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Can India link Aadhaar to good governance?

For the Aadhaar system to be effective, the government and regulatory authorities need to root it in an upgraded legal framework that considers the accessibility and protective measures of the system.


Devdiscourse News Desk Renu Mehta 30 Jul 2018, 11:15 AM India
  • While other countries of the world are set to follow India’s lead in the digital ID system, on contrary, it's security is evolving as a topic of concern. (Image Credit: Twitter)

The worst fears about Aadhaar appear to come true with the recent challenge thrown by TRAI chairman RS Sharma, who shared his Aadhaar number on twitter and challenged users to show how it can be used to harm him.

Following the dare, a Twitter user named Elliot Alderson with Twitter handle @fs0c131y, a French security researcher published TRAI chief’s Voter ID, PAN number, e-mail address, phone number, address and other details.

However, the UIDAI authority strongly dismissed all the claims by saying that all the information fetched was already available in the public domain and can be easily accessed without Aadhaar. UIDAI condemns such malicious attempts by few individuals to malign the world’s largest unique identity project. People are cautioned not to believe any such fake news about Aadhaar. In today’s digital world through various search engines such as Google, personal data can be picked from different sources without Aadhaar and a profile can be made, the statement added.

This high magnitude debate has once again raised the concerns over the safety of Aadhaar database. However, this is not the first time that India's national ID database has been questioned over security and privacy of personal information, the past incidents of data breaches raise many questions about the extent and use of information collected under digital ID schemes, how to safeguard the privacy of personal data; and how to craft new primary legislation or rules to avoid unintended consequences.

Aadhaar, the world's largest biometric ID system is packed with private and confidential data like address, phone number, bank accounts, and PAN number etc. The UIDAI is mandated to assign a 12-digit unique identification (UID) number (termed "Aadhaar") to all the residents of India. The number is linked to the resident's basic demographic and biometric information such as a photograph, ten fingerprints and two iris scans, which are stored in a centralized database. Individual identity can be authenticated by either the Aadhaar number, biometric authentication, or a one-time code sent to the registered mobile number.

Aadhaar: Gimmick or baton of good governance?

Aadhaar, issued to the residents of India is a great initiative that has leapfrogged India into Digital Age. India is leading the world in the implementation of national digital IDs, with a pace leaving behind the developed economies. Identity helps us unlock public services such as voting, financial account ownership, loan applications, business registration, land titling, social protection payments, and school enrollment. When compared to paper-based systems, digital ID strengthens security and can be linked to more diverse services. As of July 2018, over 1.2 billion Indians are enrolled in Aadhaar, that means about 90 percent of the estimated population of India has a verifiable identity.

India’s Aadhaar system is one of the most widely discussed ID systems and has also received international attention and praise for its efforts for facilitating financial inclusion. The World Development Report for 2016, published by the World Bank said, “A digital identification system such as India’s Aadhaar, by overcoming complex information problems, helps willing governments promote the inclusion of disadvantaged groups."

According to the Global Findex database, a new World Bank report on the use of financial services, released back in April 2018, biometric identification in India has pushed the share of adults with a bank account up to 80 percent, with big gains among women and poorer adults. 

(Image Credit: Twitter)

While other countries of the world are set to follow India’s lead in the digital ID system, on contrary, it's security is evolving as a topic of concern. As we all know, with new technologies promising endless conveniences, also comes new vulnerabilities in terms of privacy and security. Initiated as a welfare tool to serve the public good, the initiative has turned into a malicious tool, giving rise to many identity-related risks such as mass surveillance, data breaches, and identity theft etc.

The recent debate played out on Twitter over Aadhaar has generated negative feedbacks. The series of tweets and poll conducted by the French security researcher who fetched all the details of the TRAI chief clearly pictures how the citizens have lost their trust in the Aadhaar system.

Irrespective of the number of incidents of data breaches and misuse of private information, the government and the authorities always dismiss the claims and assure that the database is safe and secure. This easy-going attitude of the concerned authorities will probably intensify the Aadhaar issues, in the near future, if not addressed.

For the Aadhaar system to be effective, the government and regulatory authorities need to root it in an upgraded legal framework that considers the accessibility and protective measures of the system. It needs to ensure that the integrity of personal information is protected and that the institutions storing and managing data can adequately secure the data from breaches and liabilities. We expect such best practices will evolve over the next few years. India could lead the world, if and only if the system gets on the right track, otherwise Aadhaar would end up as the greatest failure of all times.


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