Tainted by deceit

Even as registration for the unique identification number (UID) or Aadhar is set to begin in Bangalore, there is little clarity about it. The Aadhar website sets out a picture that seems at odds from the reality unfolding on the ground. The information being sought is far more intrusive than that is officially claimed. Not surprisingly, Aadhar is raising questions, suspicions and unease in the minds of the public. Its website says the 12-digit unique number to be issued to all residents, which will be stored in a centralised database, will be linked to basic demographics and biometric information – photograph, ten fingerprints and iris – of each individual. It goes on to clarify that getting the number is not mandatory; neither will it replace other IDs such as ration cards, for instance. It also reassures the public about confidentiality.

A special registration done for media persons a few days ago laid bare a rather different Aadhar. People were asked to provide bank account numbers, LPG gas connection numbers and so on. Significantly, the form they were asked to fill was different from the one available for download on the official website. Officials have said provision of bank information etc is voluntary and indeed, they did register those who refused to divulge this information. Yet, why is this information being sought in the first place? Does the government intend pushing people who refused to provide this information now, to divulge it subsequently by linking the number to availability of banking services, LPG and so on? The objectives of Aadhar are unclear. The UID has been touted too as a tool that will empower the poor in accessing services such as the formal banking system. As far as security is concerned, it is naive to think that people with criminal intent will come forward to register themselves.

In any case, biometrics is not fool-proof, say experts. Critics are also drawing attention to possible misuse of information gathered. It could facilitate cybercrime. It is hard to dispel the feeling too that UIDAI will eventually force us to volunteer all information about ourselves, our bank accounts and so on. This is violation of our privacy.  A large amount of public money is being invested in Aadhar. The government owes the public honest answers. It must clarify what information it is gathering and why. If the Aadhar juggernaut is more of a bane than a blessing, it must be stopped now.

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