'Linking pregnancies to Aadhaar poses privacy threats'

'Linking pregnancies to Aadhaar poses privacy threats'

Critics say the new directive could deprive expectant moms of their right to treatment

The Department of Health and Family Welfare is planning to track every pregnancy in the state, from conception to birth, with the help of an Aadhaar-linked unique ID.

When this system comes in place, every expectant mother will be given a unique ID number — the RCH (Reproductive and Child Health) number — which will be linked to her Aadhaar card. The idea of such a move is to bring down maternal mortality rate. 

As per section 7 of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016, any individual who is desirous of availing any subsidy, benefit or service for which the expenditure is incurred from the Consolidated Fund of India, shall require to furnish proof of possession of Aadhaar number or undergo Aadhaar based authentication.

Tara Krishnaswamy, social activist, says that tracking every woman, including those who are paying for their expenses in a private hospital, is a violation of the original stated intention of Aadhaar.

“There were clarifications made that no benefits can be denied in absence of Aadhaar, which makes such a move questionable.” 

“The citizens are sovereign in India, thus when personal details are tracked, it is a violation of privacy. Health problems like fibroid or diseases are personal and the state having access to such information is scary,” she says. 

Tara adds, “Women are abused liberally here. Even though male contraception is easier and less intrusive, sterilisation of the woman has been common in the country. Such access to information means more violation of women.” 

If such a move was to reduce infant mortality rates, the country should provide services to any pregnant woman, regardless of their background, and no card should come in the way, Tara adds.

“We already get tonnes of junk email and text messages because of our contact information is available in the Aadhaar database. Now imagine laboratories or pharmaceutical companies having access to one’s medical history. There is ample evidence of repeated leaks of private information and such a move isn’t advisable,” she says. 

Member of collective ‘Rethink Aadhaar’, Amit Bansal points out that this new move is not a question of welfare or benefits, and is just a move to track people.

“This is in violation of the Supreme Court’s recent court order. Privacy is a major concern, not sure why the state wants to track all this. Why not use Aadhaar to track where spending is happening and what our politicians are doing. Let’s try to use this card to bring transparency back to the government and not to the citizen,” he says. 

Why would anyone want to get tracked by a state, he asks. “Why can’t there be a voluntary ID for this? Such moves should not open up opportunities for scrutiny, blackmail or family pressure later on,” he says. 

Amit observes that the Congress as a party has been talking about removing Aadhaar and making it voluntary. “But in the individual states ruled by it, the party is making unwise decisions,” he says. 

Pavithra Sankaran, a communications consultant and a petitioner in court cases dealing with Aadhaar implementation, notes that the Aadhaar was made compulsory to avail welfare benefits.

“There was also a push for Aadhaar to ensure social welfare delivery. But before it was made compulsory, in states like Tamil Nadu, social welfare was reaching the people it was supposed to reach. But with the implementation of Aadhaar, it has become a source to deny benefits to people who deserve them the most; either the fingerprints or biometrics didn’t match due to lack of enrolment or technological failures,” she says.

She adds that if the government is saying such a move is to lower the infant mortality rate, it won’t work that way. “If a pregnant woman turns up at a hospital asking for services, they should be granted; it shouldn’t be dependant on a card.”

Privacy is a concern. “We are used to stigmatising everything in the country. If someone is a single mother or an unmarried woman gets pregnant, such details become a public record, which can be accessed by anyone. Moral policing could happen in and it could affect a person’s job opportunities,” she says.

“What if someone wants to abort a child? There doesn’t need records for such cases to shame people,” Pavithra adds. 

She adds that the government has no clue about keeping a tab on online security. “Such a move would give access to private information to everyone.”

Breach in April
Details of around 4.8 lakh pregnant women in Andhra Pradesh were leaked on the state’s Women and Child Welfare Department’s website in April 2019.