Plug data leak before imposing Aadhaar

by Prasad Krishna last modified May 17, 2017 02:10 AM
As the Central government continues to expand the scope and boundaries of the applicability of Aadhaar, the unique identification number, even before the Supreme Court’s verdict on its constitutional validity, reports suggesting that millions of Aadhaar numbers may have been leaked deliberately or inadvertently are a matter of grave concern.

The article was published in the Deccan Herald on May 11, 2017.

The Centre for Internet and Society, a Bengaluru-based organisation, has claimed that close to 135 million Aadhaar numbers and 100 million bank account numbers have been exposed by government portals dealing with pension, social welfare and employment guarantee schemes. The report says that with Aadhaar being used or planned to be used for authenticating and authorising several transactions, the financial risks of the disclosure of such data are greatly exacerbated. Virtually confirming that some ‘over-enthusiastic’ government agencies have been making the Aadhaar data public, Aruna Sundararajan, secretary, Union Electronics and Information Technology Ministry, has said that the Centre is in the process of ‘educating officials’ about the sanctity of the material collected, besides drafting amendments to the Information Technology Act to ensure data protection and secrecy. That’s indeed a late realisation, and hopefully, not a case of locking the stables once the horses have bolted.

The Supreme Court is also rightly concerned about the invasion of a citizen’s body in obtaining fingerprints and iris impressions for Aadhaar and the violation of an individual’s privacy. Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi raised several eyebrows by arguing that “citizens don’t have an absolute right over their own bodies” and there was nothing illegal about obtaining biometric details. He may be legally right, but as the court pointed out, it is the duty of the state to maintain the liberty and dignity of all individuals. As almost 98% of the population has already been covered by Aadhaar, the question of privacy is now more academic, though making Aadhaar mandatory for the filing of income tax along with PAN card is not. As the government is unable to come to grips with millions of benami transactions and largescale evasion of income tax in the country, if the linking of Aadhaar is going to bring down such cases, it needs to be welcomed.

However, Aadhaar is not a magic bullet that has a solution for every problem. The government shoulddrop the idea of making it mandatory for social welfare programmes such as children availing midday mealsin schools, supply of nutrition under ICDS programme and provision of scholarship for the disabled. The government certainly has a responsibility to prevent misuse of the schemes, while making sure that welfare measures are not denied to the needy on technical grounds.