Solving The Biometric Riddle

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Sanju Verma

The Supreme Court judgement on Aadhaar mirrors the hopes and aspirations of the people as without privacy the very notion of modern life is bleak
In August 2017, the Supreme Court of India declared ‘Right to Privacy’ as a fundamental right, saying that it is an intrinsic part of ‘Right to Life and Personal Liberty’, under Article 21, Part lll of the Indian Constitution. The bench also passed an interim order, restricting compulsory linking of Aadhaar for delivery of benefits. What critics of Aadhaar will not tell you, however, is that the apex court also observed that the Government can mine data to ensure resources reached the intended beneficiaries. Effectively, by recommending a robust data protection regime that marries individual interests with legitimate concerns of the state, the top court was only reiterating what the Narendra Modi-led NDA Government has been saying for so long.
The Aadhaar issue was never about breaching the privacy of the citizenry in any case. In fact, Section 32(3) of the Aadhaar Act 2016 specifically prohibits UIDAI from controlling, collecting, keeping or maintaining any information about the purpose of authentication, either by itself or through any other entity. Vested interests, who have been trashing Aadhaar in the guise of privacy-related concerns, need to be reminded that Aadhaar is an identifier, not a digital profiling tool.
The Left-leaning Lutyens’ cabal of ignorant journalists, that thrived on the remnants of the Congress ecosystem for decades, has been spreading a vilification campaign against Aadhaar, saying linking of bank accounts, shares, mutual funds and mobile phone numbers with Aadhaar is a privacy breach. Is it? Absolutely not! When you give Aadhaar number to your banks or say mutual fund, they only send your Aadhaar number and biometrics given at the time of authentication to the UIDAI for verification of your identity. Your bank or mutual fund investment or phone details, per se, are kept confidential.
What is appalling is how a decrepit Opposition, that has failed to stall the Modi-Shah electoral juggernaut, claims that someone can hack into your bank account by simply knowing your Aadhaar number. The truth is, just like no one can withdraw money from an ATM machine by simply knowing your ATM or debit card number, without knowing your PIN number, similarly, no one can hack into your bank account by merely knowing your Aadhaar number. For those, fuming at being asked to link their mobile numbers with Aadhaar, know that once every mobile number is linked with Aadhaar, it will become far easier for the Government to identify and punish fraudsters and terrosrists who use fake SIMs and fictitious identities. Forty thousand illegal Rohingyas and more than 20 million illegal Bangladeshi migrants that sneaked into India under the Congress-led UPA, should tell us something about why we need Aadhaar now more than ever before.
The Cambridge Analytica scam involving fraudulent harvesting of personal details of more than 50 million Facebook users worldwide showcases how social messaging platforms are prone to vulnerabilities when servers are compromised and mala fide intent is at work, thanks to rogue professionals. The Indian National Congress, that has been at the forefront of the smear campaign against Aadhaar, is reported to have undeniable links with Cambridge Analytica and should, therefore, desist from taking any moral high ground on Aadhaar.
The collective hypocrisy of those who have misgivings about Aadhaar is further exposed through these startling numbers. Of the 1.5 billion plus, active monthly users that WhatsApp globally has, more than 200 million are from India alone. Again, of the two billion odd monthly users of Facebook, 250 million in January 2018 were from India. The point is: Any form of online messaging, identification, social or cyber-security apparatus may have some chink in its armour but that cannot be the reason for throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The unprecedented ransomware attack on 100 countries, which incidentally crippled the UK’s mighty health services industry in May 2017, is a case in point.
In the case of Aadhaar, tangible benefits far outweigh the perceived negatives, if any. What makes Aadhaar virtually fool proof, is the fact that under Regulation 17 (1)(a) of the Aadhaar Act 2016, the biometrics are encrypted and no one, including your mobile companies or banks can store, share, retain or publish the fingerprints taken at the time of authentication. Doing so is punishable by law.
To cut to the chase, in a country like India, where less than five per cent of the population pays income tax, every rupee saved by the Government is akin to a rupee earned.That being so, Aadhaar is clearly a huge boon for India’s honest tax paying citizens as it seeks to cut through the flab and minimise waste and inefficiency. This is endorsed by the fact that due to Aadhaar, 3.5 crore fake LPG connections, 2.95 crore fake ration cards, 93 lakh fake MNREGA accounts, 4.4 lakh fake ghost accounts under the mid-day meal scheme,1.3 lakh ghost teachers and more than 13 lakh ghost farmer accounts,have been exposed.
The World Bank has said that India’s Aadhaar, under the aegis of the reformist Narendra Modi-led Government, could save upto 11 billion dollars annually — that is Rs 71,500 crore approximately. The people-friendly Modi dispensation has already saved in excess Rs 60,000 crore, all thanks to Aadhaar and the Direct Benefit Transfer scheme.
Last but not the least, Aadhaar has till now empowered more than 119 crore Indians with a safe, secure, trusted and verifiable identity and has laid the ‘aadhaar’ for a strong, resilient, transparent and progressive India, which is a welcome change for India whose Aadhaar was built on the feeble pillars of Nehruvian socialism that outlived their utility long back. “Mera Aadhaar Meri Pehchaan” is not a fancy slogan but also our collective identity.
(The writer is an Economist & Chief Spokesperson for BJP, Mumbai) (Courtesy: Pioneer)