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India Still Trying To Turn Optional Aadhaar Identification Number Into A Mandatory National Identity System

by Prasad Krishna last modified Mar 24, 2016 06:34 AM
from the sliding-down-the-slippery-slope-to-disaster dept

The blog post was published by Tech Dirt on March 22, 2016. CIS research on Aadhaar was quoted.

Last year, we wrote about India's attempt to turn the use of its Aadhaar system, which assigns a unique 12-digit number to all Indian citizens, into a requirement for accessing government schemes. An article in the Hindustan Times shows that the Indian government is still pushing to turn Aadhaar into a mandatory national identity system. A Bill has just been passed by both houses of the country's parliament, which seeks to give statutory backing to the scheme -- in the teeth of opposition from India's Supreme Court:

There have been orders passed by the Supreme Court that prohibit the government from making Aadhaar mandatory for availing government services whereas this Bill seeks to do precisely that, contrary to the government's argument that Aadhaar is voluntary.

The article notes that in some respects, the new Bill brings improvements over a previous version:

It places stringent restrictions on when and how the UID [Unique Identification] Authority (UIDAI) can share the data, noting that biometric information -- fingerprint and iris scans -- will not be shared with anyone. It seeks prior consent for sharing data with third party. These are very welcome provisions.

But it also contains some huge loopholes:

The government will get sweeping power to access the data collected, ostensibly for "efficient, transparent, and targeted delivery of subsidies, benefits and services" as it pleases "in the interests of national security", thus confirming the suspicions that the UID database is a surveillance programme masquerading as a project to aid service delivery.

The fact that an optional national numbering system now seems to be morphing into a way to monitor what people are doing will hardly come as a surprise to Techdirt readers, but this continued slide down the slippery slope is still troubling, as are other aspects of the new legislation. For example, it was introduced as a "Money Bill," which is normally reserved for matters related to taxation, not privacy. That suggests a desire to push it through without real scrutiny. What makes this attempt to give the Aadhaar number a much larger role in Indian society even more dangerous is the possibility that it won't work:

A recent paper in the Economic and Political Weekly by Hans Mathews, a mathematician with the [Centre for Internet and Society], shows the programme would fail to uniquely identify individuals in a country of 1.2 billion.

A mandatory national identity system that can't even uniquely identify people: sounds like a recipe for disaster.