The Aadhaar Fiasco

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Our constitution entitles every citizen, of this great democracy, with meticulously detailed rights which forms the broad strokes that enables one to enjoy the nuances of the method of democracy. As time evolves the broad spectrum offered by these rights starts to branch out into multiple rights of their own drawing existence from the predecessor. One such right is the convoluted ‘Right to privacy‘ which holds much relevance because of the recent discourse around the unique identification number or ‘Aadhaar’ for short. Right to privacy is not something which is explicitly detailed in our constitution rather it is something that is a by-product of ‘Right to Life’ & Personal Liberty. Quoting the judgment from the judicial proceedings from the case, which was an unanimous judgment by the Supreme Court of India (SCI) in Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd) vs Union of India, ‘The right to privacy is protected as an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 and as a part of the freedoms guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution.’

This write up is spot on with timing as we see numerous initiatives (Google India has partnered with NCERT to kick start internet safeguard campaign among children) evolving and numerous ones already in place to analyze, understand and propagate the need to be cautious of this omnipotent.

The new age messiah:

India is on full throttle towards ‘absolute development’ and the term is in quotes because it refers to multiple domains, in relation to the subject at hand – the focus is on information technology. While coping with advancements and following suit to the West we have definitely put ‘digital’ as the new age messiah. The present day discourse has shifted to this new age medium and the emphasis by institutions are surrounding the same. So it is to safe to assume that the influx of digital medium will only follow the upward trend in the following years. As digitization grows there rises the need to implement methods to safeguard the voluminous electronic data from exploitation because as we embrace this new age omnipotent we should also be aware of the Pandora’s box that accompanies it.

How important is privacy?

“I don’t see myself as a hero because what I’m doing is self-interested: I don’t want to live in a world where there’s no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity.” – Edward Snowden

Privacy is a prerequisite for connectivity, as we are trying to embark on a journey towards absolute connectivity, it is important that it is supplemented by measures to safeguard individual and collective privacy against the numerous marauders. To understand the need to have guidelines in place let’s build upon an example – imagine you are in a glass case where everyone can see and observe your actions, definitely you will wish for a barrier to safeguard your personal space and protect your identity and even benefit from anonymity. While we use the internet or any services connected to this vast service (Internet of Things) we are actually in a similar glass case and the right to exercise privacy seems a necessity.

Above is a quote from Mr. Edward Snowden who is quite infamous with the CIA for exposing the panoptical mechanism that is in place. An all seeing eye that hears everything you say, follows you everywhere you go and probably knows more about you than you ever will. This is not just the case with CIA and probably something every nation practices. An institution which is in power, best exercises its dominance and sovereignty by keeping every individual under it in check, and prior to the internet it used to be via ‘spies’ carrying their propaganda and today what better method than through the internet.

Now to address the importance of privacy one can offer the rationale of personal protection but I would like to argue the clause of indemnity between a citizen and an elected institution. Just like we have the right to live we have the right to demand privacy.

As a fundamental right?

The debate surrounding the relevance of a standalone right validating privacy reached a conclusion when it was directed by the honorable Supreme Court of India as an intrinsic part of Right to Life and Personal liberty. This right has scope not just limited to electronic media but also with regard to society and lifestyle. Right to privacy safeguards one against probable prejudice and exploitation, we should be able to take the best suited action upholding the sanctity of our personal identity. As much as we enjoy the right to exercise freedom within the borders of this great democracy so do we have an intrinsic right to exercise privacy and we always did. It is just that the advent of UID (Unique identification) skimmed the intrinsic element for further debate.

The Aadhaar Fiasco:

“Once a genie is out of the bottle, it cannot be put back…,” was the remark by senior advocate Mr. Kapil Sibil who presented the concern of privacy violation by Aadhaar. It is an interesting comparison that he has made because just like a genie this implementation hullabaloo has been nothing short of an illusion to the ‘common’ eye. The thought process behind Aadhaar was a simple concept – to develop a unique identification channel for each and every individual who qualifies as a citizen under the Indian republic. The complications emerged in implementation. There is a need for identification, which simplifies the burden of carrying numerous cards, Aadhaar is a system which promises to rectify the mismanagement and by practice it has had certain novelties that was an immediate welcome but the method of choice which was chosen, was forceful adoption and everything goes wrong when you pit more than a billion people against enrollment centres which are not adequate enough to offer homogenous access.

In the initial phase the race was to get an Aadhaar and later on it evolved into the race to get it linked to each and every service out there. It almost feels as if the genie has become so convoluted that it is best to adjust ourselves to its growth rather than raising it to suit the society, which is a sad reality.

Considering the enigma propagated for Aadhaar by the ruling government it is safe to assume that it is best to take the second element into consideration and that is privacy. Privacy was outright overlooked and the major reason was the chaos surrounding the project. The scale was too big and putting the operational phase into action eventually compromised security. Numerous reports caught attention for reporting how personal information of millions of citizens are floating on the internet and are up for grabs by anyone who pays the premium. The hack is terrifying to say the least, anyone could get anyone’s social, personal and financial data by buying it online. A dangerous proposition with the entire national security at stake. Back-ends are always the vulnerable points in a electronic data management system and here it’s wide open.

The General Agenda:

The general agenda of a common man with regard to privacy starts at mother’s maiden name and ends at one-time password. This is how the majority operates and it is not their fault, we all wish to have ease of operation and security and privacy are elements which complicate the process which may be overlooked. In the case of Aadhaar it is safe to assume that majority of us are not bothered about the intricacies and are bothered about resuming our services and nothing else. Recently Aadhaar has come up with a virtual number for re-assuring privacy. These are all welcome moves but how far this polishing will help is yet to be assessed.

As conclusion I would like to state again that the proposition to have a Unique ID was not the issue but the ignorance towards privacy was and to counter the same we are constantly improvising which is a natural process but we are keeping the public at large in the dark. The ratification must be holistic and transparent and more importantly developed with not just the urban populace in mind but also the rural community. We do not want the genie to transform into a grim reaper.

Gokul Balu is a public policy graduate from O.P Jindal Global University and has worked in the role of project manager in the CSR project initiated by Google India. He has also worked with NALSAR University in Hyderabad as a research associate for policy drafting. He is also actively involved as a volunteer for Free and open source Software forum. He is Interested in the field of community development using ICT technologies.

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