The Aarogya Setu App, which was launched by the government as part of its initiative to track COVID-19 infections, has been downloaded by 10.06 crore Indians as on 13 May.
The app has been updated and redesigned over time to include new features. The e-pass feature, which was initially assumed to help users apply for an e-pass for the purposes of movement amid the lockdown, for now only helps to integrate an existing e-pass of the individual.
What is the purpose of the e-pass feature on Aarogya Setu App?
At present, the app says that an e-pass, when issued, will be displayed on the Aarogya Setu App.
Since application of an e-pass as well as using the contact tracing app requires one's phone number, it will probably be automatic tracked on the app. Apart from that, the app only answers frequently asked questions (FAQs) about e-pass.
As you may already know, e-pass is issued by the local authorities. Every state has its own e-pass issuing website, while Aarogya Setu is used across the nation.
Vital for lockdown exit plan
The app appears to play an essential role in the government's exit plan, similar to that of China, where its digital contact tracing app gives citizens colour codes that helps them to decide if the individual should be quarantined or allowed to used public spaces.
Aarogya Setu uses Bluetooth and GPS connectivity to track the Covid-19 infection and informs user if there they have come in contact with a infected person.
While it has not been made mandatory to use the app, like in most democratic countries, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had hinted last month that it may be used as an e-pass for travel amid nation-wide lockdown, referring to the use of technology for contact tracing in Singapore and South Korea.
Mandatory for movement
Amid the health crisis that the country is facing and obstacles to ease lockdown measures, all government employees and private employees have been told to mandatorily use the app.
The Indian Railways has also made Aarogya Setu app compulsory for travellers as it resumes its operations via special trains on 12 May.
State governments have made the app mandatory for migrants transported to their home towns via railways and airlines, from within the country and abroad, to trace their movement, especially during the quarantine period.
A Business Standard report earlier this week said that the government may use the app as an e-pass for air travel by allowing only those with 'green' on the Aarogya Setu app to enter an airport's premises.
Recently Noida Police had announced that random checks on people would be conducted in the city to see if they have the Aarogya Setu app on their phone or not. They might be fined and/or arrested if not found using the app, a Hindustan Times report said.
Contact tracing apps in other countries
China's contact-tracing regime probably has the highest level of data surveillance in the world. Unlike other major countries, the Chinese app is not a stand-alone tool but is being embedded in many of the country's popular payment, messaging and search-engine apps.
It is also mandatory for users to furnish their names, addresses national identity, passport and phone numbers, etc over the app.
South Korea has also adopted a tightly-regulated tracing and testing strategy where apart from the government's own Corona 100m app, other private tracking and mapping tools and wristbands are also used. Downloading the app is part mandatory for those the authorities suspect at risk.
Its government has been using CCTV footage, financial transactions and GPS location to collect user data.
When a person is tested positive, a record of their movement, travel route, age and sex is circulated to all in the region.