COVID-19 tracker app Aarogya Setu has been surrounded by another controversy. When the Central Information Commission (CIC) asked The National Informatics Centre (NIC) for some specific details on the Aarogya Setu app, it said that it had no information about who created the Aarogya Setu app. The response raised several concerns on social media, soon after which, the government released a clarification statement.
On October 28, the CIC questioned the NIC following a complaint that stated that the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), the National E-Governance Division (NeGD), and the NIC failed to provide information about the process of creation of the Aarogya Setu app and other information relating to its creation. The complainant specifically stated that they had filed an RTI application with Aarogya Setu’s developer - NIC - which replied saying that it "does not hold the information" relating to the app's creation.
The CIC, then, summoned the CPIOs and asked them to explain why it does not have any information about the creation of the Aarogya Setu app when the website was created with a gov.in domain name. None of the CPIOs were able to explain who created the app.
"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 gov.in if they do not have any information about it," Information Commissioner Vanaja N. Sarna ordered.
The CIC has now issued show-cause notices to the CPIOs and relevant authorities, who will have to appear before the bench on November 24 to show cause as to why action should not be initiated against them under Section 20 of the RTI Act.
Hours later, the Centre issued a statement clarifying that the Aarogya Setu app was developed by the Government of India in collaboration with private enterprises and that the app had helped strengthen the country's fight against the novel coronavirus outbreak.
"The names of all those associated with the development of the App and management of the App ecosystem at various stages were shared when the code was released in Open/Public Domain and the same was shared widely in media also," MeitY said in the statement.
"On all such occasions, it has been clearly mentioned that the Aarogya Setu App has been developed by the NIC in collaboration with volunteers from Industry and Academia,” it further added.
The clarification statement also includes a GitHub link to the contributor page of the Aarogya Setu app code. The source code was made public in May to address several privacy concerns that were raised initially. Despite the government announcing that the source code is public, renowned ethical hacker Elliot Alderson, who has been following up on various controversies around Aarogya Setu, said that the app is still not open source.
#AarogyaSetu is still not open source
— Elliot Alderson (@fs0c131y) October 28, 2020
Previously, former Congress President Rahul Gandhi accused the Aarogya Setu app of being a ‘sophisticated surveillance system’, questioning its credentials on data security and raising privacy-related concerns.
Soon after Gandhi’s tweet, Minister of Information Technology, Ravi Shankar Prasad responded with a tweet stating that the app was not outsourced to any private operator. He tweeted saying: Aarogya Setu is now being appreciated globally. The App is NOT outsourced to any private operator. Mr. Gandhi really high time that you stop outsourcing your tweets to your cronies who do not understand India.
Aarogya Setu is now being appreciated globally. The App is NOT outsourced to any private operator.
Mr. Gandhi really high time that you stop outsourcing your tweets to your cronies who do not understand India.
— Ravi Shankar Prasad (@rsprasad) May 2, 2020
Aarogya Setu app has been downloaded by over 16.23 crore users at the time of writing this.