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Monday, January 22, 2018

Aadhar leaks

Monday, 06 November 2017 11:55
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The issue of vulnerability of Aadhaar card to misuse and encroachment of privacy this time has been raised by none else than a BJP MP, Subramaniam Swamy, who sees red in the haste with which his Government is trying to link up all facilities to the unique identification number in complete violation of court orders. Earlier this week, he hit out at the compulsory Aadhaar, saying it was a threat to India's security, hinting at the possibility of data leaks landing in the hands of international intelligence agencies. In an age of electronics, anything can be hacked. The Aadhaar of UIDAI is probably the biggest identity database in the world with personal and biometric identification information gathered on well over a billion people. The fears of the data being leaked have been enhanced following cases of well known cricketer, MS Dhoni's personal details coming out in the public domain which is being blamed on an Aadhaar outsourcing agency. In another incident, a fake Aadhaar racket was busted after Aadhaar seals were found to have been stolen and fake websites were set up calling for personal information for registration. Several arrests have been made in the scam and there is reason to believe that officials may well be involved in this racket. The fear of such incidents in a country known for its high levels of corruption gets even more enhanced. The consequences of possible leaks once the data is transferred online in a big way as the Government is pushing for linking every service and facility with the unique identification number is huge. It could jeopardize the interests of individuals and increase chances of blackmail. Principally, morally and now even legally, it is a flawed scheme as it completely violates the right to privacy that has been upheld recently by the Supreme Court as a fundamental right. In light of such facts, it is important to rethink and review the very policy of having centralized data of citizens of the country. Instead, the Government is keen to go ahead with the Aadhaar finalization despite apex court orders that strictly forbid making it mandatory. The apex court had earlier passed several orders in the Aadhaar matter and observed that it was "purely a voluntary act" and there would not be any compulsion for the citizens to have the card to receive benefits of the Government schemes. Yet, the Government has been making it mandatory for banking, education, mid-day meals, ration cards and now mobile Sim-cards. The argument that this will streamline systems and plug loopholes and thefts sounds good but does not match with the ground reality of poor people being deprived of social welfare benefits, either because they have not made their Aadhaar cards or they have been denied the same due to snail's pace of work in Government offices. Mere extension of deadline for the mandatory linking of the Aadhaar card to avail benefits of Government schemes from end of December this year to March next does not make any sense. There are already shocking reports of an 11 year old girl dying because her family was denied ration cards as their Aadhaar card was not linked to it. The argument that the linking of Aadhaar card with make the system of delivery efficient is not plausible either in view of the many discrepancies. According to a shocking news report, Aadhaar cards of all residents of a village in Uttarakhand showed that they were born on January 1. The residents said they had provided voter ID cards, ration cards to private agency tasked with making Aadhaar cards. Similar errors have been reported from other parts of the country too. A Constitution bench of the apex court will start hearing this month a batch of petitions challenging the mandatory provisions of Aadhaar card for availing several services and benefits of Government welfare schemes. But, this in no way should stop a government from re-assessing its decision in the light of the many cases of data leak, vulnerability, discrepancies and misuse. At least till the final court verdict comes, the Government should suspend its drive to link Aadhaar with mobile numbers, bank accounts and other services. This should not be made into an issue of prestige and false pride.


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