RS Sharma, former chief of the Unique Identification Authority of India, current chairman of TRAI — bureaucrat-technologist of high standing — should have known better. He should have realised that Twitter is an unforgiving place where an anonymous multitude needs only a passing acquaintance with facts, the right image and detail, to prove a point to a horde that is merely looking to have its biases confirmed. But valour, bravado really, got the better of discretion. Sharma, in response to a challenge on Twitter, revealed his Aadhaar number and goaded the Twitterverse to use it to reveal data that can “do any harm to me”.
Harm, of course, is an amorphous term, and Sharma is free say to say that his material and mental homoeostasis remained unaffected by the following: His phone number is revealed, his family ostensibly tracked down, as people claim to transfer Re 1 to him through the bank details they have obtained, among much else. There is perhaps even solace in the fact that this data has been collected, as the government claims, from other details about him available in the public domain as a long-time public servant. Or, as is the case in many of the “revelations”, the information is patently false. But the lesson from the fiasco isn’t whether or not Aadhaar is safe.
Sharma’s head-first diving into the whirlpool of social media has done nothing to add to the debate around the privacy and security of Aadhaar. By the time old-fashioned fact-checkers verify the sea of claims made by both detractors and supporters, the social media circus will likely have ended. And a serious concern, over an important, even essential, policy is hijacked for a time by the most pedestrian form of humour — the practical joke.