Edward Snowden who startled the world with his NSA classified leaks, currently living under the Russian asylum is the latest member to join the bandwagon of Aadhar critics. Edward Snowden in his recent tweets expressed that Aadhar is being abused by banks, telecom and transport companies not to police entitlements but as proxy for identity which is an improper gate to service and that such demands must be criminalized.
That might be true if banks, landlords, hospitals, schools, telephone & internet companies were prohibited by law from asking for your #Aadhaar number. But any Indian can tell you they're asked for their number by non-government entities––and those companies have databases too. https://t.co/WsKC9wR6sj
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) January 21, 2018
In another tweet Edward Snowden said that the tendency of governments seeking perfect records of private lives is abuse. Edward Snowden further tweeted an article from ‘Hindustan Times’ and ‘The Wire’ (which is mostly apprehensive and against the Aadhar introduction) and opined that he agrees with the author KC Verma who also happens to be a former RAW head.
Rarely do former intel chiefs and I agree, but the head of India's RAW writes #Aadhaar is being abused by banks, telcos, and transport not to police entitlements, but as a proxy for identity–an improper gate to service. Such demands must be criminalized. https://t.co/rRSn42XLlQ
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) January 21, 2018
KC Verma who was an internal security advisor to P Chidambaram who was ascended to the plum post in spite of his poor health under PC has penned an informal casual toned opinion piece in The Wire on how he feels Aadhar is unnecessary or unsafe after his various encounters with the banker, the mobile seller and such others. While the article comes out as a rigid one sided opinion piece from an inflexible veteran stuck in time, unwilling to cope with newer methods, there is not much technicality discussed on how really it will lead to an abuse of data nor does it talk about the redressal mechanisms for a better implementation of Aadhar but outrightly suggests discarding the entire process. The HT article goes on to discuss how there are independent biometric databases that had been sourcing similar data like Aadhar and how they could pose a risk but it does not emphasize or ascertain if previous database holders have been administratively and technologically made to give up on the data or not to avoid risks. It is another thing that today, even coaching institutes or famous temples or hotels in heritage cities like Mysore today have been collecting biometric details for security reasons that too much before Aadhar came into picture. Yes, any meaningful concerns should be taken seriously and acted on but to be casting mischievous aspersions and opposing for the sake of opposing is not just misleading public but also undermining and stomping any good work and growth for the state at large.
Currently there is no one standard ID proof for the residents of the country which is what makes our state vulnerable to infiltrations. Note that a residency ID like Aadhar in its current form does may not necessarily vouch for your citizenship but the ongoing efforts are certainly to converge into one documented ID proof for all much like a social security number which is a long term goal that can be accomplished only after attempting it in the first case.
In 1999 during the Kargil war, the Indian army was met with absolute hostility not just of the rough weather terrains but also from the people, they were unable to distinguish if the many occupants of the border villages were locals or infiltrators. Hence they proposed to install a mechanism to issue identity cards to the locals which would help strengthen the internal security, the Vajpayee Government accepted the recommendation and conceptualized a multi-purpose national ID card which would later be extended to the whole of India. After much deliberation the Citizenship Bill was introduced in 2003.
The NDA fell but the clause 14(a) of the bill that said that it would be made compulsory for all Indians, this clause remained. After the UPA came to power, in furtherance to the citizenship bill, the UIDAI was established only in 2009. In 2010, Indians heard about Aadhar for the first time. The introduction of online verification of residency status through Aadhar numbers began from 2012 and many direct benefit transfers were initiated. There were times when BJP MPs like Meenakshi Lekhi and Ananth Kumar had alleged that the then UPA government was readying to legitimize the illegal immigrants via Aadhar and Subramanian Swamy had called it a wasteful project. While the allegations cannot be ruled out as an exaggeration considering the overt minority appeasement policies of the Congress, the apparent moral of the political story is that Congress today in its opposition seat is only doing what any opposition party should do – oppose each and everything for the sake of opposing even if it was their own project lest they lose relevance!
India being a state with vast stretches of vulnerable borders and a seemingly never ending infiltration bids and with similar looking and speaking brown hostile neighbors waiting to step in and sabotage our homeland, there is certainly a dire need not just to conceptualize but also work towards fulfilling ONE NATION ONE ID concept to make things easier cutting down overlapping layers of tedious paperwork and documents like ration card/ voter ID, age proof, driving license, electricity bill, gas connection proof , passport etc.
With the Aadhar Bill passed as Money Bill under finance minister Arun Jaitley, Aadhaar is not just about residential identity but also aids and compels tax compliance by large numbers of tax evaders who are forced to fall in line or forced to cry foul about violation of right to privacy.
Yes there are huge security risks but so are the Master and Visa card transactions in all those foreign bank accounts that we hold. And there have been cases of online financial frauds where account logins are hacked and passwords phished and moneys illegally transferred. If hackers have evolved so are the security strengthening systems but to simply beat and bash and stall the way forward without any recourse to offer is simply naïve or even notorious. The implementation of Aadhar at the ground level is of course a slow and a harrowing experience for many, with many inconsistencies and fallacies coupled with ill equipped, uncourteous, non-cooperative staff inconsiderate to senior citizens especially at nationalized banks.
Almost some 2 decades ago when the Voter ID card was first conceptualized in India its implementation saw the lowest of standards where even voter photos were mismatched with obnoxious spelling mistakes and mismatched dates and year of birth. We are a nation bogged with mediocrity(reservations) so going digital will not solve all problems immediately and there are bound to be challenges but certainly Aadhaar is an attempt to upgrade against such mediocrities under an educated, respected and no nonsense person like Nilekani. The risk factor will always be there and even the best of remedies or technology shall always emerge and evolve with time. With genuine technical and data bound questions there is bound to be more meaningful solutions but to cast vile aspersions in the air crying foul about right to privacy on Twitter, Facebook and Google even as those AI bots ask you if you would like to see some similar newsfeeds or footwear or friends, makes it suspect.
Whether it is the many IT raids, ED actions or the many cases of ghost beneficiaries of schemes and subsidies that have been exposed now and have been muzzled and deprived because of Aadhar or whether they are genuine technical queries or diehard journalism we do not know but the privacy issue about Aadhar has once again got touchy and gained traction amongst fear mongers and conspiracy theorists after The Tribune ran an article on an alleged breach of Aadhar database that could possibly threaten the privacy of millions if biometrics and demographic details are compromised in wrong hands. And when the UIDAI filed an FIR against the conspirators, Edward Snowden tweeted that the Journo should in fact be awarded!
The journalists exposing the #Aadhaar breach deserve an award, not an investigation. If the government were truly concerned for justice, they would be reforming the policies that destroyed the privacy of a billion Indians. Want to arrest those responsible? They are called @UIDAI. https://t.co/xyewbK2WO2
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) January 8, 2018
But why is Edward Snowden who leaked all classified data of the USA, currently sitting in Moscow under Russian asylum worrying about Aadhar and Indian privacy rights now after so many years after its implementation initiation that was kicked off in 2012 during the UPA itself?
Here’s an explanation:
Now Edward Snowden under Russian asylum casting concern or aspersion over Aadhar – a 2010 project in 2018 is as relevant or irrelevant as much as P.Chidambaram’s man KC Verma’s apprehension!.
Russia and India have been friends for long but in all these 70 years of independence India had and has still been haggling to secure her internal security and establish her position as a superpower. But with Modi government’s inclusive foreign policy, any embracing gestures towards the west is bound to alert Russia and whenever we have made newer alliances or furthered partnerships in the past, Russia has subtly made nullifying gestures like giving military training or arms to Pakistan or we see a sudden spurt of overt communism which is again a natural geo-political foreign policy for any nation because in politics there are no selfless friends. And our bonhomie with a superpower like Russia for last 70 years although very consistent, has not aided us resolve or restore POK which was the quintessential subject of discussion during the Tashkent treaty. But it is the same bonhomie between these old buddies that keeps the US and her five eyes on alert who in turn unleash their missionaries and NGOs and PIL heralds of humanity and rights to keep India under check.
Considering the data genius that Edward Snowden is, the sudden assertion or aspersion on Aadhar should be well taken for correction if any but not without considering the underlying geo-political innuendoes of such statements.