Aadhaar: Despite security breaches, privacy concerns, India needs to follow global trend

First Published 13, Sep 2018, 2:57 PM IST
Aadhaar security breach privacy concern India global trend big brother
Highlights

It is, therefore, a mystery why the vilification campaign against Aadhaar persists with dark innuendoes of a fascist, “big-brother-is-watching” intent. Will the government use Aaadhar to target dissidents or just the terrorists and illegals? Will it use it to monitor everyone’s financial dealings to catch malfeasance, or blackmail those it wishes to intimidate? 

The Supreme Court is due to take a final call on the limitations to be imposed on Aadhaar in the light of its earlier ruling on privacy as a fundamental right. And of course, its interim ruling, permitting it to carry on doing its job. 

It seems improbable, given the pace of the judiciary, that this important judgement will be handed down in the next few days during the remaining tenure of the present Chief Justice Dipak Mishra. 

This is pertinent only because CJI Mishra is perceived to be inclined to the ruling government view that Aadhaar is an important means to put every legitimate citizen on the grid, and should be allowed wide-license to operate. 

However, his designated successor, Justice Gogoi, due to take over after October 2, is expected to take a more nuanced view, given his reportedly left-liberal leanings. He was one of the four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court that rebelled against the current Chief Justice, and held an unprecedented press conference at the Press Club of India in New Delhi, challenging the CJI’s right to allocate cases to “junior judges” as the “Master of the Roster”. 

Being a constitutional matter, it will, of course, be decided by a fairly large bench, hopefully allowing for different views to be expressed and considered, as part of its composition and process towards a final judgement. 

Of course, Parliament has been made supreme since the Emergency in the seventies, and will, if necessary, have the legislative last word. 

There is a considerable clamour from the Opposition, sections of the media, and the Left-Liberal element at large, that Aadhaar should be revoked, or failing this, made voluntary in all cases. This, rather than mandatory in given instances, or indeed universally, as is demanded by some others. 

Given that the same Left-liberal element supports the case for “Urban Naxals” out to murder the Prime Minister is being referred to as “freedom of expression/human rights activists” and Islamic terrorist organisation members, such as those in Hizbul Mujahideen, as mere “workers”; not a lot of support can be expected from such quarters. 
Aadhaar is more or less essential today to access most goods and services, make investments, buy assets, or file taxes.

This will remain as a “voluntary” requirement no matter what the judiciary pronounces, short of scrapping and undoing the enormously expensive exercise that has already been completed. This, going by the interim judgement, and the national interest is extremely unlikely. 

It is, therefore, a mystery why the vilification campaign against Aadhaar persists with dark innuendoes of a fascist, “big-brother-is-watching” intent. Will, the government use Aadhaar to target dissidents or just the terrorists and illegals? Will it use it to monitor everyone’s financial dealings to catch malfeasance, or blackmail those it wishes to intimidate? 

It could, of course, well do all these things, and other governments, including democratic ones, have been known to do so, and more. But nevertheless, isn’t it necessary, this kind of threat, at least in part, to keep the good, law-abiding citizen safe and secure? Hasn’t the crooked element, the gamer of the system, the criminal, the cheats, forgers, thugs, terrorists, illegals, seditionists, spies, the treasonous, and so on, got away with impunity, despite being in plain sight, and for much too long?

The government, in the interim, has more or less assumed that it can make Aadhaar mandatory and ubiquitous, though there is a preceding, if perfunctory, “voluntary acceptance” clause.

There are a lot of illegal aliens, the subjects of the NCR mappings, however imperfect, conducted in Assam so far. The fact that illegal aliens also have Aadhaar cards is a worry, but not a problem that cannot be solved via adequate cross-referencing of other data like ancestry and settled domicile to establish citizenship.

The dimensions of the illegal aliens' problem are large, at an estimated 5 crore people, and poses a substantial security and demographic risk/threat. Particularly when they are also allowed to vote on the strength of their genuine identity papers but obtained by questionable means.

This commonsense argument against, outweighs the so-called humanitarian angle towards illegal “refugees”. It outweighs also the economic argument, from those who would have soft borders, as if we were a budding EU, rather than a country besieged with two hostile neighbours. The biggest of them, in fact, in cahoots with each other, and growing their influence with other minnows in the area as well. 

This despite a more or less constant subversion and terrorism, sometimes using networks of illegal aliens, many of whom are from the minority community, hard to ferret out from minority ghettos, and easily radicalized to boot. 

And then there is the more cynical aiding and abetting of illegal aliens to bolster vote banks in border states such as Bengal, alter demographics altogether, as in  Assam and the other Northeastern states, and even plant Rohingyas all the way across, in Jammu.

But quite apart from the fate of Aadhaar, the electronic and digital mapping of individuals and their secrets, in the age of nearly a billion smartphones in use, is so widespread, that the Privacy argument, in practical terms, is already dead in the water. 

The biggest tangible success using Aadhaar so far has been in the direct disbursement of subsidies via authenticated bank accounts of the poor. Because it has rooted out many false identities, middlemen, and duplications from the system, thereby saving the exchequer crores of rupees, it does not agree with those who were milking the earlier system. 

It is necessary to note, however, that the data on Aadhaar apart, the government is within its constitutional rights to conduct various forms of surveillance to protect its integrity in terms of National Security.  

Biometric data is the incontrovertible proof of individual identity. This has long been known and applied in the issuance of a number of European visas as well as in other sophisticated security systems gateways. 

The United States, the oldest Democracy, even as India is the most populous one, has long collected and used  Aadhaar style data via its Social Security numbering system. It also has covered almost every square inch of its territory via satellite and terrestrial surveillance cameras. Things on the move are tracked too via GPS and other systems. Even facilities underground, or in the deep sea, are monitored today. There is therefore nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. Similar methods and devices are used all over the world in all kinds of political systems. 


Despite this, there are security breaches, electronic data hackings and subversion, while ever more sophisticated anti-hacking and anti-data theft systems are being constantly developed. 

India has little choice, in a globalised world, but to follow suit. This is a digital age and the analogue argument cannot hold water any more.

Of course, it is understandable that the stripping away of the erstwhile power to manipulate data to suit oneself is a massive change in the game that is hard to digest for some. Wanting to go back to paper ballots is part of this longing. As is the attempt via outfits like Cambridge Analytica to use personal data clandestinely to influence elections.  

International hackings into military hardware, banking systems and political data banks are also potent enough to develop crack units to conduct cyber warfare in turn.
The digital age is throwing up its own challenges, to be sure, but there is literally no going back. 

Possibly, the only way to stay anonymous today is to never use anything with electronics in it. But is this at all feasible for any length of time?

loader