Ex-bureaucrats oppose Aadhaar-voter ID linking

Nip it in the bud: Ex-bureaucrats oppose Aadhaar-voter ID linking

A joint statement was issued by 104 former civil servants under the aegis of Constitutional Conduct Group

Representative image. Credit: DH File Photo

Over 100 ex-bureaucrats, including former Home Secretary G K Pillai and former RAW chief A S Dulat, on Wednesday came out against the latest law linking one's voter ID with Aadhaar numbers, warning that it raises doubts on the fairness of the electoral process and could lead to "voter profiling, selective exclusion and targeted campaigns".

A joint statement was issued by 104 former civil servants under the aegis of Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG), saying that that the requirement of Aadhaar verification, even if voluntary, from a prospective or registered voter implies the "superimposition" of a government-issued identity card for identity and address verification that could "seriously undermine the independence and integrity" of the Election Commission. 

The former bureaucrats described as “unfortunate” the passage of The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021 during the recent Winter Session “without any effective Parliamentary scrutiny”. They said it was “even more unfortunate” that the Election Commission had seen fit to promote a move which had the capacity to restrict its independence and integrity in the conduct of elections.

Read more: Here's how to link Aadhar card to your Voter ID

“What is now called for is strong judicial intervention to nip this highly dangerous move in the bud," they said, adding that the government’s narrative that linking is voluntary may not become a reality, as several government and private entities routinely ask for Aadhaar numbers in clear violation of Supreme Court guidelines.

The statement, also signed by former officials like Sujatha Singh, K Sujatha Rao, Meeran C Borwankar, Vappala Balachandran, Maxwell Pereira, K P Fabian, Najeeb Jung and NC Saxena among others, listed six reasons to argue why the Central move was "defective, bad in law, in bad faith and liable to potential misuse" by the State.

They warned against the "distinct possibility" of a voters' preference being gleaned illegally by employing algorithms, as Aadhaar numbers are linked to mobile phones that could be used to access social media accounts.

"There is a distinct possibility that Voter IDs linked to Aadhaar cards and then to mobile phones could be linked to social media. This social media can be linked to algorithms that are in turn linked to user interests/views. Without a robust data protection law and accompanying regulatory mechanisms in place, voter profiling, selective exclusion and targeted campaigns are all possible," they said.

Expressing fear that the move could "open the floodgates for illegal profiling and targeting of voters, especially in the run-up to elections, when the Model Code of Conduct is not in place", they also said the verification by Aadhaar will not solve the "vexing problem" of issuance of voters' ID to a non-citizen as the Aadhaar number is issued without proof of citizenship being required. It warned that if Aadhaar is made as an ID proof to get voting rights, then there are chances of even non-citizens getting registered.

Noting that Aadhaar is issued on the basis of existing documents while voter ID on physical verification, they said there would be efforts to "manipulate" electoral rolls by getting persons registered as voters in constituencies where they do not reside.

Another concern raised by them was the possibility of "mass disentitlement", citing the attempts to clean up database registries of government programmes like MGNREGA and PDS, using the Aadhaar database, leading to thousands of beneficiaries getting "arbitrarily deleted from systems without any notice".

They also questioned the government narrative that linking of Aadhaar is voluntary and cited the language of the law to rebut it and said that a "possible mischief" can happen at the stage of drafting rules, which does not require Parliamentary approval.

"The scope for large-scale deletion of names from the electoral rolls can then become a distinct possibility, given that many existing voters may not (or may choose not to) furnish their Aadhaar details to the Electoral Registration Officer. There is also the likelihood that the UIDAI’s powers to omit or deactivate Aadhaar numbers could lead to widespread deletions from the electoral rolls," the former bureaucrats said.

Also, they said, many government departments and private bodies routinely ask for Aadhaar numbers for provision of services, in clear violation of Supreme Court orders, and those who wish to avail services are compelled to disclose their Aadhaar numbers. Matters have come to a pass where Aadhaar numbers are required even for cremation or burial purposes, they said. 

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