My expectations from NDA's Aadhaar

Right to privacy was not addressed by UPA, but this government has done well to acknowledge the gap.

 |  5-minute read |   19-03-2016
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The NDA government, over the last two years, has launched an unprecedented and determined effort to reform public subsidy spending, and this new Aadhaar is part of their execution strategy for this. In addition, the milestone of delivering cash subsidies to bank accounts of the needy with over Rs 36,000 crore deposited in 22 crore accounts is testimony to the focus on execution and getting things done by this government.

The recent opposition to Aadhaar by many in the present Opposition is amusing and perplexing. Neither the Left nor the Congress raised a murmur when Aadhaar was being rolled out from 2010 violating everything that they are complaining about - privacy, lack of debate, lack of legislation etc. While there were a few like me who kept raising this issue, I did not find any voices from that side.

Aadhaar is a poorly verified database - allows non-citizens to avail of subsidies

I am a big supporter and advocate of embedding technology into governance, and so, have always supported the creation of the National ID platform, which the UPA chose to call Aadhaar. But Aadhaar has been mythologised during the previous government by its creators into some technology super force that will transform governance in a miraculous manner. I even read an article recently that compared Aadhaar to some revolution and quoted a 1930s historian, Will Durant.

Aadhaar is simply a biometric database that contains only three pieces of information of the person - name, age and address along with his/her biometrics. The country must know that this UPA-initiated database, ostensibly for the purpose of identification, doesn't have even the basic citizenship information. Thousands of crores were spent compiling a database that will not even identify a person as a citizen - thus allowing illegal migrants and non-citizens to avail of public money and subsidies, arguably in violation of The Citizenship Act, 1955.

NDA Aadhaar very different from UPA Aadhaar

The NDA Aadhaar is a far cry from what the UPA was proposing as Aadhaar. It is no longer a national identification platform; rather, it is limited to only delivering subsidies and services. This is a good response to a fundamental weakness of Aadhaar that this government inherited. The whole database is a poorly verified database that needs slow and steady cleaning up. The process of using small enrolment agencies has created countless fake entries in this database. Getting an Aadhaar enrolment in a fake name had become as simple as getting a fake BPL card, and so attempts to make it a national identification platform would have been dangerous.

Trapdoor for identity laundering

Under the UPA Aadhaar, the government intended to use it as identity proof. Given the ease with which Aadhaar cards are available, there would have been nothing to prevent David Headley from getting Aadhaar - and using that Aadhaar, getting upstream identity proofs like Indian passports, voter IDs or tax PAN cards etc.

The UPA government did not acknowledge the danger like the NDA government has. Aadhaar could be a trapdoor for infiltration into formal identity processes like passports, voter IDs, and could become an identity laundering platform - but for the NDA government confirming that it will be restricted to subsidy delivery.

NDA has expanded privacy protections, but there is still a need for privacy legislation

In sharp contrast to UPA's contention that there was no need for privacy rights for enrolees, the NDA government has acknowledged that privacy is a fundamental right, and substantively expanded the privacy and protection of information under Aadhaar. NDA's approach to privacy is good and well-constructed.

There is protection under Section 43 A of the IT Act, and that is good. But, is that adequate given the dangers of a centralized repository? The cyber tribunals under the IT Act are hardly active, and capacity doesn't exist for these kind of disputes. Therefore, as I have repeatedly advocated in the past, the government now needs to urgently formulate a robust overarching privacy legislation. The right to privacy has not been addressed by previous governments, and the NDA government has done well to acknowledge this gap.

Future roadmap

This Bill will evolve as the use of directed subsidy increases. Clause 33 deals with data interception/inspection rights and conditions. I have urged that the oversight committee be expanded to include elements of legal oversight and have the attorney general and a retired judge - to ensure the fair, just and reasonable test - and I hope the government does that.

Clauses 47 and 50 are ones that will need to go when this law is revisited next - Why is there a need for sanction for prosecution by the authority in the event of a complaint or breach? The principle of accountability and citizen rights is a theme that has been played out by the government in other bills like the real estate bill. Why not here? And how can Clause 50 seek to give powers to government to supersede the authority, when Parliament enacted law is giving the powers to the authority?

Total lack of accountability on data verification, data security and breach of privacy

Apart from this long delayed scrutiny and debate about Aadhaar, the other strange thing about Aadhaar is the total lack of accountability of any entity on the verification of the data. The Bill must cast the obligation of this aspect of data integrity - of verification on the authority. The Bill currently completely leaves the authority without any obligations to the enrolee on the critical issues of data security, integrity and privacy.

Since Aadhaar in itself is useless for any subsidy delivery and has to work with other databases, government must plan to also bring those databases like JDY in the ambit of privacy clause of this law, and also possibly to bring to Parliament anoverarching privacy legislation.

I support the government's brave decision to go ahead with this very flawed platform that they inherited - I believe that these flaws should be recognised, to ensure Aadhaar's use is cautiously directed in areas where they don't cause any damage. In the future, a repaired and cleaned up Aadhaar has to be integrated to work with other databases like JDY, LPG, mobile to direct public spending more effectively and with less leakage and corruption - a transformation indeed!

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

Writer

Rajeev Chandrasekhar Rajeev Chandrasekhar @rajeev_mp

Member of Parliament & Technology Entrepreneur .

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