Covid-19: Govt proposes to make Aarogya Setu app mandatory for air travel

The app, developed by the Indian government, give users colour-coded designations based on their health status and travel history
The government has proposed to make it mandatory for flyers to have Aarogya Setu installed on their mobile phones. If this happens, India will be the first nation after China to make a mobile app compulsory for travel.

“People whose Aarogya Setu app is not ‘green’ are not to be allowed inside the terminal building. Persons above 80 years will also be restricted in the first phase of resumption,” a draft note circulated by the ministry and reviewed by Business Standard said. 

A committee of civil aviation ministry, which is finalising the procedures for resumption of air transport, has proposed this among other steps. The committee is headed by a joint secretary and includes the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, Airports Authority of India, CEOs of airlines, and airports.

CISF, which guards the Delhi Metro & Indian airports have also asked it be mandatory for passengers.

The app developed by the Indian government – give users colour-coded designations based on their health status and travel history.

On installing the app, it asks for permission to access the Bluetooth and location of the mobile phone. When two smartphones with Aarogya Setu installed come in each other's Bluetooth range the app will collect information. If one of the two people have already tested positive, the app will alert the other person and in the process allow the government to trace potential cases.


As countries across the world accept that the virus is here to stay for some time they are preparing to come out of a full or partial lockdown and restart activities. In such conditions, such tracing apps that use Bluetooth or GPS locations are being widely used by the government for contact tracing and identifying people who come in contact with a carrier. However, according to the MIT Technology Review’s Covid Tracing Tracker- a database to study such automated contact tracing app, China and India are the only countries making these apps mandatory for their citizens.
Chinese authorities used the app- “health code service” for managing people movements in and out of affected areas. When lockdown in Hubei province ended, the government allowed residents with a green code to travel within and out of the province. India has already made it mandatory for government and private sector employees.

The government’s policy of making the app made mandatory has raised multiple questions over the data privacy and efficiency of such an app.

A spokesperson of the Ministry of Civil Aviation said that the government doesn’t intend to store such data in any manner. “The app is intended to make air travel safer and secure for everybody. It isn’t intended to breach data privacy of anyone,” Rajiv Jain, a spokesperson for the ministry said.

“Firstly there is this question if it is ethical for a state to make it mandatory for essential service. Except China, all countries in the world have made it voluntary,” said Prasanth Sugathan, legal director at the Software Freedom Law Center, a digital-rights advocacy group.
Suganathan also raises question on the efficiency of an app which uses and warns that it can throw up false positives. “There are substantial risks of misidentification or a false-positive if the device is switched or is shared between people. Algorithm-based predictive models are not yet ready to be substitute to contact tracing which is done using testing and has manual intervention,” he says.

Multiple airline executives speaking to Business Standard, on condition of anonymity have raised doubts over the efficiency and hurdles in practical implementation of such a process.

“The government shouldn’t pass the onus of denying boarding to passenger who doesn’t have a green signs or old age to airlines. This will create mess in the airports then. CISF, which have uniformed guards should be responsible for this,” said an airline executive.
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