Right to Privacy: The ho-hum over Aadhaar

Friday 16th February 2018 03:50 EST

In a project that was touted as the largest in the world, India gave its 1.3 billion citizens a unique digital identity. While the Aadhaar card today is held by every single person in the country, the National Capital is now reportedly using it to clamp down on tax evasion and terrorism, kicking up a legal battle that has reached the Supreme Court. 30 separate plaintiffs have taken up the case in the highest court of the country, complaining of a violation of a fundamental right to privacy. One of the lawyers fighting the case, Shyam Divan said, “What Aadhaar appears to do is shake the balance and put the government in such a dominant position that we are unlikely to remain a democratic, open society.”

The system was supposed to help clear several issues. Foremost, it would help give citizens a verified, portable identity, allow benefit claimants to shop around for their government-subsidised rations, and eliminate identity theft. Nand Nilekani, founder of IT group Infosys and first chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India, said, “Around 10 to 20 per cent of people didn't have IDs before, and many people had other not very good IDs, like ration cards, which don't identify each family member.” The project has “mushroomed” as reported by a news source, after Nilekani left. Aadhaar cards are now being linked to personal bank accounts to driving licences, mobile phones, etc. While New Delhi promises the link will help detect tax evasion by creating a real-time database of citizens' spending and saving habits, critics believe the government is creating the world's most powerful government surveillance tool.

Economics professor at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, Reetika Khera said, “This is big data mixed with big brother.” Activists who were against the linking of the card with different aspects, put up a fight in front of a nine-judge panel that ruled that the constitution allowed for a fundamental right to privacy. Divan along with her team is in the plans of their final submissions to the court, and argue that Aadhaar violates the constitution, both in its concept and in the way the law was drafted and passed. They believe the scheme allows the government to spy on citizens, with what Divan says is “an electronic leash by which you tether a citizen from birth.”

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