture a moment from their private life. We hide behind bushes and resort to sneaky measures in order to photograph them in their personal moments.

Recently, my sister who is a teacher decided to conduct an examination. She was bombarded with messages from her students throughout the night asking her to clarify their doubts. She finally had to switch off her mobile in order to have a peaceful sleep. Another time I was having a conversation regarding some official work on WhatsApp when an old friend of mine messaged me. I did not have the time to engage in a conversation with him at that moment. Hence, I decided not to reply. However, when he saw that I was online and still chose not to text back, he was deeply offended. Thus we as a generation, have lost the understanding of how to respect someone else’s private space. We expect the other person to cater to our needs immediately, refusing to even have a consideration of their circumstances.

Hence, it is important to ask the question whether there is anything remotely private about our life. Consciously or reluctantly we are becoming a part of a culture where the line between public and private is becoming more and more blurred. Even if we try and resist to it, we are able to succeed at it till a certain point only. When I started fighting this battle, I was quite obstinate and stubborn to not let anyone intrude into my personal space and time. However, I find myself constantly facing failure. It is disheartening to see that one cannot help but succumb to this pressure.


Feature Image Credits: Kulzy

Anukriti Mishra
[email protected]

On 16th October, an intimate video shot in Delhi Metro was made viral on social media. Immediately, the comments’ sections were polarized in two groups. While many slammed and shamed the couple for openly indulging in PDA and violating “Indian Values”, many criticized the person who posted it online and urged others to report the video so that it can be taken down by Facebook. The original post was taken down, though video can still be found online.

This incident has stirred a debate around the issues of PDA a.k.a public display of affection, moral policing, legality and Privacy Rights, and also raised the questions of what is acceptable and what isn’t. Here is an attempt to deconstruct the various diktats that have risen around this episode.

PDA is illegal – Yes, under section 294 of the Indian Penal Code, causing annoyance to others through “obscene acts” is a criminal offence with a punishment of imprisonment up to 3 months or a fine, or both, but because this law does not give explicit definitions of “obscene acts”, it is blatantly misused by police and vigilante to harass couples. Besides, the law gives freedom of subjective interpretation and hence, the cases involved depend on the disposition of police or the judge involved. For example, in 2008 Shilpa Shetty and Richard Gere were booked in Obscenity Charge for kissing during a public function, but the court quashed all charges and instead described such legal complaints as “frivolous”. While the courts thought that kissing was no big deal, our observation tells us that a wide section of society clearly considers kissing a taboo. Many cited 294 of IPC to justify the video. It’s true, my friend, that according to this vague legal verbatim the couple can be booked, but since when legality has became morality? Triple Talaq is valid, homosexuality is criminal…will you also justify them simply because it’s legal?

The couple was asking for it – We often tend to get uncomfortable seeing couples kissing in parks or theatres. Many of us are not comfortable with showing affection. But how does your reluctance for public display of love give you the right to accuse others of indecent behavior, impair their image and seriously jeopardize their privacy and even security? One can only imagine what they must be going through. To say that the couple was asking for it displays typical victim blaming and as much as you would like to believe so, nobody likes to be filmed secretly, bombarded with unnecessary attention or be the subject of public ridicule. The couple may have exercised better discretion and sensibility keeping in mind that they are in a public space. However, if they made you so uncomfortable then instead of making a video to satisfy your voyeuristic tendencies, you should have either told them to get a room or simply averted your gaze.

Such behaviour is against Indian Culture/Sanskars – First of all, who has the right to decide which actions are in accordance with Indian culture?  I’m a part of Indian public so, does my opinion count?  Secondly, once upon a time Sati, child marriage and untouchability were accepted part of the Indian culture, were such “cultural” notions/practices not challenged? Lastly, if your sanskaar allows a creep to circulate MMS, but shames consenting adults then god bless you. By the way, I suggest you to see some pictures of Khajuraho temple as well.

One shouldn’t expect any privacy in public spaces – While one shouldn’t necessarily expect any privacy in public place, one doesn’t expect to be filmed, that too without consent either.

Uncertain state of Right to Privacy in India – While the Supreme Court has held privacy to be a fundamental right, it is restricted to certain aspects of a person’s life.  There is no statutory privacy legislation at present that comprehensively protects privacy. Rather, a combination of acts- 67 and 67(A) of IT Act, 354C of IPC, 66E of ITA-2000, these too are often tricky and insufficient.

Overall, the Privacy Rights need to be strengthened in India. Fortunately, some efforts have been made in this direction, such as Justice A. P. Shah panel, appointed by the Planning Commission  has recommended comprehensive laws to protect privacy and personal data in the private as well as public spheres. Similarly, The Privacy (Protection) Bill, 2013 is also a step in establishing concrete and clear provisions. Hopefully, this Bill sees the light of the day, till then; let us stop being the internet-version of Bajraj Dal.

Image Credits: tulunadunews.com

Niharika Dabral

[email protected]