Here is the Aug edition of the Tyranny of Aadhaar newsletter, bringing you the real state of Aadhaar roll-out and how it affects crores of Indians across states. So far, the only real beneficiary of Aadhaar is: the State & Corporates, not the citizens. We share relevant data, and findings from the ground on experience of citizens in the Aadhaar project to sift through the false claims made about the biometrics project. Join us in demanding freedom from this new form of digital slavery 70 years after we won Independence.
LEGAL STATUS OF AADHAAR UP IN THE AIR
In 2015, the NDA government in the ongoing Aadhaar case claimed that there is no fundamental right to privacy in India. After a nine judge is expected to decide on the Right to Privacy case by end of August, a smaller bench will decide on the Aadhaar case, even as Government continues to hurry to make people enroll in it.
As we wait for the Supreme Court judgement on the Right to Privacy, National Law University Delhi academic Chinmayi Arun writes on why the right to privacy is vital, and why a few wrong questions trying to equate the right to privacy with a mere post-Aadhaar data protection framework should not be allowed to derail the legal case.
Faizan Mustafa, vice chancellor NALSAR University Hyderabad wrote in The Indian Express stressing that a fundamental right to privacy must be reiterated by court. He stressed how global experience shows that the denial of privacy neither promotes national security nor curbs terrorism, and merely takes away citizen’s freedom to be left alone and curtailing his/her choice in personal decisions.
It is heartening to see signs of a subtle shift in the editorial stand of various leading national dailies:
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NEW EVIDENCE FROM RTI
To press reports that Aadhaar had helped remove 1 crore “fake” MNREGA cards, when economist Dr Jean Dreze filed an RTI application, the Rural Development Ministry responded that so-called “fake” and “duplicate” job cards account for less than 13% of all 94 lakh deletions in 2016-7. Over 85% deletions were on account of a change in address, mistakes on job cards, people who wanted to surrender their job card etc. With more than 12 crore job cards in the country, duplicate and fake job cards thus account for barely 1 per cent of all job cards according to government's own data.
IIT-Delhi researchers did a survey on use of Aadhaar biometric authentication in the public distribution system. At the same time, a number of ground reports documented the effects based on interviews with beneficiaries.
After filing Right to Information requests, researchers, social activists were surprised to find the government has no evidence on its claims on “savings” from the Aadhaar linking.
In response to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement in parliament that Aadhaar and technology helped detect nearly 4 crore bogus ration cards in just over two years, transparency activist Anjali Bhardwaj filed a RTI request with PMO which transferred to the Ministry of Food. The ministry and state food departments have responded that they do not have proof to match the claims made by the prime minister. Surprisingly, while the video of prime minister’s parliament speech shows him clearly saying “4 crore, meaning 3.95 crore”, the edited parliament debate transcripts now reflects this number as “4 crore, meaning 2.33 crore”!
EXCLUSION FROM ESSENTIAL SERVICES
In recent weeks, there has been a vital debate on various aspects -- reality of claims on savings, inclusion, security -- of Aadhaar project, and the implications on our rights as citizens.
In response to his particular claim that Aadhaar “empowers” citizens, Reetika Khera wrote demolishing Pandey's claims on savings with data.
Nikhil Dey and Aruna Roy wrote about the devastation caused by Aadhaar in welfare programmes in Rajasthan where 34 lakh families or nearly 1 crore people are unable to get their entitlement to foodgrains in the biometric authentication system.
UIDAI CEO Pandey repeated his statements and dismisses the “collateral damage” done by Aadhaar in various contexts.
Dreze responds that the fixation with Aadhaar seems to blind the UIDAI to the severe damage Aadhaar often causes on the ground, and points to its surveillance potential that if the government decides to use Aadhaar as a tool of surveillance, the UIDAI (or the Aadhaar Act for that matter) is unlikely to stop it from doing so.
In another analysis in Mint, Sumit Mishra, who teaches at Institute of Financial Management and Research critiqued the “mindless expansion” of Aadhaar linkage, in the absence of an independent cost and benefit analysis.
SECURITY CONCERNS GROWING
Karnataka police have arrested a software development engineer working at cab aggregator Ola, and against Quarth Technologies, for illegally accessing Aadhaar numbers and personal details of 40,000 Aadhaar holders. The UIDAI have accused them of stealing Aadhaar data over a period of seven months from January 1 to July 26 this year.
Under Aadhaar Act, display of Aadhaar numbers if prohibited, even as Government is continuously pushing its linking everywhere and has done little to keep Aadhaar number confidential in design.
A Punjab Government website recently displayed 20,000 residents’ Aadhaar numbers. Links were removed later but PDF files remained online a day after being pointed out, reported HT.
After brushing questions over Aadhaar as elitist, and people raising valid questions as “vested interests”, Nandan Nilekani, founder chairperson of the UIDAI, admitted in the Economic Times that Aadhaar security was going to be a “big concern”, and already several attempts of identity fraud by re-setting of one-time passwords provided by residents against their Aadhaar numbers had been detected.
Cover illustration by C R Sasikumar (Indian Express)
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