Worst Is Yet to Come With Aadhaar, Warn Activists

With the dust yet to settle on the dramatic passing of the UIDAI (Aadhaar) Bill in the Lok Sabha, anti-Aadhar activists had a press conference in Delhi to articulate their concerns about the unexpected development. The bill is expected to face a stiff challenge in the Supreme Court. Aadhaar is India’s largest identification project, covering vast swathes of the population.

PDT Achary, former secretary general of the Lok Sabha, argued that the passing of the bill as a money bill is unconstitutional. He said, “Article 110(3) confirms finality on the speaker’s decision on the question of whether a bill is a money bill. But this constitutional provision cannot be seen as a convenient tool to deal with an inconvenient second chamber,” referring to the Rajya Sabha which does not have a say in whether a money bill is passed or not.

Apart from the route used to clear the Aadhaar bill, activists raised privacy concerns. Nandan Nilekani, considered the pioneer of Aadhaar, recently said that the Aadhaar scheme worked as it was cashless, paperless and presence-less. Yet, these have emerged as the biggest problems with the bill. “The UID scheme has ensured that the person providing the data has no say in who utilises the data for what,” says Usha Ramanathan, an eminent jurist. “This was always supposed to be an identification project, not an identity project and the fact that the bill is touted to be cashless will only add to more last-mile problems,” she adds.

The technology being used for the collection of the data has also come under scrutiny. The government has specified that it will use iris scan, fingerprint or photograph to identify personnel. Studies though suggest that these parameters may change in the long run, rendering a person’s only link to the UID number unidentifiable.

Says Ramanathan, “In making biometrics compulsory for the poor, the poor are being told that they do not have any interest in privacy, and that they should only care about the money they may get from the government or the food that may be provided. This reduction of citizenship of the poor person to a rightless welfare recipient is itself unconstitutional.” Another concern is that mobile registrations have been mandated by the government which could lead to surveillance by both government as well as private companies which could be given access to the data.

The present government’s stand on the issues raised by Aadhar is still seen with apprehension by many because of the stand it took when the UPA government was in power. One of the major campaign points of the current NDA government in the 2014 assembly elections was to scrap the scheme. “One cannot but question the intent behind the NDA governments changed stance on the UIDAI scheme in the past few months. The sudden change from scrapping to passing a money bill to implement the scheme can only lead us to believe that it has something to do with the contract agreements the government signed with companies such as Accenture, E&Y and Safran group,” says Dr Gopal Krishna of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties.

The issue of right to privacy with regards to the collection of Biometric data by governments has become a global one now as countries such as Philippines as well as the United States and United Kingdom have passed resolutions to conserve the privacy of its citizens. Closer to home, Bangladesh is currently fighting a legal battle in its high court to protect the right to privacy against a similar biometric system that was mandated by the government.