Aadhar Card: A Mechanism To Violate Fundamentals?

1 year ago Hassan Kalam | Hunt Media Desk 0

Supreme Court in its recent hearing extended the last date for linking the Aadhaar numbers to services like bank accounts and mobile phones till it decides the Aadhaar Act’s constitutionality. This decision is welcomed by people as the deadline was veering closer. The court in its hearing also mentioned that Aadhaar can be made mandatory for disbursing subsidies, but not for services. The Supreme Court bench hearing petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Aadhaar Act has observed that fears of misuse are not enough to quash a law. In the previous hearing, the apex court on December 15 had extended the deadline for linking of Aadhar with bank accounts and mobile number till 31st March. The recent growth of Aadhaar to touch every aspect of human life by covering more government schemes and drawing in private corporations has created risks that are being discovered along the way.

Recently we have seen surge in the messages from the bank and telecom companies to link your aadhar number with bank accounts and mobile number which is one of the many intrusive, unconvincing and recursive Aadhaar authentication tasks that the government is imposing on citizens. Making the linking of Aadhar mandatory enables the banks and telecom companies to monetise private consumption behaviour without seeking informed consent. Now, even mobile wallet companies have joined the Aadhaar pestering service.

Few months ago, the country’s top telecom operator got temporarily suspended from using Aadhaar to authenticate connections and open new payment bank accounts by UIDAI. UIDAI alone acts as regulator, service provider, data protector and sole victim-complainant in data breaches sounds implausible. There is a need of sturdy data protection law with tough penalties for breaches, and a corresponding independent regulator. Another thing government can do is limiting Aadhaar to few specified government services and departments, such as cash transfers or linkage to PAN cards. If Aadhaar starts touching every aspect of human like, it is likely to endanger citizens, privacy, democracy and national security. Apex Court in its recent judgment states that the right to privacy is a fundamental right and there is an impeccable need for a robust law that ensures the data protection of the citizens.

Aadhar card has not only violated the right to privacy but we have also seen it violating the right to life in several instances. There have been reports of denial of rations and starvation deaths due to Aadhaar authentication failures, denial of access to hospitals and other critical services because of non-enrollment or sharing Aadhaar. In the beginning when Aadhar was first introduced among citizens had specific purpose and was nothing more than a card like voter ID, passport, ration card and PAN card. The problem lies in its biometric component and the lure of big data which demonstrated the involvement of government and private corporations as well raiding the privacy of the citizens.

UIDAI acting as a sole regulator and in charge of protecting data, the Aadhaar Act puts in place a framework to share it with “requesting entities”. The core of this framework lies in Section 8 of the Act, which deals with authentication. Section 8 underwent a radical change when the draft of the Act was revised. In the initial scheme of things, authentication involved nothing more than a Yes/No response to a query as to whether a person’s Aadhaar number matches her fingerprints (or possibly, other biometric or demographic attributes). In the final version of the Act, however, authentication also involves a possible sharing of identity information with the requesting entity. For instance, when you go through Aadhaar-based biometric authentication to buy a SIM card from a telecom company, the company typically gains access to your demographic characteristics from the CIDR. Even biometric information other than core biometric information (which means, as of now, photographs) can be shared with a requesting entity. The new privacy rights granted by the SC must be tested, therefore, against potentially coercive and exploitative harvesting of big data.

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