NEW DELHI: The coronavirus tracking app Aarogya Setu was "secure" and there was no privacy breach in it, Union IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said on Wednesday, rejecting charges that it was a "sophisticated surveillance system" that was leveraged to track citizens without their consent.
The government's assertion also came a day after French hacker and cybersecurity expert Elliot Alderson had claimed that "a security issue has been found" in the app and that "privacy of 90 million Indians is at stake".
Describing the app as a "prominent preventive measure" in India's fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, an official release said as per information available, close to nine crore users have downloaded it as on May 4.
The mobile application is used by the government for contact tracing and disseminating medical advisories to users in order to contain the spread of COVID-19.
"This is a technological invention of India -- Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, our scientists, NIC, Niti Aayog and some private (entities) -- whereby it is a perfectly accountable platform to help in the fight against COVID-19. It is safe and secure. The data is in an encrypted form. Most importantly, it is for the safety of Indians in the public interest because it cautions you in the event there is a COVID-infected person in your vicinity. " Prasad told PTI.
Last week, the Centre made it mandatory for government and private sector employees to use Aarogya Setu mobile application to bolster the efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and instructed the organizational heads to ensure 100 percent coverage.
The Union Home Ministry also said the mobile app will be a must for people living in COVID-19 containment zones.
Following the government's announcement, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi alleged that the app is a "sophisticated surveillance system, outsourced to a private operator, with no institutional oversight", raising serious data security and privacy concerns.
"Technology can help keep us safe, but fear must not be leveraged to track citizens without their consent," Gandhi had said.
Using the GPS (global positioning system), the app helps in tracking the movement of COVID-19 patients within coronavirus hotspots.
However, the opposition party and others have maintained that the application captures more information than necessary for the tracking purposes.
Prasad said the mobile application also helps to trace contacts in the event a person is infected.
"It is a very robust invention of technology and many other countries are using similar applications to fight COVID-19. And the second most important point is that the data is limited. Routine data remains for 30 days and in the event, you are infected, then (for) 45 to 60 days. Then automatically it will vanish," he explained.
There is always an option to scratch the app out of the phone or uninstall it, he added.
"Then what is this 'hangama' (rukus) all about? The country has understood its utility and has willingly accepted it," he said.
The Aarogya Setu app is for smartphones. "For feature phones we have developed Aarogya Setu IVRS. The app is absolutely robust in terms of privacy protection and safety and security of data," he said.
According to the Union home ministry, it is mandatory for all government and private sector employees attending office to download the app.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been urging people to download the Aarogya Setu app, saying it is a fantastic use of technology to combat coronavirus.
"Tracks the spread of COVID-19 and notifies you if someone around you is suffering from it. Also lists help-desk numbers of various states," he had said in a series of tweets last month.
Dismissing Alderson's claim, the government said "no personal information of any user has been proven to be at risk by this ethical hacker".