India’s ambitious unique identification number project is tumbling from one controversy into another.
In March, it sneakily inserted into a fast-tracked budget bill a rule that requires taxpayers to link their income tax number with Aadhaar. This goes against the Supreme Court ruling of August, 2015 that said Aadhaar can’t be made mandatory for any government service.
On top of that, the government has made consistent efforts to link welfare schemes like midday meals to the Aadhaar system. Instances like that of Bhopal gas tragedy victims being asked Aadhar cards for availing benefits have spawn outrage.
Then there are privacy concerns. Recently, Aadhaar data of former cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s was leaked on twitter by a sanctioned enrolment agency.
“I find this disingenuous; it makes me feel there’s some other motive (of those raising the issues)” — Nandan Nilekani,
However, the man behind Aadhaar and former chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), Nandan Nilekani, is unfazed by the backlash. Iterating that he’s a big advocate of privacy and security, he says, “I’m all for a very modern and robust data protection and privacy law. But don’t make it as if Aadhaar is the reason for the law. I find this disingenuous; it makes me feel there’s some other motive (of those raising the issues).”
Nilekani adds that the government has ensured privacy and security in the very design of Aadhaar. “The fact that we limited the data collected by the Aadhaar system to only name, address, sex, date of birth and email ID, that was privacy by design. As was the fact that the Aadhaar system would be limited to KOYC and authentication,” he says.
“I have no evidence at all that Aadhaar was made for surveillance, and I’ve been in the government. The law is very clear — it states that your biometrics can’t be shared under any circumstances, not even for national security. It’s a very very tight law” — Nilekani
What about surveillance concerns?
There are enough checks and balances to ensure Aadhaar is not misused, says Nilekani. “I have no evidence at all that Aadhaar was made for surveillance, and I’ve been in the government. The law is very clear — it states that your biometrics can’t be shared under any circumstances, not even for national security. It’s a very very tight law.”
He says Aadhaar has weathered all the controversies it has triggered because of the “humongous” benefits it offers, primary among them being its “uniqueness”, which has “enabled the elimination of ghosts and duplicates from all kinds of government schemes.”
Tune into the podcast to hear more about the journey of Aadhaar from the man who designed it.
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