What is Aadhaar?
As described on the UIDAI website the “Unique Identification Project was initially conceived by the Planning Commission as an initiative that would provide identification for each resident across the country and would be used
primarily as the basis for efficient delivery of welfare services. It would also act as a tool for effective monitoring of various programs and schemes of the government.”
What makes the UID so unique is the biometric identification system that would ensure that every individual is assigned a unique identity number and does not leave place for duplication. Its aim is not only to achieve a unique identification for all citizens but also social change.
However the picture is not as rosy as it is supposedly painted out to be. Since the inception of collection of data it has come under the wrath of social activists, various Parliamentarians, the opposition and the Parliamentary Standing Committee. Let us dissect the UID system to understand where the problem lies.
How reliable are biometrics?
The proposed main beneficiaries of the UID, the underprivileged have fallen back/ faced problems in the first stage of data collection itself. By biometric identification one means that a scan of the iris and fingerprints needs to be taken.
Now in a country like India where the majority of the working population consists of the labour class this task isn’t as easy as it may sound. The fingerprints of those who indulge in manual labour are usually worn out due to the nature of their work.
In such a case they would be unable to issue a UID card and take advantage of the various government schemes through them. There are other cases of failure of the UID card to reach out to the 1.2 billion people. A major
section of our society is poor, destitute, unemployed or employed by the unorganised sector.
The UID was a relief for such people as it would’ve helped them get jobs, benefit from various government schemes and finally be a part of the system. But it has been observed that these people do not have any prior identity proof like a birth certificate, address or college certificate. Without a certain number of Id proofs a UID card cannot be issued.
The initial report of biometric committee even mentioned that a large percentage of India’s population is employed in manual labour which produces poor samples and that capture processes in rural and mobile environments is less controllable than in the west.
Despite that the biometric committee decided to go ahead with the same model. Thus what has been observed is that the entry barriers are either too soft or too tough.
Does it violate a person’s privacy?
The main purpose of a UIDAI is convergence, bridging different silos of data of individuals. Thus a person’s identity is for instance not their name or your capacity but a number. It will also make the process of profiling easier.
Problem: This number would allow one to collate all of a person’s data and thus make it easier to misuse their data and identity. Thus we’d need stringer data protection laws to be implemented.
It can be debated though that we often trade privacy for benefits like for opening a bank account so why not this time?
Is the sheer size of the database a problem?
The world’s largest biometric database is 120 million and we are talking about 1.2 billion database. 100 million people have already been covered. To cover the entire population of the country one needs time and the government’s money (which is actually the money of the people). This way the actual budget exceeds the estimated budget.
How sensible is such a decision for a country like India that is plagued by poverty, corruption, green house concerns and the like?
What seems to have happened is that people these days seem to lurch towards new technologies. The greed for new and different kinds of information and being a part of something that is ‘updated’ attracts crowds. It’s viability is not
The proposed UID card system can work if implemented idealistically. The data protection laws need to be in place and need to be more stringent. Unfortunately everything gets hyped during the time of elections and dies out eventually.
The UID card is on the lips of all the straw boss politicians these days. Rahul Gandhi is gloating over the UID in Uttar Pradesh, the Union Home Ministry is competing with it by making NPR mandatory and the opposition is condemning it.
The way the system works doesn’t work in the direction of welfare and what can is being anticipated is that the UID instead of becoming the sole tool for social change would end up being a tool for surveillance.