In your interest.
Online Personal Finance Magazine
No beating about the bush.
Finally, real truth about lack of data privacy is exposed
On 24th March, in one fell swoop, the Supreme Court of India (SC) defanged the Congress-led government’s most expensive and most controversial Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) programme. The government was asked to withdraw all orders making the Aadhaar number mandatory and told that UIDAI cannot share Aadhaar details with any agency without a person’s concurrence.
Strangely, the deathblow came from UIDAI’s own petition. UIDAI had appealed against a lower court’s order asking it to share biometric data with the police for a criminal investigation. UIDAI did not want to share data or allow its competence or capability to be tested, as ordered by the high court. It was then that it admitted that its technology was not foolproof as touted and the 0.057% error rate could lead to lakhs of false identification possibilities in criminal cases, if applied to 57 crore Indians whose biometrics (fingerprints and iris scan) are captured by UIDAI.
The UIDAI has always maintained that Aadhaar was not mandatory and that the data could not be shared without a person’s consent. However, in the absence of a clear statute and non-transparent functioning, privacy activists had filed petitions raising several key concerns about UIDAI’s backdoor strategy of making Aadhaar mandatory for payment of salaries to government employees, LPG subsidies, birth and death registrations, admissions to schools and colleges, etc. Nandan Nilekani, a founder of Infosys and the high-profile technocrat behind this programme, personally lobbied with Reserve Bank of India (RBI), individual banks and the capital market regulator to try and make it mandatory even for those with multiple identities.
Ironically, the massive spending on Aadhaar was sanctioned on the grounds that it would provide identity to millions of poor and disenfranchised Indians and allow them to get the benefits of government schemes and subsidies. In making these claims, Aadhaar hid many crucial facts.
These were: biometrics are not fool proof; finger prints change, have to be revalidated every few years and can be cloned easily; and the sub-contracted data collection process was flawed. People have multiple Aadhaar numbers and Aadhaar numbers have been issued to chairs and tables and, as a sting operation confirmed, Aadhaar was easily issued to foreigners for a price and a letter from a politician.
On 26th March, CJ Karira, an activist, won an appeal against the UIDAI’s reluctance to respond to Right to Information (RTI) queries and obtained answers to some crucial questions. First, that oil companies are not using Aadhaar to ‘authenticate’ the identity, but only to ‘match’ the number for themselves. There is no way to delete biometric data if a person wants to ‘opt’ out of Aadhaar—there is no exit. The most stunning revelation was that UIDAI does not maintain any record of who the Aadhaar data is shared with or when.
All this only exposes the dubious role played by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government on a project that admits to have spent Rs4,000 crore already to enrol 57 crore Indians and has been sanctioned a huge budget for further spending without a parliamentary nod.