Aadhar, The Social Security Number Of India
Over the past few years, most Indians have registered for an Aadhar card. It looks similar to the social security numbers in other countries, but there are some other factors that make it rather dangerous for the person actually applying for it.
It’s one of the largest databases of personal information in the world, which is no small feat by itself. But that kind of data has to be protected. But as unnerving as it is to have your personal and biometric data collected by the state, it’s even more unnerving when the State doesn’t even take proper measure to safeguard that data.
Activist Usha Ramanathan has been vocal against Aadhar since it was first introduced in 2014. But why has she been so against a system that is meant to make everyone’s lives easier? What is her qualm against it all? Is there something that you should be paying attention to when your bank or phone service provider asks you to link your Aadhar?
Privacy Or Security, What Do You Choose?
In the case of Aadhar, you have to submit personal information, including your biometric data.
Where this is an issue is the fact that banks, loan providers, phone providers, colleges, and every other institution will be requiring your Aadhar number if and when you want to do business with them.
What is the issue here?
It’s not private, and it’s not safe.
One of the most prolific arguments against the “privacy vs security” debate is- “If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to worry about”.
But this is fundamentally flawed. You wouldn’t give out your phone number to a guy you thought was acting creepy at the bar, so why would you share all your personal details with any institution that demands it?
For instance, during the previous Aadhar leak, Indian cricketer MS Dhoni’s personal information was leaked all over Twitter, including his address and phone number.
You can see the ramifications this can have for him, and the same goes for the common man.
“But This Data Isn’t Secure” -- Usha Ramanathan
One would think that with the details of over a billion people in their hands, they’d be prepared to keep it as secure as possible. But that isn’t the case.
Back in January, there was a total breach of the Aadhar database, where hackers were offering the personal details of every single person on the Aadhar database, all for 500 rupees.
But the UIDAI refuses to acknowledge the breach, and they’ve been misleading with other details as well. When questioned about the security of Aadhar by the Supreme Court, the CEO of UIDAI, Ajay Bhushan Pandey, replied with answers that make little to no sense, citing that Aadhar database was protected by 13-foot thick walls and 2048-bit encryptions.
The Supreme Court doesn’t seem to be satisfied with their answers, commenting that misuse of Aadhar has the potential to turn India into a surveillance state.
But there are people fighting against this. There are voices speaking out.
What Usha Ramanathan Has To Say About All This
Lawyer and activist Usha Ramanathan has been vocal against the risks and potential abuse of Aadhar.
According to Dr. Usha Ramanathan, private companies like Accenture, L-1 Identity Solutions, MongoDB, Ernst & Young, and Safran have participated in various parts of the Aadhar programme, from setting up software to biometrics.
But these private companies potentially might have access to the Aadhar database, meaning that they don’t have any requirement to hack it to get the details they need. Dr.Ramanathan states that companies like this will use the personal data on Aadhar for commercial use, and the only people who lose in the end are the people in the Aadhar database.
“Leaks Are Already Happening, And The UIDAI Remains Silent” -- Usha Ramanathan
Pointing to the leaks in the Dhoni episode, as well as the selling of data for Rs.500, Dr.Ramanathan states that the UIDAI has been woefully silent, even willfully ignorant on the issue.
The UIDAI is empowered to take action against the hackers who have done this, but they haven’t.
But the worst part of all is that the UIDAI states that there have been no leaks, even when all evidence points to the contrary.
This shoddy attempt to pretend that everything is alright, when clearly it is not, is brazen and irresponsible.
This is a direct violation of the privacy of the people of this country, and the UIDAI doesn’t seem to care in the slightest. This kind of attitude is irresponsible at best and dangerous at worst.
Usha Ramanathan Speaking About The e-KYC
KYC procedures are flooding over to financial systems everywhere, to a point where people cannot manage their money electronically without completing KYC procedures. But according to Dr Usha Ramanathan, the MoU for adhering to KYC is worded loosely and leaves a lot up to the discretion of the UIDAI. There is little to no transparency, and the lack of proper updates from the UIDAI is not inspiring any confidence.
Although the KYC procedure is supposed to be with user consent, when the biometric recall was exposed, little action was taken to protect the data, but there was an FIR filed against the whistleblower who brought the issue to light. This doesn’t encourage the idea of consent, more compulsion.
With this kind of mentality, it’s difficult to fix the flaws in the system, instead choosing to brush it all under the rug.
There’s No System In Place To Help With Compromised Data
Regardless of the project, there are going to be issues getting it running, but the Aadhar system has no system in place to address these issues.
If there is a compromise in fingerprint scanning, there is no system to address the grievance, especially if it concerns the rationing and distribution of food supplies from the Food and Civil Supplies Department.
The leaders of the project are insistent that these are just growing pains, and nothing more than that. As they say that, they refuse to have any concrete system in place to address these grievances, painting a picture that they simply don’t care.
With such a lackadaisical approach, there’s a real danger of the privacy of a billion Indians being thrown to the winds. There is a greater need than before to be vocal about this, and ensure that our private data is being protected as best as possible. Without this, private companies become free to exploit that data. Ultimately, it’s the common man who suffers for this. And when privacy is thrown out the window, democracy and freedom teeter dangerously close to the edge.