Centre for Internet & Society

It is still hazy to see the desperation of the union government to imposing the Aadhaar Card mandatory when matters related to Aadhaar Card are already sub judice.

This was blog post by Gaurav Raj was published by India Saga on May 25, 2017.

The constitutionality of Aadhaar is yet to be decided by the Supreme Court, however, the enrolment of Aadhaar has reached the mark of more than one billion. Recently, the government declared Aadhaar mandatory to file Income Tax Return (ITR) while the Supreme Court is opined not to treat Aadhaar mandatory, but voluntarily. Now it is imperative of the government to confide the citizens that the Aadhaar information- demography and biometrics-are in safe hands, a debate which has been heating up, and the contempt of the court’s decision by the government is for greater good. But the uproar against the speculation of identity revelation threat and possible misuse of Aadhaar details by the government-corporate nexus, plausible reasons to doubt the security of privacy, which is a fundamental right of Indian citizen. Ironically, after the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley defended the ‘Aadhaar Money Bill controversy’ filed by former congress MP Jairam Ramesh in the court, the Supreme Court is in dilemma and yet to decide whether ‘Right to Privacy' is a fundamental right or not.

Why Aadhaar Card Mandatory?

Nandan Nilekani, the co-founder of Infosys and the ideologue of Aadhaar, said that Aadhaar will change the PDS system in India since it ensures no ghost or fake beneficiaries to avail unentitled benefits of the various welfare schemes and subsidies. Nilekani also says that there might be margin of error up to 5 per cent in distributing the subsidies or benefits of various welfare schemes to the masses. The top-honcho technocrat has also defended Aadhaar that any breach of privacy of citizens is not possible as the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is efficient to secure the public data under CIDR.

The government claims that the corruption-mounted Public Distribution System (PDS) in India is reformed due to the introduction of the 12 digit unique identification number. More than 40000 crore have been saved in the form of exchequer due to curb of fake and ghost beneficiaries in the PDS system. Now if we believe Nilekani claim of 5% error, then more than 5 crore beneficiaries would be losing their benefits due the error in the biometric identification. The Infosys co-founder later said that if there is a margin of error then ‘One Time Password’ (OTP) comes in. However, he didn’t define what if there is a congestion of network in the remotest Indian villages where phone signals are rare? Standing on the PDS shop waiting for food grains and network, is certainly not an ideal way to avail the benefits of the government welfare schemes. In 2011, activist and writer Ruchika Gupta said in an interview to Tahalka, “The UID cannot address the bulk of delivery problems in the two of the biggest social sectors programmes like MGNREGA and PDS. Linking UID with social sector legislation is completely baseless.”

PAN Card Linked with Aadhaar Card?

The government has directed the Reserve Bank of India to make Aadhaar mandatory for Income Tax Return filing. Currently, there are approximately 24.37 crores PAN holders in India, however 3.8 crore people file income tax return every year. There have been cases of people owned not more than one but 100 PAN Cards with them. PAN cards in India are mostly used by the citizens as a proof of identity. The government believes that PAN card linking with Aadhaar will curb the tax evasion.

How Safe Is Your Data In This Panopticon Model Of Mass Surveillance?

In the late 18th century, the well-known English social reformer and jurist Jeremy Bentham wanted to build a ‘panoptican’ for a mass surveillance of the prisoners in England. He advocated designing an institutional building be used to keep an eye on all the jail inmates by a single watchman. Very similarly, India is witnessing the biggest surveillance program ever under the name of single identity and availing benefits of governments’ schemes. Another logic behind enrolment of Aadhaar is the ‘national security’. National security? How can any government ensure national security backing Aadhaar, when international companies have been hired in consortium to collect residents’ biometric and demography details? In 2010, Accenture, Mahindra-Satyam Morpho and L1 identity solutions were pooled in by UIDAI for leveraging de-duplication exercise of Aadhaar and data collection.  L1 Identity Solutions’ top brasses are the former Director CIA George Tenet and former Homeland Security deputy secretary Adm James. With its headquarters in Connecticut, this company is one of the biggest defence contractors specialised in facial recognition and biometrics. L1 Identity Solutions and Accenture work in a close affinity to US intelligence agencies. This is an age of information. Corporate houses and big telecom players are dying to get details of consumers. Obvious are the concerns about the safety and security of the people’s data. It is feared that the database can be used for various marketing and business purposes.

CIDR, A Single Database Of People’s Data

Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR) is a data management and storing agency in India which is initiated for the Aadhaar project. It is regulated by the statutory body of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). This centralised database is probably one of the biggest repositories on this planet.

In 2010, experts had claimed that more than a thousand government sites and portals were attacked more than 4000 times by China alone in one year. In April 2011, 77 million Sony Playstations and digital media delivery service Qriocity were hacked which resulted into a shutdown of the network for a week. The London School of Economics also reported that a central database of vulnerable to hacking and other terrorist and cyber crime activities. Recently Wannacry Ransomware virus hits the globe. More than 99 countries were affected.

Building one single repository for billions of Aadhaar Card data seems to be a big risk in the most vulnerable country where dat breach is at most.

Data Leak Crisis

UIDAI has so far spent approximately 5982.62 crores for more than a billion enrolments of Aadhaar Cards. 1615.34 crores have been spent between the financial year 2015-2016. Centre for Internet and Society, Bengaluru-based organization (CIS) has learned that data of more than 130 million Aadhaar card holders has been leaked from four government websites. They are National Social Assistance Programme, National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Chandranna Bima Scheme and Daily Online Payments Reports of NREGA. It also includes Bank details and other confidential details of millions of residents.

What is Next?

The Lok Sabha has passed the Aadhaar Bill as Money Bill. Mukul Rohatgi said in the Supreme Court that according to Article 110 of the constitution, there is use of consolidated funds of India so the bill is a Money bill. Chief Justice Khehar said, “Your object might be good but whether it is a ‘Money Bill’ or not is the question.” Justice Ramana referred to a 2014 judgment passed by the Apex court that courts had no jurisdiction over procedurals matters of legislative.” In response P. Chidambram, the counsel for Jairam Ramesh said, “This petition is not about a procedural matter. There has been substantive infraction.”