1. Aarogya Setu: Who all can access your data, and when?

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Science & Technology

On Monday, the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology issued a data-sharing and knowledge-sharing protocol for the Aarogya Setu app, laying down guidelines for sharing such data with government agencies and third parties. Prior to this, the only legal shield around the mechanism was the app’s privacy policy.

The executive order issued on Monday came amid concerns expressed by a number of experts over the efficacy and safety of the app. Experts have now said that while on the one hand a decision of such nature should be backed by a personal data protection law, the loosely worded nature of the protocol too is an area of concern. Currently, India’s personal data protection bill is in the process of being approved by Parliament.

Aarogya Setu: Why has the government issued these guidelines?

The executive order issued by IT Secretary Ajay Prakash Sawhney, who is also the Chairperson of the Empowered Group on Technology and Data Management (one of several empowered groups constituted by the Home Ministry to deal with various aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic), says that “in order to formulate appropriate health responses for addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, data pertaining to individuals is urgently required”. Here, individuals means persons who are infected, or are at high risk of being infected, or who have come in contact with infected individuals.

To fulfil this purpose, and ensure that data collected from the app is gathered, processed and shared in an appropriate way, the government has issued these guidelines.

What data can be collected and shared by Aarogya Setu?

The data collected by the Aarogya Setu app is broadly divided into four categories — demographic data, contact data, self-assessment data and location data. This is collectively called response data.

Demographic data includes information such as name, mobile number, age, gender, profession and travel history.

Contact data is about any other individual that a given individual has come in close proximity with, including the duration of the contact, the proximate distance between the individuals, and the geographical location at which the contact occurred.

Self-assessment data means the responses provided by that individual to the self-assessment test administered within the app.

Location data comprises the geographical position of an individual in latitude and longitude.

Which entities will be able to access this Aarogya Setu data?

According to the protocol, the response data containing personal data may be shared by the app’s developer — National Informatics Centre (NIC) — with the Health Ministry, Health Departments of state/Union Territory governments/ local governments, National Disaster Management Authority, state disaster management authorities, other ministries and departments of the central and state governments, and other public health institutions of the central, state and local governments, “where such sharing is strictly necessary to directly formulate or implement an appropriate health response”.

The protocol also lay the ground for sharing the data with any third parties — “only if it is strictly necessary to directly formulate or implement appropriate health responses”. Further, for research purposes, the response data can be shared with Indian universities or research institutions and research entities registered in India. The guidelines also empower universities and research entities to share the data with other such institutions, “only if such sharing is in furtherance of the same purpose for which it has sought approval to access such data from the expert committee”.

Aarogya Setu: What are the checks and balances?

The protocol says the response data that can be shared with ministries, government departments and other administrative agencies has to be in de-identified form. This means that, except for demographic data, the response data must be stripped of information that may make it possible to identify the individual personally; it must be assigned a randomly generated ID.

Further, the NIC shall, “to the extent reasonable”, document the sharing of any data and maintain a list of the agencies with which data has been shared. This documentation will include the time at which data sharing was initiated, with which entities it was shared, the categories of such data, and the purpose of sharing the data.

The protocol also calls for any entity with which the data has been shared to not retain the data beyond 180 days from the day it was collected. The protocol reads back to the Disaster Management Act, 2005 to establish the penalties in case of violation of the protocol. It also has a sunset clause, which calls for the empowered group to review the protocol after six months; unless extended, it will be in force only for six months from the date of issue.

What are the concerns being raised over Aarogya Setu?

Legal experts have stressed the need for a personal data protection law to back the government’s decision to make the app mandatory for everyone. “They are going the Aadhaar way. This cannot be done via an executive order, especially since there are a number of privacy concerns with the app,” said Prasanth Sugathan, volunteer legal director at SFLC.in.

Sugathan said the data being shared with third parties was one of the biggest areas of concern. “They should have listed the third parties with which the data can be shared,” he said, adding that it was left open-ended and had a possibility of misuse. Further, he said the process of de-identifying the data should have been detailed, given that reversing de-identification was not difficult.

The protocol, in fact, seeks to disincentivise reversal of de-identification. “Any university or research institution/ entity which accesses anonymised response data… shall not reverse anonymise such data or re-identify individuals in any manner. If any person knowingly or unknowingly, takes any action which has the effect of such data no longer remaining anonymised, any rights granted to them under this protocol shall stand terminated, and they shall be liable for penalties under applicable laws for the time being in force,” it reads.

Source: The Indian Express

2. India caught in U.S.-China spat over Taiwan’s status at WHO

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; IOBR

As tensions between the U.S. and China rise over the novel coronavirus pandemic, India, which is set to take over as the next Chairperson of the World Health Organisation’s decision-making executive body in May, is faced with a major choice on whether to support a U.S. move to reinstate Taiwan’s observer status at the World Health Assembly (WHA) or to China’s opposition to it.

Pressure from USA

On Monday, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar attended a seven-nation virtual meeting of Foreign Ministers, convened by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, which appeared to be part of Washington’s efforts to gain support for its move to effect changes at the WHO.

The U.S. has, in the recent past, accused WHO of acting as a “PR agency” for China during the pandemic.

Pressure from China

On Wednesday, Mr. Jaishankar will take part in a virtual meeting of the 8-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) led by China and Russia, which will discuss responses to the pandemic. The meeting was held on the same day the U.S. Senate passed an Act (S.249) to “direct the Secretary of State to develop a strategy to regain observer status for Taiwan in the World Health Organization”, beginning with its decision-making body, the WHA.

Upcoming appointments

The Geneva-based WHA will hold a virtual meeting on May 18 and 19 to elect members to the 34-nation Executive Board, among other things, and it will be followed by a Board meeting on May 22.

Officials have confirmed that India’s nominee will take over as the Chairperson, replacing Japan. India is likely to hold the post for the next three years. The timing of the appointment is crucial, given the worldwide debate on the role of the WHO during the pandemic, and criticism of WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Source: The Hindu

3. Aarogya Setu app made mandatory for returning NRIs and migrants

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; Polity & Governance

Expanding the ambit of the Aarogya Setu app, the Union Health Ministry directed that downloading it be made compulsory for all returnees (migrant labourers and those coming from abroad) for better contact surveillance and suitable medical intervention.

In addition to making the Aarogya Setu app mandatory, the Health Ministry also directed the States to focus on more effective surveillance, contact tracing, adequate testing and timely treatment of all the returnees, including testing at the point of disembarking, quarantining and offering further treatment.

Source: The Hindu

4. Narendra Modi announces Rs. 20-lakh-crore economic stimulus package

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; Polity & Governance

Rs. 20-lakh-crore Stimulus package

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said a new-look Lockdown 4.0 beyond May 17 was in the offing, while announcing an economic stimulus package for Rs. 20-lakh-crore (estimated at 10% of the GDP), with a clearly defined leap towards economic reforms that will, in his words, lead to Atmanirbhar Bharat, or a self-reliant, resilient India.

This amount includes packages already announced at the beginning of the lockdown incorporating a slew of measures from the RBI and the payouts under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana.

21st Century belongs to India

Addressing the nation on television, Mr. Modi said the whole world was reeling from the crisis engendered by the COVID-19 pandemic, as was India. In this crisis, however, India had had an opportunity to look at systems and institutions that were in existence before the crisis hit and how they crumbled. “We have been hearing for many years that the 21st century will be India’s century, and this crisis is, I believe one that carries a message, that we have to move forward not just to combat the crisis but to prevail,” the Prime Minister said. “That can happen when we are self-reliant.”

Ramped-up capacity

He gave the example of India’s ramped-up capacity in producing Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) kits and N-95 masks required by medical personnel and frontline health workers to illustrate his point that India could achieve this.

“When the first case hit us, we didn’t produce either of these things. Now, within weeks we have the capacity to produce 2 lakh of PPE and 2 lakhs of N95 masks everyday,” Mr. Modi said.

Call for Self reliance

Clarifying that by self-reliance he did not mean insularity and suspicion of the world as in the past, but embracing the world in the spirit of Vasudheva Kutumbakam (the world is one family).

 “Self-reliance in this sense is neither exclusionary nor isolationist, it is for helping the world, with our actions. In the past whenever we have acted it has impacted the world in a positive way — be it solving the Y2K riddle in 1999, or our campaigns against open defecation, tuberculosis and polio,” Mr. Modi said.

5 pillars

He said that the new edifice of this self-reliant India would be based on the five pillars of the economy, infrastructure, demography, technologically driven systems and to strengthen demand and supply chains, with the supply chains being based on local sourcing.

Details pending

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is expected to give details of the package starting on Wednesday, Mr. Modi said. “Therefore, the lockdown that will be in place after May 17, or Lockdown 4.0 will be of a different kind than what went on before. Based on the suggestions given by State governments, we will be finalising its shape before May 17,” he said.

Source: The Hindu

Q. Do you think that the data-sharing and knowledge-sharing protocol for the Aarogya Setu app is able to address the privacy concerns of the individuals? What are the suggestions to plug the loopholes left by the protocol? (GS Mains Paper III; 250 words, 15 marks)

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