Abhishek Singh (File Photo)
In an exclusive Q&A with The Morung Express, Abhishek Singh, currently on central deputation from Nagaland, clears air surrounding the app as well as his return to home state
Morung Express News
Dimapur | May 10
The Government of India launched Aarogya Setu app - a comprehensive COVID-19 tracking app on April 2.
The app, currently made mandatory for government and private employees across India, has a Nagaland connection.
The CEO of MyGov India is Abhishek Singh, former Home Commissioner of Nagaland, currently on central deputation. MyGov India is an online platform aimed at connecting citizens to the government.
Singh was also the Principal Secretary to Chief Minister, P & AR and held additional charge of Urban Development as per the Nagaland government’s bureaucracy list before his deputation.
In an exclusive Q&A with The Morung Express, Singh gave a lowdown on the Aarogya Setu app - its use and relevance, while clarifying on some issues related to the app.
The Morung Express (MExN): How was the app initially conceptualized and what is the primary objective?
Abhishek Singh (AS): Aarogya Setu is a critical element in India’s fight against COVID-19, and is aimed at automatic contact tracing and COVID-19 related information dissemination. For the curve of infection spread to be flattened and the chain of infection to be broken, it is important to identify people who may have knowingly/unknowingly come in contact with a COVID-19 positive patient. It is especially important to identify the risk of infection of people who may not be showing symptoms yet, and this is where the role of Aarogya Setu becomes crucial.
Aarogya Setu is Bluetooth based contact tracing app that detects other devices with Aarogya Setu installed that have come in Bluetooth proximity of your phone and captures this information. In the unfortunate event of any of your recent contacts (people that you have interacted with in last 14 days) testing positive for COVID-19, the App calculates your risk of infection based on recency, proximity and interaction time and recommends suitable action, that will be displayed on your Home screen. Information is also sent to health authorities to proactively administer appropriate medical intervention.
MExN: Is the app mandatory for all government and private employees or those registered under concerned labour authority? What are the criteria?
AS: As per the guidelines of Ministry of Home Affairs, for the security of those who are stepping out to work, it’s essential to have the App downloaded for those who have smart phones. This is to ensure that in case you come in contact with anyone who is tested positive later, you will get the necessary alert and be able to self-quarantine yourself and monitor your symptoms to prevent any further spread of the virus.
MExN: What about employees who does not own a smartphone?
AS: For non-smart phone users, we have 1921 Aarogya Setu service. This works on feature phones. Under the 1921 IVRS Aarogya Setu service feature phone users get call backs if they give a missed call to 1921 and then they are asked questions on their self-assessment which is similar to the questions on Aarogya Setu app. This IVRS service is available in 11 languages. After the self-assessment, users get a summary of their health condition on SMS. Those who are unwell in self-assessment will also get calls for further assistance.
MExN: How is the app registration being monitored?
AS: There have been appeals made to all to ensure that all smart phone users download the App. So far the app has had around 93 million downloads and it was the fastest app to have 50 million downloads within 13 days.
MExN: How many have registered so far, including those from Nagaland?
93 million downloads so far, since its launch on 2nd April 2020. Nagaland has around 82000 downloads. (As of May 7)
MExN: For COVID-19 free states like Nagaland, how is the app relevant?
AS: Yes it is. Once the lockdown restrictions are lifted and flights and trains start, there will be a need to monitor who one comes in close contact with. It is an essential tool to ensure that we all stay safe even when there are cases or when we need to step out, after the lockdown restrictions are lifted. (Note: The Nagaland Government made the use of the app mandatory for all employees in the state on May 4)
MExN: Battery drainage issues are being reported by many users. Are there any plans for optimizing the app to resolve those issues?
Singh: This is a very light weight app and hardly consumes any battery. The software does Battery optimization and consumes much less battery than any other App.
MExN: Have all the alleged security flaws in Aarogya Setu been addressed? How safe is the app for a common user?
The App is built with privacy as a core principle and ensures security of the highest order. Details are as under:
a. The App requires you to enter your mobile number and certain personal information at the time of registration. All personal information submitted is securely encrypted and stored on the server.
b. On registration, the App assigns you a unique, anonymised, randomly generated Device ID. The linking of device id to mobile number is one time, and is securely encrypted and stored in a server. All future interactions from device to server are done through device ID only, no personal information is exchanged post the registration. Thus, all processing of contact tracing and risk assessment is done in an anonymised manner.
c. When you come in proximity of other people with this App installed the App stores encrypted information of this interaction in a secure manner on your mobile only. Information of your social interactions is NOT sent to the server in most cases, except when you have come in contact with someone who later has been diagnosed COVID19 positive.
d. Government of India will use your information ONLY for administering necessary medical interventions. Your data is NOT going to be used for any other purpose. No third party has access to data.
e. The App never reveals the personal identity of anyone. The identity of COVID-19 patients is NOT shared with public at large.
f. All information on the mobile device is stored only for 30 days, post which such data is deleted. For all data stored on the server for non-risk users, data is deleted in 45 days. For at-risk patients, data is deleted in 60 days.
g. Your location data collected is also stored on your device only. The data is sent to the server only in the case you have tested COVID-19 positive or you are at high / moderate risk of infection. Your location data is not used on individual level, is only used on aggregated level – that too only to identify hotspots and the direction of movement of infection. Your location data, on an aggregated basis, will be used to identify the locations that need to be sanitised and where people need to be more deeply tested and identify emerging areas where infection outbreaks are likely to occur.
MExN: You are currently on central deputation. Any plans to return to your home in the in the immediate future?
Singh: Nagaland is like my home. I truly miss the place and the people. Technology allows me to be in touch, though it can’t match being physically present. Professional and Personal commitments require us to serve in Government of India. Once my deputation tenure is over, I look forward to returning to the State.
MExN: In your opinion, how is the response of Nagaland government in tackling the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic so far?
Singh: Nagaland has been one of the few States which has managed the pandemic very well. There have been no cases. Proper communications have been ensured. Preparedness has been up to mark. I keep getting updates about the way the State is managing the pandemic. There has been complete support to State Government and District Administration by civil society. Initiatives by TAFMA have been noticed nationally. District Administration in Mon, Tuensang, Kiphire and Mokokchung were also mentioned as examples of best practices at many forums.
The Q&A was conducted on May 7. Slightly edited for clarity