Trying to allay fears about its plans to hire a social media agency to gauge public sentiments on Aadhaar in the social media, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has told the Supreme Court that the proposed agency will only look at publicly available information on Aadhaar, and will have no access to private conversations.
In an affidavit filed in the apex court, the Authority termed allegations of “surveillance and violation of privacy rights” as “totally misplaced”, and said it “does not, in any manner whatsoever, seek to track or profile any person”. The affidavit was filed in response to a plea by West Bengal MLA Mahua Moitra, of the Trinamool Congress, challenging a Request For Proposal (RFP) issued by the UIDAI on July 18 to appoint the agency.
In its reply, the UIDAI stated: “It is submitted that the proposed social media management is strictly restricted to public posts on social media relating only to Aadhaar and as evident from the Goals and Objectives of the RFP (Request for Proposal), the purpose is to (i) raise awareness about Aadhaar, its usage and benefits, (ii) highlight the role of Aadhaar in e-governance, (iii) make people aware about services and schemes linked to Aadhaar etc, (iv) remove any misconceptions or misinformation about Aadhaar.”
2 months after SC order, privacy assurance iterated
The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has repeatedly asserted that private data of citizens is secure, and its affidavit before the Supreme Court underlines the same assurance. The larger legal questions around Aadhaar have already been addressed by the top court. The 4-1 majority judgment passed in September this year upheld the constitutional validity of Aadhaar, while striking down certain provisions, including compulsorily linking it with bank accounts and mobile phones, and its use during school admissions. The UIDAI affidavit does not make any new claims. It is only a response to what it says are “allegations of (government) surveillance and violation of privacy rights (of individuals)” made in the petition filed by the Trinamool Congress leader. The court is expected to deal with any new issue that may arise in the course of further hearings.
Moitra pointed out the scope of work as per RFP included appointing a private agency to act as social media agency for UIDAI and assigning to it the task of employing a “social listening tool” to monitor social media platforms. She contended that this is an attempt at state surveillance. Rejecting the charges, the UIDAI affidavit stated, “There are several technological terms which, if read literally, may be misunderstood. For instance, a Social Listening Tool does not if fact ‘listen to’ any oral conversations and is limited to publicly available written scripts available on social media platforms.”
The RFP, it said, is “limited in scope and only seeks to engage with people and other stakeholders on their grievances and queries, and comments publicly made related to Aadhaar on social media, which is only available on public domain and accessible by the world at large”. The agency, or the “Tool”, will have no access to direct message between people, semi-private message such as those shared within a closed group, or public posts with privacy settings enabled, the UIDAI submitted.
Only public posts with no privacy settings, “which are available to approximately around 3.196 billion social media users worldwide…”, will be available to the agency, it said. “It is like making a Google search on the internet through keywords like Aadhaar, which any individual can perform,” UIDAI pointed out. The UIDAI stated the agency will not have access to any information on CIDR (Central Identities Data Repository) — biometric, demographic, authentication records of an Aadhaar user — and that the Authority is aware that providing such access is a criminal offence under Aadhaar Act.
“UIDAI will only look at publicly available information on public platforms such as Twitter, Facebook posts/comments, Google Plus comments, Blogs, Consumer forum websites etc, which individuals themselves put out,” it said. The UIDAI stated that such public messages or tweets are not entitled to the protection of privacy rights as per Justice R F Nariman’s concurring view in Puttuswamy case.
UIDAI also conveyed that it has removed and modified portions from its RFP which had led to the doubts. On Thursday, a bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi had asked Moitra to submit in two weeks additional material which led her to apprehend that this is an attempt to introduce state surveillance.