Aadhaar and right to privacy: Why India has to set tone as the largest digital democracy

In the digital age, with more and more users coming online by the day, it is set to have a huge impact on the digital user and their confidence to stay online.

Written by Kanishka Singh | New Delhi | Updated: July 21, 2017 7:24 pm
aadhaar, aadhaar act, aadhaar project, digital india, uidai, right to privacy, digital democracy, tech news, aadhaar news Legal experts believe such a right protects personal liberties and its absence can allow a possible surveillance mechanism by both the state and private players.

The debate around Aadhaar and right to privacy has intensified over the past few days. A nine-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court is deliberating whether the right to privacy is a fundamental right or not. Even as the matter is decided, the state is moving swiftly ahead with the Aadhaar project and mandating the public to enroll and link Aadhaar to various personal entities that arguably encroach on the right of privacy of an individual. Legal experts believe such a right protects personal liberties and its absence can allow a possible surveillance mechanism by both the state and private players.

In the digital age, Aadhaar and the push for digital India means a world where the government and private players could have maximum access to your personal information, communication, whereabouts, financial dealings, day-to-day transactions, purchases’ history and other data that you would want to keep to yourself or to a selected audience. In the digital age, with more and more users coming online by the day, it is set to have a huge impact on the digital user and their confidence to stay online.

Raman Chima, co-founder of Save the Internet Foundation and and global policy director at digital rights advocacy group Access Now, pointed out that according to laws like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, states do monitoring but after passing certain tests of necessity. “Specific surveillance or monitoring if done after passing those certain tests laid down in our fundamental rights is reasonable.” He added that “mass surveillance, on the other hand, would not be something that would be acceptable.”

“India is the largest digital democracy, having the second largest internet userbase in the world after China. Hence, privacy on the internet also assumes importance. As more and more people come online, they would be less aware of how much of their private data is being collected by either the government or private organisations,” Chima said, adding that as a result the individual must the power to limit or control that collection and prevent the misuse of that information.

According to Mishi Choudhary, president and founder of Software Freedom Law Centre, “In the age of biometric identification, social profiles, and cashless economic transactions, not having such a right damages an essential component of all personal liberties and other fundamental rights that we have which cannot be freely exercised. This leaves the possibility of a surveillance mechanism both by private companies as well as the government.”

The apex court is hearing the matter of existence of fundamental right of privacy with regards to the case Justice K.S. Puttaswamy and others versus Union of India and others. The court on Thursday questioned the reservations to allow government access to private data when people surrender such information to private players easily. However, the question of autonomy seems to play out in such circumstances.

“If a person voluntarily gives up some information to avail some subsidy, that should not affect their right to privacy but such data should be used only for the purpose its been collected, only by persons who are authorised to access it and must be secured,” Mishi said, adding, “Privacy, particularly when we talk about the net, really means three–secrecy, anonymity and autonomy. These three are the principal components privacy. With respect to each, further consideration shows that it is a precondition to the order that we call “democracy”, “ordered liberty”, “self-government”, to the particular scheme that we call in the United States “constitutional freedom.”

The issue of protection of collected demographic and biometric data by the Aadhaar issuing UIDAI and liability is also confidence-bearing. Since the Aadhaar was passed as a money bill and as a result, UIDAI and its agencies were not given corporate entity status. Hence, they can’t be held liable or prosecuted. The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 doesn’t allow a person to go to court if his or her data is misused or leaked. Only the UIDAI has that authority. Furthermore, the person can’t demand access to their data as well. Aadhar was passed as a money bill so it is not giving the corporate entity status UIDAI and its agencies so that they can be held liable and prosecuted.

On July 19, 2017, Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology P.P. Chaudhary said in a written reply in Lok Sabha that “there has been no leakage of Aadhaar data from UIDAI. However, it was found that around 210 websites of Central Government, State Government, Departments including educational institutes were displaying the list of beneficiaries along with their name, address, other details and Aadhaar numbers for information of general public.”

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  1. V
    Venkat
    Jul 23, 2017 at 6:17 am
    Why this privacy question is not raised when aadhar is introduced by Congress. It's only a dirty politics
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      Param
      Jul 22, 2017 at 9:55 am
      First and foremost for this effort to succeed the Govt. of India needs to address the security concerns and the concerns of Iden y theft. Make the infrastructure for Info sec top notch to get the confidence of people. Without that there is no pint in going forward. At this time Infosec arrangements barely exist!
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        Sadasivan
        Jul 22, 2017 at 3:12 am
        A well-balanced article.Privacy is about Human Dignity and Safety.PAN cards should be VALID. Under an oppressive regime Ethnic Cleansing is possible.Iden y theft,may be misused to make an innocent person a CRIMINAL.
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          Gopal
          Jul 22, 2017 at 1:37 am
          Dear Kanishka, please promise that you will not provide biometric data at any airport in the world in your travel. People like you tell Indians what to do while not doing the opposite in their personal conduct. Virtually every country in the world requires some form of biometric data. It is essential for security, for eradicating corruption and for efficient delivery of services.
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            Reader
            Jul 22, 2017 at 5:42 am
            US Social Security Number: The card on which an SSN is issued is still not suitable for primary identification as it has no photograph, no physical description, no birth date and no biometric data. All it does is confirm that a particular number has been issued to a particular name. Instead, a driver's license or state ID card is used as an identification for adults.
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              Reader
              Jul 22, 2017 at 5:55 am
              The privacy laws of the United States deal with several different legal concepts. One is the invasion of privacy, a tort based in common law allowing an aggrieved party to bring a lawsuit against an individual who unlawfully intrudes into his or her private affairs, discloses his or her private information, publicizes him or her in a false light, or appropriates his or her name for personal gain. The essence of the law derives from a right to privacy, defined broadly as "the right to be let alone."
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              pankaj
              Jul 22, 2017 at 1:18 am
              For statement below towards the end of article, only an will not understand that such things happen irrespective of whether you have aadhar system or not.. it will take some time but those against aadhar will get their proper quote of shame very soon.. you can not use deceit and illogical argument on new papers in these days. State already has tonnes of information on everyone, but still all criminals and politicians roam free, .....................................is there any more information you need to do surveillance on anyone? State is not doing surveillance when it already has enough data on everyone that matters (except for beggars and petty thiefs “there has been no leakage of Aadhaar data from UIDAI. However, it was found that around 210 s of Central Government, State Government, Departments including educational ins utes were displaying the list of beneficiaries along with their name, address, other details and Aadhaar numbers for information of general ..."
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                pankaj
                Jul 22, 2017 at 1:23 am
                State already has all the information on everyone, but still all criminals and politicians roam free, .....................................is there any more information you need to do surveillance on anyone? State is not doing surveillance when it already has enough data on everyone that matters (except for beggars and petty thieves), so are you just trying to protect privacy of some beggars??? Or this privacy just excuse to allow manipulation of some systems by corrupt people, mafia, non-citizens etc?? dumbos.. India can take lead in being dumb, states exist because individuals need society and states, not just an imposition as per dumbs..your family or your mohalla, or even you district will not build roads and airports, in fact not even big hospitals.. forget about much larger and complex things that we do only at state ins utions level
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