Context: The government has tested an application that triggers e-mails and SMS alerts to an authorised government agency if a person has jumped quarantine or escaped from isolation, based on the person’s mobile phone’s cell tower location.

More about the App: COVID-19 Quarantine Alert System (CQAS)

  • Recently, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) shared a standard operating procedure (SOP) with all telecom service providers regarding the application called COVID-19 Quarantine Alert System (CQAS).
  • The Centre is using powers under the Indian Telegraph Act to fetch information from telecom companies every 15 minutes to track COVID-19 cases across the country.
  • The States have been asked to seek the approval of their Home Secretaries under the provisions of Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, for the specified mobile phone numbers to request the DoT to provide information by email or SMS in case of violation of geo-fencing.
  • According to a government source, the geo-fencing is accurate by up to 300 m
  • The system will collate phone data, including the device’s location, on a common secured platform and alert the local agencies in case of a violation by COVID patients under watch or in isolation.
  • The CQAS will prepare a list of mobile numbers, segregating them on the basis of telecom service providers, and the location data provided by the companies will be run on the application to create geo-fencing.

Used by Kerala: Kerala was one of the first States to use geo-fencing to track COVID-19 cases.

Secure network:

  • The SOP says that the DoT and C-DOT, in coordination with telecom service providers, have developed and tested the application. 
  • It said the location information is received periodically over a secure network for the authorised cases with due protection of the data received.
  • The data collected shall be used only for the purpose of Health Management in the context of COVID-19 and is strictly not for any other purposes
  • Any violation in this regard would attract penal provisions under the relevant laws.
  • Data will be deleted: The phone number should be deleted from the system after the period for which location monitoring is required is over and the data would be deleted four weeks from thereon.

The SOP said that geo-fencing will only work if the quarantined person has a mobile phone from Airtel, Vodafone-Idea or Reliance Jio, as BSNL/MTNL do not support location based services. 

Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885

  • Lawful interception of phones and computers can be done by the governments at the Centre and in the states under Section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885.
  • If it is done illegally, it is punishable under sections 25 & 26 that provide for imprisonment up to three years, with or without a fine.

The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 is the enabling legislation in India which governs the use of wired and wireless telegraphy, telephones, teletype, radio communications and digital data communications. 

  • It gives the Government of India exclusive jurisdiction and privileges for establishing, maintaining, operating, licensing and oversight of all forms of wired and wireless communications within Indian territory. 
  • It also authorizes government law enforcement agencies to monitor/intercept communications and tap phone lines under conditions defined within the Indian Constitution. 
  • Since that time, numerous amendments have been passed to update the act to respond to changes in technology.

Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT)

  • It is an autonomous Telecom R&D centre of DoT, Government of India, established in 1984.
  • It is a registered society under the Societies Registration Act,1860.
  • It is a registered public-funded research institution with the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR), Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India.
  • Currently, C-DOT is working towards realising the objective of various flagship programmes of Govt. of India which include Digital India, BharatNet, Smart Cities etc.