Aadhar suffers from unfounded fears

Aadhar suffers from unfounded fears

The Supreme Court directive to the Union government to delink possession of Aadhar card for accessing any government services, is latest among the embarrassments the UPA government has faced on its otherwise highly useful scheme to provide every citizen with a unique identity.

The Congress party, the main fulcrum of the UPA government, had been fighting shy of accepting the legitimacy of its own baby, be it in court, parliament or among public. Weak defence of the project and failure to come upfront has often left even the most enthusiastic of its supporters with red faces.

While there could be dispute over linking Aadhar to the supply of LPG cylinder, there is no gainsaying that without a system to guarantee the citizen’s identity, the nation is vulnerable to fraud, pilferages and scams in every walk of life. Be it banking, trading, government services, PDS, scholarships, school /college enrolments, land registrations and even immigrations, the transactions are prone to fraud without a credible authentication system in place. Even the criminal justice system is hostage to mistakes and mistaken identity issues. Security of economic activity is going to be the most formidable challenge of the 21st century and Aadhar can provide the firmest bulwark against attack on financial system and will be a guarantee against the white collar crime.

Invalid apprehensions

The major apprehensions with regard to the Aadhar has been on the grounds of privacy and personal liberties, something at the core of freedoms in modern democracies. Most such fears are invalid as personal data is recorded even for the sake of a driving licence, ration card, credit card, bank account, PAN card, insurance policies, Election voter ID card etc. Nothing stops the bureaucrats and agents to access the data. One is no less vulnerable than with Aadhar regime. It is for the government to put in place a security regime for Aadhar or UIDAI data through law and enforcement.

The technology architecture can be not only robust enough to provide access to genuine and authorised use, but also limits the amount of data that can be accessed. It is totally within the realm of possibility to authenticate the persons accessing the data and validity of reason for which it is being accessed. Unauthorised access can be made criminal offence. New security tools using 128 bit encryption algorithms make it impossible to decrypt data without the key to unlock it. In data security regime, the events of each access to data is recorded and the only way this can be useful is to tie this to the identity of the officials who access it on daily basis. The system can be made totally foolproof against mischief. In present times, in majority of the government departments, there is hardly any system to record the access to citizen’s data.

Aadhar, with its unique ID, also provides the citizens the single point reference (single window of opportunity) to access all the official privileges and entitlements like driving license, passport, ration card, voter ID etc and does away with risks of their being dependent on officials’ discretion (or indiscretion). It is, therefore, a huge opportunity to root out corruption, ensure transparency and remove prospects of corruption with one stroke.

Judicial shocks to Aadhar should not dissuade one from its usefulness, nay inevitability, to financial inclusion in a country where half the population still lack access to any financial institutions. The UPA government’s major folly lies in its failure to provide legislative support and in laying down the ambit for its use. No-frills accounts based on Aadhar enrolment is a very innovative idea for bringing in more people under financial inclusion which only enlarges the scope and opportunities for corporations, citizens and local governments.  Looked at from this angle, any opposition to this can only be expected from those desiring to oppose financial access to poor and the needy hinterlands. Aadhar can benefit the financial institutions for lending and recovery of loans without which there is only room and discretion for fraud.

Ambiguous argument

Is Aadhar a means of citizenship?  Such issues were left ambiguous and unresolved at the outset. The politics of illegal immigration clubbed with Aadhar card is a classic example of political parties playing for communal vote banks. This should not be sufficient to junk the entire scheme. Aadhar cannot be the basis for fixing the illegal immigrant issue. It is for those who are charged with securing the borders to ensure that only the genuine enter the country and leave after the noted engagements. Laws must be legislated to give teeth to AADHAR regime so that data is secured in AADHAR data vaults and is only available for legitimate use. To start with, the existing laws on citizen’s right to privacy and security can be enforced to deter any attempts by miscreants for any nefarious purposes.

Going forward with Aadhar is the only logical and progressive step. Anything less than that would be a step in reverse direction. It is useful to be reminded that when Rajiv Gandhi talked about computers in 1980s, the same political parties had opposed it saying it will take away millions of jobs. They have been proven wrong. Computerisation has brought us job from all over the world. Only time will tell how wrong are the opponents of Aadhar. Its benefits far outweigh the risks.