The Aadhaar-based Biometric Authentication(ABBA) System in India or Aadhaar, is deeply entangled with wider security and privacy concerns of the people and far greater implications on the society and its functioning. With the Supreme Court declaring privacy as a fundamental right, it is pertinent to ask if Aadhaar is invading our personal lives. It is. Aadhaar card endows the government with the means to track the movements of people, to control the masses and to manipulate the thoughts, as experts believe. In short, it is through such surveillance policies like Aadhaar that the government could exercise absolute power over its citizens. In this way, Aadhaar, redesigned as it is, seems to be much more beneficial to the government than it is to the public. The whole discourse around it is structured such that the public now thinks it imperative for them to disclose its private matters to the government in order to prove their honesty.
It is argued that Aadhaar, which was resurrected in the hands of the BJP, is essential to keep a check on the influx of the immigrants from neighbouring countries and also to filter genuine ID card holders from the fake ones. At last, we have something like a standard, one-in-all identity card that is all-encompassing and generous, without excluding any single group of people. While this might be true, The Wire reports the cases of transgenders who face problems because their Aadhaar cards were made before they went for sex change operation. In some cases, Aadhaar has become an impediment to avail schemes for marginalized sections. The foundation of the Aadhaar rests on the belief in the infallibility of biometrics, while overlooks the serious complications that would arise in the case of mismatch or fraud entries.
Even after the supreme court judgement that held the right to privacy of an individual is a fundamental right, privacy in the context of Aadhaar doesn’t go without feeling a tinge of insecurity and fear. The UIDAI amasses the demographic as well as the biometric details of 121 crores of Indians. A database that is a repository of such ocean of information has rendered it highly vulnerable to all sorts of crimes including identity thefts. The new identity system is supposedly architected for the benefit of the citizens, but ironically, we don’t stand a choice to decide on whether or not to share our details with the government. When we part with our details, we are losing the freedom to think freely as we give more power to the government. By giving more, we render ourselves confined under the new absolutist form of the government. Our very existence is defined by the Aadhar, which means that we cease to exist before the eyes of the government if we don’t possess an Aadhaar. The whole point and significance of Supreme Court's judgment on privacy stand defeated here.
Efforts are being made to make this the gateway for transactions, money transfers, to obtain birth, death certificates, digital payments, school/college admissions and for travel tickets. Even basic needs cannot be accessed without Aadhaar card. Aadhaar card in itself is not the problem, but the huge network it generates by linking with above-mentioned accesses and a slew of schemes like Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, pension schemes, et al could cripple our lives. There have been reported umpteen cases where people from the lower strata were on the verge of destitution. While it is apparent that there are several loopholes in the system, but the underlying consequence might be the creation of surveillance state which can curtail dissent to a dangerous extent. One of the anticipated and most feared ramification of the new identity system is the fear of the democracy donning the attire of an autocratic society.
The recent exposing of Aadhaar racket by the newspaper, The Tribune, had also exposed the vulnerability of the government in maintaining the data of the crores of Indians who have been, for the past few months, insisted upon to link their personal lives with the Unique Identification system, Aadhaar. The racket, as reported by the journalist of The Tribune, that ran in Chandigarh has now planted a seed of distrust and fear in the minds of the common people who would not have known the reach of the infringement on their privacies otherwise.
To all the questions relating to the security concerns of the people, it would suffice to say that Aadhaar is indeed an infringement on our privacy. In how many ways is something that will be unfolded as time passes by. Not only does this identity card appear to trespass its limits, it buttresses the authority of the government over each and every citizen of this country, something which to a citizen of a democratic country might be a matter of discomfort. The system is on its path to becoming like a panopticon structure, where the government is at the top and can watch every move of the citizen. The structure of panopticon was used by French thinker, Michel Foucault, in his book Crime and Punish to analyze the various forms and layers of invisible power that binds and dictates the subjects at the subconscious level. It would mean that the government, possessing every particle of important information about us, could have the means to use the information against us. Whether Aadhaar would be beneficial to the people or not cannot be resolved yet, but what does seem clear is that the Aadhaar could become a vehicle to achieve authoritarianism.
TM Krishna, the 2017 awardee of the prestigious Indira Gandhi award for social integration emphasizes the need to ask uncomfortable questions to the government. Questions like why should we have an Aadhaar card? Why are they taking our information? How is it going to benefit us? Why is it being coerced upon us, and to what end? Well, what is being told is that it aims to bring transparency in the system and to combat threat among others. There is often a perception, he adds, attached to the Aadhaar system that since it is aimed to end felonious activities, people feel it their duty, as honest citizens, to reveal their personal details to the government.
The UIDAI, embroiled as it is in a slew of conundrums, has been gyrating enough questions for the past few years which have no clarity so far. Unlike saffronization and Hindutva, Aadhaar is being promoted directly and is not just a conduit of ideologies, but experts fear it turning into a bandwagon of one and a representation of an autocratic system. These, which to us are seemingly unrelated discourses, converge on one point at the least: their underlying purpose is to narrow the thinking abilities of an individual in line with the trends set by the government. The case of Perumal Murugan, a Tamil novelist is one, to explain the above point. He was resorted to killing the writer in himself after he was hounded by a group of fundamentalists from the cadres of BJP and RSS. It won't be surprising if a dissenter may one day wake up to find all the accesses becoming void through Aadhaar.
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