The Different Ways in Which Aadhaar Infringes on Privacy

Privacy has been a key focus in the recent debate on Aadhaar. This is a very welcome development. Privacy is being interpreted in different, equally valid, ways by different sets of people. But the differences in interpretations are not always obvious to those who participate in the discussions. For instance, when computer scientists use the word privacy, they tend to it interpret from a narrow ‘data security’ perspective, whereas the lawyers in the Supreme Court have been highlighting the civil liberties angle to it.

Feeding insecurities

It is widely believed that Aadhaar-Based Biometric Authentication (ABBA) is necessary to improve the delivery of welfare programmes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA), Public Distribution System (PDS), social security pensions, and so on. This is a misconception. We have been studying these programmes for a decade, focusing mainly on the source of leakages and how the states are trying to plug them. The findings suggest that the UPA-2 government oversold Aadhaar because of a poor understanding of the leakage mechanisms in MNREGA and PDS.

The real beneficiary

Ironically, in the week that the UIDAI revealed its draconian face, serving a legal notice to those who exposed flaws in the Aadhaar eco-system, Ajay Pandey (CEO, UIDAI), wrote, “The critics tend to forget that Aadhaar empowers the people, not the state” (‘Criticisms Without Aadhaar’, IE, May 13). However, government data reveals that Pandey is wrong to believe that “Aadhaar empowers the people”.

Evidence no bar

In the month preceding The Economic Survey, leaks from the Ministry of Finance helped created a buzz around “Universal Basic Income” (UBI). Two key principles of UBI are universality, so all citizens are covered, and an entitlement to a “basic income” that allows dignified living even in the absence of other earnings. Yet, the ideas that have been discussed so far are mangled versions of a UBI. The Economic Survey starts with an enthusiastic conversation with Mahatma Gandhi on UBI.
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