Last month, the CIC had issued a notice questioning the chief public information officers (CPIOs) of the ministry, National Informatics Centre and the National e-Governance Division (NeGD), as to why a penalty under the RTI Act should not be imposed on them for not adequately answering the RTI application which sought several details regarding the making of the government‘s contact tracing app Aarogya Setu and the people behind it.
The Commissioner has noted that the CPIOs have apologised and no malafide intentions have been found but it is unfortunate that despite so much information available in the public domain about the app, the same was not provided to the RTI applicant.
The Secretary of MEITY has been issued an advisory under 25(5) of the RTI Act, 2005 “to ensure that the Aarogya Setu website is robust” and updated at all times so as to be able to satisfy the citizens queries on the subject, chief information commissioner Vanaja N. Sarna noted in his order dated November 24.
“Keeping in view the detailed reply to the show cause notice furnished by the
CPIOs and the lengthy explanation given by the present CPIO during the hearing, the Commission accepts the apology of all concerned officers and cautions them to be careful in future while replying to RTI applications as well as the need to come well prepared for the Commission’s hearings. This is all the more important when there was sufficient information regarding the app in public domain which unfortunately was not conveyed to the complainant in reply to his RTI application nor to the Commission during the first hearing,” the order said.
An RTI activist and independent journalist had filed multiple RTI requests querying details pertaining to creation of the government’s contact tracing app Aarogya Setu. While the first set of queries were sent in August on October 2, he was told that they had no information available on his questions. Responses to questions over data protection and sensitive data sharing with government authorities and other third parties were also vague.
The activist later knocked on the doors of the Central Information Commission (CIC) for their intervention in the matter citing “public interest”
The queries are sparked by concerns that the government has failed to implement key safeguards to protect sensitive data and privacy of Indians who have downloaded the app after being encouraged by the government to do so.
The app was launched on April 2 as a response to safeguard against the Covid 19 pandemic and has been downloaded by over 160 million people so far.
The government on its part has clarified that its contact tracing app Aarogya Setu was launched by Government of India in public private partnership mode on April 2. The App was developed in 21 days, to respond to the exigencies of the pandemic and was a joint effort by best of Indian minds from industry, academia and government.
It added that 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 source code was released in the public domain which can be accessed on the Github portal.