The blog post by Mayank Jain was published by on September 12, 2016. Sunil Abraham was quoted.

The government has been working hard to make all of India go digital – but its initiatives don't seem to be having the desired effect. Not yet anyway.

DigiLocker was launched in July last year as a secure platform for Indian citizens to store and access their documents on an electronic repository provided by the government of India. This is one of the major planks of the Digital India programme – which aims to take government services online and make the entire country digitally literate – but it does not seem to have enthused too many so far.

To popularise it further, the government on Wednesday integrated it with the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways to allow people to store a digital version of their driving licence and vehicle documents on the DigiLocker, sparing them the trouble of having to keep the hard copies on them at all times.

More than a year since its release, the platform has about 1.1 million people signed up as users, according to the official statistics on the DigiLocker website.

This might seem like an impressive number – but compare it to the country’s population of about 1.21 billion, or even its internet-using population of 350 million – and it becomes a drop in the ocean.

As this chart shows, only 0.09% of Indians are on DigiLocker – this is less than one user per 1,000 people in the country. DigiLocker is being used by 0.33% of the online population in the country, which implies that there are 33 users per 10,000 people on the internet from India.

Digital dreams

When it was launched by the Department of Electronics and Information Technology, the government had envisaged a cloud-based and secure storage platform that would cover the entire population, make it easier to procure and access important documents – including mark sheets, degrees and tax papers – and reduce paperwork as well as save time.

“In effect Digital Locker will touch every citizen's life by bringing in lot of convenience and therefore fulfilling the government's vision of a citizen centric governance model of providing services at the door-step of citizens,” the government said in a press release when the locker reached one lakh users in the first 100 days of its launch.

While the official website claims that the number of users is now about 2.1 million, the state-wise figures add up to only 1.1 million people on the platform.

Among the states, Maharashtra has most DigiLocker users in absolute numbers (more than 1 lakh), while Arunachal, Nagaland and Mizoram have less than 1,000 users each.

When the population of each state is taken into account, however, the picture changes. When adjusted for population, a mere 0.7% Sikkim’s population uses the service – and this is the highest percentage among Indian states. Maharashtra, with the highest number of DigiLocker users, has a much lower percentage of those on the service – 0.12%. The national capital, meanwhile, has just 0.17% of its population on the service.

Lock up

Citizens can use DigiLocker to store up to 10 megabytes of personal documents online.

Since the 10MB storage isn’t enticing enough, considering that internet users can avail themselves of at least 1GB of storage for free through private services such as Google Drive or Dropbox, the government is trying to push usage by integrating several departments with the service and allowing users to access more documents in real time from anywhere.

Among those enrolled so far include the road transport ministry, Maharashtra’s department of registry and stamps and educational bodies such as the Central Board of Secondary Education, which is now trying to release mark sheets and results of competitive exams online.

Though the government hoped that these initiatives would increase its usage, technical glitches have prevented several people from using the service.

A student who gave her National Engineering Entrance Exam this year spoke to about why she didn't sign up for DigiLocker even though her results were released on the platform.

“They allowed us to access results instantly on the platform but it required a sign up using the Aadhaar number,” a student, said on the condition of anonymity. “I tried signing up thrice using my phone number but never received the one-time password and then my Aadhaar verification didn’t go through so I could never sign up.”

The service is linked to the government's biometric-based Aadhaar identification system, but it is not mandatory to have an Aadhaar number, according to the website.

Privacy concerns

Another reason why people are hesitant to sign up for the service are privacy concerns about storing important and private documents on a central repository.

“Any large linked database with personal information is a serious threat to citizen’s data,” G Nagarjuna, a researcher at the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education in Mumbai told earlier. “There exists no agency that could secure their data till date without any possibilities of data theft.”

Experts said storing private information, such as biometric and passport data, on the service could pose security and privacy concerns.

Sunil Abraham, Executive Director of the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society told over email that the project can have serious consequences if it is not encrypted well.

“Unless the cryptography and architecture is organised in such a manner that only the citizens will have access, there can be very serious consequences for the individual’s right to privacy,” he said.

Internal resistance

Those working for the project said the usage of the locker is going to go up if more government departments start issuing documents digitally to the locker, instead of handing over hard copies, as this will prompt users to sign up.

If the usage has to be increased, more departments need to come on board and start releasing documents digitally, said Debabrata Nayak, additional director of the National E-Governance Division, which implemented the project.

“It’s only when more departments start implementing digitisation and issuing digital documents that we will see a jump in the number of users because Digital Locker is pushed like that,” Nayak said, adding that National E-Governance Division is facing a fair bit of resistance from the departments.

“But not all departments are doing it yet because it requires a massive change in their work processes and we are trying to get them on board.”

Aadhaar woes

DigiLocker is designed as a push as well as pull service, which means that it should allow departments to issue as well as request documents from users. For this, users need to link their Aadhaar numbers to the locker. This is proving to be a problem, because most departments are not linking the documents they release to Aadhaar just yet, and not all users are registered with the unique identification system.

Moreover, the validity of Aadhaar is under question in the Supreme Court over privacy concerns voiced by the civil society.

An activist had moved the Supreme Court last year over the government making the Aadhaar number mandatory to sign up for DigiLocker. While the petition was quashed on procedural grounds, the government quickly moved to allow users to sign up without their Aadhaar numbers. However, the usability of the locker is restricted for such users.

Nayak said that non-Aadhaar-linked users can only upload their own documents on the system, without being able to use any other facility that DigiLocker claims to provide.

“Earlier Aadhaar was necessary but we changed it because people demanded access, but for most services, like getting government documents or requesting documents, it’s [Aadhaar] necessary,” he said. Nayak said this is because Aadhaar is the only way the government can identify the person who is being issued documents.

So what can one do without an Aadhaar on the DigiLocker?

“Without Aadhaar you can dump your garbage in it, which means you can upload your own files on the digital locker system,” Nayak said, “but why would you do that if you have Google Drive and Dropbox-like services?”