Activation of Bluetooth in Aarogya Setu App not automatic, consent of user obtained: Central government to Karnataka High Court

The Karnataka High Court has reserved its interim order in a petition challenging the mandatory downloading and use of the Mobile Tracking Application, Aarogya Setu app accessing public services.
Activation of Bluetooth in Aarogya Setu App not automatic, consent of user obtained: Central government to Karnataka High Court
Aarogya Setu App

Using Aarogya Setu mobile app will not automatically activate bluetooth facility on mobile phone and the consent of the user is taken before the same is done, the Central government told the Karnataka High Court on Wednesday.

Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Vishwajith Shetty had heard the matter for 4 days before reserving its order.

Additional Solicitor General MB Nargund, representing the Centre, said that Bluetooth in the app is activated only after obtaining the user's nod.

"Activation of Bluetooth is not automatic", he said countering the submissions made by petitioner's counsel, Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves

Though it is recommended that bluetooth be kept on, there is no compulsion in this regard, he added.

The Court was hearing a petition challenging the mandatory downloading and use of the Mobile Tracking Application, Aarogya Setu app.

A Bench of Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Vishwajith Shetty heard the matter for 4 days before reserving its order on Thursday.

The Central government further told the Court that a registered person's data will be shared with the Government of India only if he turns COVID-19 positive. This will be done after obtaining his consent, it was argued.

It was also submitted that the self-assessment in the app is not mandatory.

"At any given point in time, I can withdraw my consent", argued Nargund.

At this juncture, the Court asked,

"If a person has downloaded the app, and has tested COVID positive, but he has not filled in the details, bluetooth is also not on, will the status on his app change?"

To this, Nargund responded that "It won't change. His app will not show red colour."

It was further stated that the concerns raised by the petitioner with regard to privacy infringement is also inaccurate.

With regard to the newspaper articles relied upon by the petitioner to buttress their argument on massive data leak, Nargund stated that, towards the end of those very articles, it has been mentioned that the though improvements have to be made in Aarogya Setu app, as of now, it is the only way to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Aarogya Setu App
India the only democratic nation which mandates use of app like Aarogya Setu: Colin Gonsalves to Karnataka High Court

Earlier, Gonsalves had heavily relied on Justice KS Puttaswamy (Retd.) and Anr. v. Union Of India to contend that "purpose limitation"as envisaged in the 2019 judgment was not being followed by the Central government.

"This app (Aarogya Setu) is going all over the place. It is being used as an e-pass, it is being used for donation, telemedicine etc. Even the health sector is very interested in the app," he said.

Gonsalves also contended that a data controller cannot give data to third parties (in this case, the Centre), unless specific and informed consent is obtained from its users.

He also highlighted the drawbacks of the tracking app, stating that employers will now get access to the health status/condition, location, etc. of their employees.

The Senior Advocate also shed light on the massive leaks of data stored on the app. In this regard, reliance was placed on multiple newspaper articles. However, the Court took preliminary objection to this, remarking,

"We don't go by newspaper articles. It is unsafe to rely on newspaper articles. What is the actual material to show that data has gone (from the app)?"

Gonsalves replied that the leaked data of users was available on the internet. Aarogya Setu's own contractors are showing that there are massive leaks of data, he added.

The Court was informed that according to an article published in The Economic Times, the data of over 10,000 COVID-19 patients who downloaded the app, found its way to the internet.

Referring to the terms and conditions of the app, Gonsalves pointed out that when one registers on the app, some information is collected and stored on a server operated by the Government of India. However, the Centre is refuting this now in its affidavit, he argued.

Last month, the Court had sought the response of the Central government on the data collected by it when a person downloads and uses the Aarogya Setu mobile application.

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