No info about creation of Aarogya Setu app: IT ministry; CIC issues show-cause notice

Ministry issues clarification, says Aarogya Setu App is a product of Government of India

No info about creation of Aarogya Setu app: IT ministry; CIC issues show-cause notice

A screen grab of Aarogya Setu app.

New Delhi, October 28

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and the National Informatics Centre have said they do not have any information about the “creation” of the Aarogya Setu application promoted by the government to contain the spread of COVID 19, responses termed as “preposterous” by the Central Information Commission.

The transparency panel has issued a show-cause notice to the NIC to explain why a penalty under the Right to Information (RTI) Act not be slapped on it for “prima facie obstruction of information and providing an evasive reply”.

Information Commissioner Vanaja N Sarna, in a terse order, pointed out that the website of the application mentions that the content on it is “owned, updated and maintained” by MyGov and MeitY and directed the CPIO of the ministry to explain why they didn’t have the requisite information.

“The CPIO NIC also should explain that when in the website it is mentioned that Aarogya Setu Platform is designed, developed and hosted by National Informatics Centre, Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology, Government of India, then how is it that they do not have any information about creation of the App,” she said.

Meanwhile, a clarification issued on Aarogya Setu App on Twitter said: "Aarogya Setu App is a product of Government of India built in collaboration with the best of the minds of Industry & Academia. Worlds largest contact tracing App, appreciated by WHO also."

The Ministry of Electronics and IT, in a release. said: “Since 2nd April 2020, regular press releases and updates have been issued on Aarogya Setu App, including making the source code available in Open domain on 26th May 2020. The names of all those associated with the development of the App and management of the App ecosystem at various stages was shared when the code was released in Open/Public Domain and the same was shared widely in media also.” 

The Information Commissioner was hearing the plea of one Saurav Das who had sought to know from the government details about the creation of Aarogya Setu application, the law under which it is functioning and whether the government was planning to bring a separate law about the handling of data collected by the application.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) did not provide any information, prompting Das to file a complaint under the RTI Act.

He had filed a similar application before the NIC which responded by saying it did not have any information.

During the hearing before the Commission, Das said the response of the NIC was surprising, as NIC is the developer of the application. He also said the ministry also did not provide any information relating to the mobile application’s creation and other matters.

He told the Commission that many credible media reports have questioned the Aarogya Setu application, its making and handling, which makes it “of utmost importance” to bring transparency in the creation and handling of this application, which collects vast amounts of user and personal data of individuals. 

After hearing the submissions of ministry officials, Sarna noted that ultimately the steps taken till today failed to locate the source from where information can be accessed.

“None of the CPIOs were able to explain anything regarding who created the application, where are the files, and the same is extremely preposterous,” she said.

The Commission observes that it is a current issue and it is not possible that there was no file movement while creating this App. “A citizen cannot go round in circles to find out the custodian,” Sarna said.

“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,” she said.

“Therefore, the Commission directs the CPIO, NIC to explain this matter in writing as to how the website https://aarogyasetu.gov.in/ was created with the domain name HYPERLINK “http://gov.in”gov.in, if they do not have any information about it,” Sarna ordered.

The Information Commissioner issued a show cause notice to four officials—Deputy Directors MeitY SK Tyagi and DK Sagar, Senior General Manager National E-Governance Division RA Dhawan and CPIO NIC Swarup Dutta.

“The addressees cannot simply wash their hands off by stating that the information is not available with them. Some efforts should have been put in to find out the custodian(s) of the information sought, by the concerned public authorities when apparently they are the relevant parties,” she said.

She directed the officers to appear before the Commission to explain why a penalty under the RTI Act not be imposed on them. — PTI

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