Insights into Editorial: Power of a single identity

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Insights into Editorial: Power of a single identity


 

Context:

A five-judge constitutional bench was hearing petitions that challenge the constitutional validity of Aadhaar.

Supreme Court observed that Aadhaar helps citizen-centric delivery of services, but data can be misused. SC agreed that there is a need to examine the possibility of misuse of Aadhaar details.

What is Aadhaar?

Aadhaar is a 12-digit unique identification number issued to Indian citizens by the Central government. It is issued and managed by Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). Aadhaar captures biometric and demographic data while verifying every resident Indian citizen’s details. Aadhaar is now governed by Aadhaar Act 2016.

  • Aadhaar facilitates financial inclusion of the underprivileged and weaker sections of the society and is therefore a tool of distributive justice and equality. It promotes hassle-free people-centric governance.
  • It is one of the key pillars of ‘Digital India’ and is the largest biometrics based identification system in the world.
  • Aadhaar identity platform enables the Government of India to directly reach residents of the country in delivery of various subsidies, benefits and services.

Why is holding Aadhaar card essential?

  1. Aadhaar based Direct Benefit Transfer (LPG Subsidy): Under PAHAL scheme, the subsidy amount directly gets deposited into Aadhaar lined bank account.
  2. PM Jan Dhan Yojana: Under this scheme, government accepts Aadhaar card/number as the document sufficient to open the bank account.
  3. Digital Locker: DigiLocker enables users to store their personal documents on the government’s server. Signing up process requires linking of Aadhaar number.
  4. Voter Card Linking:  Aadhaar card no is linked to Voter ID’s to eliminate bogus voters.
  5. Opening new bank account:  Now government has made Aadhaar card mandatory to open a bank account. No need of submitting bunch of documents to the banks for opening the account.
  6. Digital Life Certificate: Under ‘Jeevan Praman’ scheme, there is no requirement of pensioner to be physically present. Pensioner’s details will be accessed digitally through Aadhaar linked Digital Life certificate.
  7. SEBI:  Aadhaar is now accepted as a proof of address (including proof of identity) by Securities and Exchange board of India for investing in stock market.
  8. Mobile number:it is mandatory for all existing mobile subscribers (prepaid and postpaid) to link Aadhaar to the mobile number.
  9. Aadhaar will be must for making transactions above Rs. 50, 000.

Comparison between Aadhaar and SSN

Aadhaar can be used as a single proof of identity and address for any resident in India. Whereas the SSN (Social Security Number) is used to track worker’s earnings and keep a record of social security benefits to be received by them. Temporary workers are also allowed to obtain SSN in certain cases.

Aadhaar project involves collection of biometric data which includes fingerprints, face and iris of eyes, whereas SSN captures demographic data.

Third-party organisations can send requests for verification to the UIDAI. The Aadhaar number can be adopted by any public or private entity as a sole means of identifying an individual. SSN is required by private entities in case of any transaction with the revenue service. Amidst rising concerns, several legislations were passed to contain the use and collection of the SSN.

While the SSN has arguably been overused for purposes that it was not intended for, and there have been many instances of leakage of information linked to it, nonetheless it continues to be the backbone of citizen interactions with the state

Why is Aadhaar Opposed?

In 2015, SC directed the government that Aadhaar was not mandatory for availing any welfare benefits.

Aadhaar was optional at first and associated with only a handful of government subsidies, including those for food and liquefied petroleum gas for cooking.

But over time, Aadhaar has been used for a wide range of government and private-sector services. Aadhaar was soon linked to so many activities such as filing taxes, opening bank accounts, and benefiting from a wide range of welfare programs.

Changed rhetoric by different governments about Aadhaar over a period and increased ambit of usage of Aadhaar has raised privacy concerns.

  1. User Profiling: In August 2017, SC upheld the right to privacy as a fundamental right under the Constitution. There is an apprehension that Aadhaar number is used for surveillance and profiling people based on caste, religion, income, health and geography through biometric data thus violating their Right to Privacy.
  2. Sharing identity Details: The Aadhaar Act puts in place a framework to share it with “requesting entities”. Initially, authentication involved nothing more than a Yes/No response to a query as to whether a person’s Aadhaar number matches her fingerprints. But in the final version of the Act, authentication also involves a possible sharing of identity information with the requesting entity.  This has raised concerns about private sector abuse.
  3. Mining Personal information: The possible misuse of identity information is one of the privacy concerns associated with Aadhaar. Aadhaar could be a tool of unprecedented power for mining and collating personal information. For example, Aadhaar is made mandatory for getting SIM cards, so government will have access to one’s call records.
  4. Made it mandatory for availing welfare schemes: There was news last year that 11-year-old girl in Jharkhand died of starvation, months after her family’s ration card was cancelled because it was not linked to their Aadhaar number.  However, SC guidelines made it clear that beneficiaries cannot be denied access to welfare scheme even if they don’t have Aadhaar.

What should the government do?

Anti-Aadhaar activists who can take full credit for bringing the privacy debate on to the national stage, but they failed to offer a viable alternative tool to better administer the nation’s massive subsidy regime. Smart card method instead of biometrics was suggested by few experts and its viability is still a question. So,

  • Government should assure the citizens that it has the technology and systems to protect the data collected.
  • It should assure the citizens of India that it will do everything possible to prevent unauthorised access to such data like people being forced to give their consent to use Aadhaar data.
  • It should recognise all dimensions of the right to privacy and address concerns about data safety, surveillance, and use of personal identifiers.
  • The data controller should be made accountable for the collection, processing and use of Aadhaar data.
  • UIDAI should show its seriousness in addressing data security and privacy issues by adding more layers of security, such as virtual Aadhaar ids.
  • There must be a balance between right to privacy and national interests.