Author: Siddhant Dubey , Second year student at institute of law, Nirma University
Cut to 2024: India is the most populous country in the world. This is what is estimated by the united nation. With this increase in population the problem which is most expected to rise is poverty. India is also considered as the one of the fastest growing economies and has a very a great potential when it comes to growth, but still there are a billion people in the country are either below the poverty line or close to it. This sect of population depends wholly on the public distribution system of the government for their day to day survival. However, this system is not so effective as it should be, all because of the existence of middlemen and black markets which hinders the exchange of subsidies.
All this led to the enactment of the aadhaar in the year 2009. The primary purpose of this act was to systematize the system by which the government circulate the money taken from the schemes of the government and handed to the needy of the country. For obtaining the benefits of this card the government asks the public for their retina scan, finger prints and a photo as well.
The primary authority in control of this aadhaar system is the unique identification authority of India (UIDIA). The person in charge of this project was Nandan Nilekani. He is also the co-founder of India’s one of the leading it firms i.e. Infosys.
Why is this system often looked as a tyrannical way of monitoring the public?
This system is a great instance of what we call a thoroughly formulated and a good intended scheme gone amiss. Aadhaar started off as the savior of those who are stuck in the circle of red tapism and fraud, so that they can benefit the public distribution system and other beneficiary schemes of the government. But this system in turn has now become a threat to the privacy of general public an is also curtailing the rights of the citizen provided by the constitution of India. The government is putting in all the efforts to make the aadhaar linking mandatory, but what must be noted in this event are the out-turns against the vulnerable i.e. one who are not capable of participating in this event. This government is using this tool to expand its power no matter what the cost is, even if it is minimalizing the very fundamental rights of the citizen.
This setup is full of shortcomings, the multitudinous data in this project puts on line the privacy of the Indian citizens, this is used as an alternative to the official photo identity which brings in the new consequences and most unethical is the use of this data in the development of the artificial intelligence (AI) software.
Legal and privacy issues with aadhaar:
This was all started in the year 2012 when the government was influenced by the oil corporations to make the linking of aadhaar mandatory for all those who wants to benefit from the gas subsidies. This issue went to the supreme court where the mandatory provision of this act was nullified. This happen a year later in 2013. It was also stated that being unable to produce an aadhaar card will not be one of the reasons for the denial of any service.
Then came 2014 with the new government and came with it a new energy in the aadhaar system. The government introduced a new bill with the title “aadhaar (targeted deliveries of financial and other services, benefits and services) act, 2016. After the enactment of this bill, NDA government took a bit aggressive approach in making sure that the linkage of the aadhaar becomes mandatory in services such as IT returns, crop insurance, vehicle registration, getting a new SIM and even for obtaining a death certificate.
the primary bone of contention that did not allow both the NDA and the critics to accord was the privacy. The aadhaar system have countless issues when it comes to security and this has been proven n number of times that the aadhaar setup is very vulnerable to internal leaks and external mishandling of the data. The government denied privacy to be a fundamental right which was proved to be wrong in august 2017 by the ruling of the supreme court. It was then very clearly said that the privacy is a guaranteed fundamental right under the constitution of India.
In the year 2018 the supreme court held that that the aadhaar system is constitutionally valid and also nullified the section 57 of the act according to which the corporations and the individuals were allowed to demand aadhaar for any kind of goods or services.
Internal problems of the aadhaar system
The very prominent issue with this system is the number of security blunders which are present everywhere in the functioning of the aadhaar. These shortcomings have somehow made the system vulnerable and there are high chances of data leak. There are several false sites that show up on the platform and act as the official website, these sites main purpose is to get the personal data of the user. Because of these hindrances the unique identification authority of India has to regularly closedown these websites.
The usage of the aadhaar as an alternative to a photo-ID
At the moment, aadhaar is the most popular and trusted ID proof in India, this popularity has only aggravated the problems. This system was not supposed to take place of any photo identity. The aadhaar was supposed to check if the finger prints and the iris scanner are in line with the aadhaar number that is fed in the central database of this biometric authentication system. The issue exacerbated because of the fact that many private corporations now demand for the copy of aadhaar to confirm the identity of any person, these copies of proof are then kept on a network which is very fragile in terms of security. This create a very big potential risk for the data and there are many chances that this data can get leaked or get abused. Also it was supposed to help the poor but rather than helping the poor, the aadhaar system is curtailing their fundamental rights by mandating them to provide their personal data.
Impact of using this data for research on artificial intelligence:
The very functioning of any artificial intelligence system depends on the number and the sort of information that is put inside the learning process of the machinery. Given the support of the biometric information of more than a billion people, there would be a revolution in the field artificial intelligence in the country. There is a high chance that this would help the government in maintaining the peace and order by curtailing the crime and terrorism but the other fact which also should be kept in mind is that this can turn into a potential surveillance tool of the state which is again against the privacy of the citizens. The crime and criminal tracking network and system (CCTNS) is a program funded by the government which is working on creating a platform with the biometric data of the criminals all over the nation, after then this data will be linked to the database of aadhaar. This will give a better chance to government in identifying the criminals.
Cases of either breach or abuse of the citizens personal data
Whole nation came to know about the loose network system on which their personal information was stored. This happened when RS Sharma, then chairperson of India’s telecom regulator and the first director general of unique identification authority of India made his personal aadhaar number public through twitter just to make the public believe that the system is fully secure. The result of this act was that many people were able to extract the personal information out of his aadhaar number and more disastrous was the fact that one person was even able to create a fake aadhaar card of the same number and then used it at Amazon and Facebook where it was accepted and services were provided to that person based on card forged under the name of RS Sharma.
In the year 2018, a group of hackers somehow managed to fabricate around 26 patches against the software used for aadhaar enrolment. Due to this the GPS will have the green light to keep sight of the location of the device which is then disabled so that now they are not required to authenticate themselves among the enrolment operators. They can do this really easy by making the image file belonging to the operator’s biometric run.
A newspaper called tribune once reported a huge case of leak of aadhaar data for which the paper was caught on cross roads with the government since this news came to the attention of EDWARD SNOWDEN who then said some strong words for the government and the aadhaar system. Following this event, an ethical hacker from France ELLIOT ANDERSON (pseudonym) used twitter to bring to the public some dazzling defects when it comes to m-aadhaar app.
What is the stand of the judicial system on this issue?
This all began in the year 2013 when the Supreme court first heard the aadhaar petition. Since then, there has been no stopping, there have been a trail of all such petition one after the other. The petition of the year 2013 was made to justify the need of an aadhaar card. The supreme court in this matter said the aadhaar act cannot be held void but definitely there is to be done something to strike a balance between the privacy of an individual and responsibility of the state.
In the year 2017 the supreme court while hearing a matter relating to the constitutionality of aadhaar gave the landmark judgement concerning right to privacy. Justice D.Y. chandrachud was the only common judge between the matters of aadhaar and privacy. The whole aadhaar system was held unconstitutional by him. Apart from many other reasons The major reason he quoted for this is the infringement of the fundamental right to privacy. Due the decisions made by the supreme court in these series of petitions, the main purpose of the aadhaar system was somewhat diluted. It was very clearly held by the supreme court that only the government is supposed to use the aadhaar information of the public and not any private corporation was allowed to do that.
HOW IS THE AADHAAR SIMILAR TO THE SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER?
The main and primary purpose for which the aadhaar was enacted is to make sure that the benefits of all the schemes of the government reach in the hands of the needy. This was done because of the existence of black market and fraud that hinders the process of delivering subsidies provided by the government. In US the social security was devised for the same reason in the year 1936. The US government said that the issuing of these numbers is necessary to distribute the social benefits given by the government and this would be easy if they know about the history of earnings of the workers.
Both of these schemes came with the sole purpose of distributing the benefits of the government projects but shortly after both these turned into a surveillance tool. As soon as the private corporation were allowed to use aadhaar data and store them on their not so secure network, it developed the risk of data leak. Same is the situation with issuing of social security number. Till the year 1972, “for social security purpose – not for identification” was the statement printed on the card, but the reality is that since then it has been used as a major tool for identification. Around the same time, social security administration of the US tethered the SSNs to the finances and the citizenships of the country by giving green light to the bank and lenders to use the SSN to keep track on the applicants.
Issues with the SSNs are same as the faults in the aadhaar system.
In US anyone who has to pay taxes had to fill the W-2 form on which it is mandatory to mention your social security number otherwise its dysfunctional. The problem here is that these forms containing SSNs circulate through various inboxes of different people which are very less secure and also there is a whole lot of information about the taxes of the individual on this form. So, collectively this is very vulnerable of identity theft.
One of the major problems with the SSNs is that, if in the worst case your identity is stolen then the onus lies on the victim. The victim has to vigilant about the fraudulent activities that might take place from his number and continuously make efforts to track down the account on his own. In the case of breach, you have no other option but to keep using it, at best the government can monitor you and give some advice on freezing the card but other than that it’s all you. This is the reason why hackers are inclined towards breaching these identity cards.
The massive Equifax breach also cannot be ignored. In this breach around 143 million citizens of the America had their identity stolen and their data being exposed to the public. There have been a lot of talk of crashing the whole social security number system but no decisive step has been taken but after Equifax its way above time to treat SSNs as an identity tool. Not only Equifax but there have also been several such instances in the recent years like the hacking of the postal service of the united states, anthem health insurance and hospital network. The executive director of the identity theft council, neal’o Farrell, while talking to CNN said, SSN is that unique personal data that have the power to identify every being individually.
The fact that in the year 2016 the government has to introduce the aadhaar bill as money bill in the Rajya Sabha where the government was not in majority. This was highly criticized by the opposition. This action in itself shows that there have been some issues in the bill since its inception which needs to be looked upon. There has to be an agreement the view point made by DY chandrachud that the aadhaar system will cause a great problem by infringing our privacy, autonomy and liberty. However, by denying the access of aadhaar to private parties and corporations which might minimize the possibility of identity theft or even forgeries.