Aadhaar, the 12 digit unique identity code (UID), known to all Indian residents based on their biometric information. Informally, it is better identified by many as the worst profile picture on a public identification card. It is the world’s largest biometric ID system with over 1.19 billion people enrolled, representing almost 99% of Indians and is identified as a proof of residence and not proof of citizenship. Many find similarities between Aadhaar and the social security number of the United States, though Aadhaar has many more uses and fewer security measures.
The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is the statutory body responsible for collecting data and implementing the Aadhaar. Their work entails them to provide UIDs to the residents and delineate the various benefit schemes provided to the denizens in context. Being linked to various subsidies on both the central and state level, Aadhaar has provisions for various demographic sectors. Aadhaar enabled biometric attendance systems have been in working in Governments offices to monitor the absenteeism and daily in-out timings of employees.
In Hyderabad, Aadhaar numbers were linked to ration cards in order to remove duplicates, through which over 63,932 ration cards in the white region and over 229,000 names were removed from the database. In Andhra Pradesh, citizens were asked to surrender illegal ration cards before being linked to Aadhaar― 15 lakh ration cards were surrendered. Also, being linked to the MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) and the domestic LPG scheme, thereby transferring the subsidies to the banks linked via Aadhaar.
Starting out as an optional form of identification, over the years, the dependencies on Aadhaar have progressively yet not so subtly increased. Now, subsidies, having to obtain a gas connection, investing in financial instruments, filling income tax returns have all become dependent on Aadhaar. Linking Aadhaar with one’s mobile number, PAN card and bank accounts has been implemented with set deadlines. With as many associations formed with a single repository, the questions regarding safeguards and privacy have bought Aadhaar under scrutiny.
Various hackings and data leaks of Aadhaar databases have gotten people to question the Government’s cyber security measures. The UIDAI confirms more than 200 Government websites were publicly displaying confidential Aadhaar data― removed now, the data leaked cannot be scrubbed from hackers’ databases. In July 2017, privacy issues with regard to the Aadhaar card were discussed in the Supreme Court. Due to the failure of safeguards along with privacy concerns, many have drawn parallels with the Big Brother character in George Orwell’s 1984.
Due to these dependencies and linkages to Aadhaar, many welfare schemes have come under its scope, thus excluding those without Aadhaar. Since an address is required for an Aadhaar, the homeless could not obtain the respective UID and were denied shelter. On the 2nd of February, 2015 the Supreme Court asked the new Government to clarify its stance on the project. This was in response to a new PIL filed by Mathew Thomas, a former army officer. Thomas had claimed that the Government was ignoring previous orders and that the project was unconstitutional as it allowed profiling of citizens. In response, the Government said it would continue the project. On the 11th of August, 2015, the Supreme Court ordered the governments to widely publicize that Aadhaar was not mandatory for any welfare schemes.
Implemented on such a massive scale, questions regarding safeguards and privacy need to be more seriously addressed, especially with the number of data leaks. As a central repository linked to virtually everything may prove to be a trade-off between convenience and security, which seems reckless on the part of the government. On the 24th of August, 2017 the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the right to privacy as a fundamental right under the Constitution.