Aarogya Setu App: Denial Of Information Not Acceptable, Says CIC 
The Aarogya Setu app details on the iOS AppStore. (Photograph: BloombergQuint)

Aarogya Setu App: Denial Of Information Not Acceptable, Says CIC 

Evasive replies from several government agencies on the creation of Aarogya Setu app has attracted the Central Information Commission’s ire.

The CIC has issued a show-cause notice to the central government and its officials after they failed to respond to an RTI query on the app’s origin.

The order by Information Commissioner Vanaja Sarna comes on a Right To Information query filed by activist Saurav Das. In his complaint, the activist said that his query received no reply from the Central Public Information Officer, National E-Governance Division, Ministry of Electronic and Information Technology and its Central Public Information Officer.

Even the National Informatics Centre, the developer of the app, said that it does not hold any information on the creation of the app, Das told the CIC.

No One Has Information How The App Was Created, Activist Says

Das emphasised that any security breach in the app can compromise the personal data of millions of Indians, amounting to violation of the fundamental right to privacy on a massive scale. Hence, it is of utmost importance to bring transparency in the making and current handling of this app, which collects vast amounts of user and personal data of individuals, he said.

In spite of several attempts, no information was forthcoming from the various government departments, Das told the CIC.

“No one had information on how the app was created and what are the audit measures in place to check for the misuse of the personal data. The replies by the authorities seem to be following a pattern with an aim to frustrate and harass any applicant seeking the information.” - Das’ Complaint

Das had also sought copies of communication between private entities involved in making/developing the app and government departments concerned.

He urged the CIC to ensure that a senior officer of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology is appointed as the CPIO responsible for furnishing information related to the Aarogya Setu app.

Denial Of Information Not Acceptable, Says CIC

The CIC strongly criticised the approach of the authorities over the handling of the complaint and agreed with concerns over the wide-reaching effects of the issues involved.

It said the authorities did not even attempt to trace the holder of the information which was sought and they cannot wash their hands of the issue by just claiming that the information is not available with them. The commission noted that even the officer present on behalf of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology during the hearing did not have information on the origin of the app.

The CPIO, NIC’s submissions that the entire file related to creation of the App is not with NIC is understandable, but the same submissions if accepted from MeITY, NeGD and NIC in toto, then it becomes more relevant to now find out how an App was created and there is no information with any of the relevant public authorities.
CIC’s Order

The CIC has issued a show-cause notice asking for a response on why penalty under provisions of the RTI Act should not be imposed on the officials for prima-facie obstruction of information and providing an evasive reply.

The Central Public Information Officer of the National E-Governance division has also been asked to explain why it took two months to reply to the RTI application. The Central Public Information Officers of the departments have been asked to be present on the next date of the hearing.

App Launched In PPP Mode, Government Clarifies

After the order was reported in the media, the government responded by saying that it has on multiple occasions released information about the Aarogya Setu including the source code and the privacy policy, all of which is in public domain.

The app, which currently has 16.23 crore users, was developed by the National Informatics Centre in collaboration with private sector volunteers in the most transparent manner, said a ministry statement.

The government said it’s in the process of complying with the CIC order.

The case will be taken up next on Nov. 24.

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