This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Arun Arya. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Can The Aadhaar Bill Be Used By The Govt. As An Excuse To Violate Our Right To Privacy?

More from Arun Arya

By P Arun:

An operator works on his table while enrolling villagers for the Unique Identification (UID) database system at an enrolment centre at Merta district in the desert Indian state of Rajasthan February 21, 2013. In a more ambitious version of programmes that have slashed poverty in Brazil and Mexico, the Indian government has begun to use the UID database, known as Aadhaar, to make direct cash transfers to the poor, in an attempt to cut out frauds who siphon billions of dollars from welfare schemes. Picture taken February 21, 2013. REUTERS/Mansi Thapliyal (INDIA - Tags: SOCIETY POVERTY SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY BUSINESS) - RTR3EDRM
Image credit: Reuters/Mansi Thapliyal.

The grand identification project in India began with much fanfare as it came into existence not through statutory law but with a notification (No. A.03011/02/2009-Adm) by the Planning Commission on 28th January 2009. The previous UPA regime failed to give it statutory life as the bill was rejected, however, the current NDA regime has taken the initiative and introduced the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016 in Lok Sabha. This recently introduced Aadhaar Bill, 2016 raises some serious questions revolving around security, surveillance and constitutionality.

It is described as, “A bill to provide for, as a good governance, efficient, transparent, and targeted delivery of subsidies, benefits and services, the expenditure for which is incurred from the Consolidated Fund of India, to individuals residing in India through assigning of unique identity numbers to such individuals and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”

It shows that idea behind the introduction of such a bill is to rectify the maladies of bad governance and to streamline the service delivery system in India. But the question that arises is why this bill was introduced as a money bill. Possibly because the NDA government lacks the majority in Rajya Sabha and with this it could bypass deliberation and rejection. It also raises the question of the urgency to pass such a key legislation which will have a huge impact on the lives of people in India.

In the present context, in order to avail welfare services by the state, an individual needs to get entangled in the web of surveilling technologies under the state bureaucratic apparatus. Although the Unique Identification System was introduced in 2009 with much fanfare by UPA, it lacked any legal framework. There had been an attempt to give statutory life under UPA regime. However, in 2011, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance rejected the National Identification Authority of India (NIAI) Bill 2010 on the basis of privacy, feasibility, uncertainty, affordability etc. Now, under PM Modi’s regime, the requirement of its statutory existence came up due to recent Supreme Court judgments where it quashed Aadhaar as unconstitutional and turned it from being mandatory to voluntary. The major policies and services introduced especially under Modi’s regime got held up with that judgement. Hence, this bill was introduced as a money bill to get it passed soon in Lok Sabha.

From the moment of its commencement in 2009, it had increased the level of anxiety and fear in terms of its utilisation in the world’s second-most populous nation. Biometric identification is not new since it was introduced in the colonial period by the British. According to Bernard S. Cohn, it became impossible for colonisers to successfully master, manipulate, and control a state without codifying, documenting, controlling, classifying, bounding, reporting, and investigating the subjects in the colonial state. As the British were facing difficulty in controlling and distinguishing between individuals, colonisers devised fingerprinting as a means of classification and identification of individuals. From the 1850s William Herschel began experimenting with fingerprints to prevent fraud and forgery and later Francis Galton along with others led the way in creating the whole system of fingerprinting.

And it became a modern technology for personal identification developed in India under the British Raj as it was one of the largest colonies to govern. This was done particularly because the colonial rulers regarded colonial subjects as inherently mendacious. It was brought in use to systematically classify the identity of individuals in matters of contract and property law, as well as for criminal identification for which it is still being used in the modern era. In the twenty-first century, biometrics have again appeared as a strategic method to resurrect governance and boost the service delivery system.

Analysing the provisions of the Aadhaar Bill, 2016 raises serious questions. It has several important aspects which could seriously impact individual privacy and security. The uniqueness of Aadhaar lies in its identification of an individual through biometric (photograph, fingerprint, iris scan etc.) and demographic (name, date of birth, address etc.) details. It became controversial due to the question of protecting and securing such vital information from any potential misuse. Hence in Clause 30, biometric and demographic information is regarded as “electronic record,” and “sensitive personal data or information” as mentioned in the Information Technology Act, 2000. If any individual or company impersonates, intentionally discloses, transmits, copies or disseminates, damages, steals, conceals, destroys, deletes or alters, or tampers with etc. such vital information, it is to be regarded as an offence which is elaborated in Chapter VII titled ‘Offences and Penalties’ (Clause 34-47).

Under this bill, the most controversial subject of security and privacy of individuals’ electronic data is dealt with in Chapter VI of Protection of Information. If we look into the entire bill the provisions do reflect that it will ensure the security of identity information and it proposed measures do appear to be stringent. However, it has been diluted under Clause 33. This clause is nothing but a replication of the NIAI Bill, 2010 with significant additions. This new bill gives an “opportunity to a hearing” to the Unique Identification Authority of India prior to the court’s order relating to any matter of protection of information. Most importantly, an attempt has been made to bring in a procedural framework to curb unlawful surveillance by adding an Oversight Committee.

But, under this Clause, there are two significant aspects which have far reaching consequences. Firstly, it is regarded as a bill to address the problem of identification in order to provide social security schemes to every individual. However, Clause 33 (2) says, “disclosure of information, including identity information or authentication records, made in the interest of national security,” which shows an intention to use this data for security and surveillance. It does raise the question of the merits of its use and the consequences of any misuse of such authoritative powers in the hands of the executive.

In order to protect blatant misuse, this clause lays out “an Oversight Committee consisting of the Cabinet Secretary and the Secretaries to the Government of India in the Department of Legal Affairs and the Department of Electronics and Information Technology.” This committee would act as a channel to review any unlawful surveillance by the government. To understand the role of such committees we need to look into the legacy of surveillance provisions, i.e., Section 5 of Indian Telegraph Act 1885 and 419A of Indian Telegraph Rule 2007, as both of them had a ‘Review Committee’, while in People’s Union of Civil Liberties v. Union of India (1996), the Supreme Court had even iterated procedural guidelines. But, all of them had substantially failed to restrain its misuse which is evident from several cases from the last two decades.

In the 2009 news came out of Gujarat government’s surveillance on a woman architect; the 2010 Radia tapes controversy revealed the nexus between corporate, politics and interception; in 2013 we heard of illegal phone tapping by state agencies in Himachal Pradesh; in 2015 a clash emerged between two recently bifurcated states (Telangana and Andhra Pradesh) and phone-tapping scandal surfaced apart from the many more allegations of phone tapping by the politicians. It indicates the blatant misuse of surveillance by the state, which raises questions about the functioning of this proposed oversight committee.

Secondly, unlike the United States’ Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (1978) to regulate surveillance and United Kingdom’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal (2008) and Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament to oversee and examine unlawful surveillance, India does not have any such institutional apparatus. The Supreme Court of India in 1996 PUCL judgement clearly backed off from providing any prior judicial scrutiny in matters of data privacy and unlawful surveillance. Instead, it stated that it is the central government’s role to frame laws and lay down the procedural framework to curb unlawful surveillance. Hence, the creation of any institutional apparatus lies in hands of Parliament. But Clause 33(1) says “disclosure of information, including identity information or authentication records, [can be] made pursuant to an order of a court.” Why would judiciary issue an order to the disclosure of the UID information?

In 2014, the Bombay High Court quashed and called erroneous the judgement passed by the Goa High Court to provide the CBI with biometric data of all residents enrolled in the Aadhaar programme in the state to help solve the gang-rape of a seven-year-old girl. Though in this case, the Bombay High Court had dismissed the order, this proposed bill reflects how in coming times the judiciary can order the disclosure of biometric information for criminal investigation or for reasons of national security.

Overall, this entire proposed bill reflects the interlocking of surveillance mechanisms and expansion of state powers to put its citizens under surveillance in the name of governance. Although it was launched to facilitate efficient delivery of welfare services, it also allows the state to expand its surveilling space by bringing every individual under its gaze. Post 26/11 Mumbai attack, India’s intelligence gathering and action networks were retreaded by launching NATGRID (National Intelligence Grid). It is a technical interface or central facilitation center, with an integrated facility, which aims to link databases of 21 categories (e.g. travel, income tax, driving licenses, bank account details, immigration records, telephone etc). In addition to that, it would be shared with 11 central agencies (eg. CBI, IB, R&AW, NIA etc.). It is, essentially, ‘dataveillance’ as it uses personal data systems in the investigation and monitoring of the actions or communications of an individual.

Such multiple, overlapping governing practices, with different capabilities and purposes, have empowered the Indian state with technologically-enabled surveillance. By interlocking the biometric card with the Intelligence Grid, the colossal database can be shared with various other intelligence agencies and government departments. It also serves a range of desires, including those of control, governance and security. Such interlocking reflects the strategies of governmentality by the Indian state, which are not just about efficient delivery of welfare or providing safety and security, but to keep a surveilling gaze on its population as well.

The proposed bill raises several questions, which need to be analysed deeply. Instead of disruptive discussions, this bill should be dealt with critical discussion in the Parliament before its passage. If this bill gets passed with the same provisions, it would have a drastic impact on security and privacy. Also, it is quite apparent in this bill that Aadhaar card will not confer rights, entitlement or citizenship. It is merely a unique identity for individuals.

UPDATE: The Aadhaar Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha on 11th March 2016.

You must be to comment.
  1. Anushri

    The author has raised a very pertinent question. What are your comments now that the bill has been passed by the Rajya Sabha too?

  2. Anushri

    The author has raised a very pertinent question. What are your comments now the bill has been passed in the Lok Sabha, and now going to enter Rajya Sabha as a ‘money bill’ which means it can not be rejected now. The Finance Minister has even refused to refer the bill to a Standing Committee. In the guise of ‘welfare’, this is a means for widely entrenched surveillance.

More from Arun Arya

Similar Posts

By Anshul Abraham

By Aditya Lakshmi

By Uday Che

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below