This article is not a rant against Aadhaar cards. Rather, it intends to explain the politics of the Aadhaar system to the common man.
In this country, where many people are poor and homeless, it is understandable why Aadhaar card is ‘just another’ identity (ID) proof (among the other such existing ID proofs) for most of India’s citizens.
It is widely believed that because the Aadhaar card incorporates the individual’s biometric data, it brings an additional layer of ‘security’. In fact, most of my well-read friends see no reason why I should have an issue with this, especially since this ID proof can seemingly ease the worries of so many Indian citizens.
So, what is it that we don’t know (or ‘they’ don’t want us to know) about Aadhaar?
Chapter I, Section 5 of the Aadhaar Act states: “The Authority shall take special measures to issue Aadhaar number to women, children, senior citizens, persons with disability, unskilled and unorganised workers, nomadic tribes or to such other persons who do not have any permanent dwelling house and such other categories of individuals as may be specified by regulations.”
1. For persons with disabilities: The Act is unclear how it intends to deal with people with disabilities, leprosy patients, people with amputated limbs, and people born with deformities. The enrolment form does not provide any column for these cases, implicitly, thereby excluding them from the scheme. Also, do we have provisions for door-to-door Aadhaar for the immobile?
2. For the homeless or nomadic people: The form also has no provision for people to identify themselves as homeless or nomadic. Although the form does not make the address-fields mandatory, if Aadhaar is envisaged as a means to transfer benefits, then those without an address are left at the mercy of the data operator and the excessive discretion of the public distribution system (PDS) officer.
1. Identity proof: Basic identity proofs can be used for a document-based introduction. For example, a photo ID from a recognised institution is one of the most common proofs used in this case.
2. Address proof: There is no verification of whether a person is really residing at the stated address, as is done while obtaining a passport. Moreover, acceptable address proofs like electricity bills can easily be accessed by the nefarious elements of the society.
3. Date on birth documents: By clicking on the ‘declared’ option, and then citing the absence of documents related to date of birth, an applicant can easily bypass the necessity of producing such documents.
We are well aware of criminals possessing and forging identity proofs of other individuals. If the Aadhaar card is meant to stop identity thefts, its implementation needs to be much stricter than it currently is.
Chapter III, Section 9 of the Aadhaar Act states: “The Aadhaar number or the authentication thereof shall not, by itself, confer any right of, or be proof of, citizenship or domicile in respect of an Aadhaar number holder.”
On the other hand, this website mentions Aadhaar card as an acceptable address proof (point no. 10 in the table):
In fact, furnishing an Aadhaar card expedites the process of obtaining passports.
We have seen how even non-Indians can easily possess Aadhaar cards. Through this, one can easily set up their bank accounts, avail utilities, and complete the necessary procedures to obtain an Indian passport.
If Aadhaar cards are to be used to transfer benefits only to the intended people and to ensure that it is follows a ‘one-to-one’ system to prevent direct benefit transfer (DBT) leaks, then the systems used for this are clearly failing.
Here are the ways by which Aadhaar cards can either establish or ‘steal’ your identity (keeping in mind that our biometrics are stored online):
1. Your iris + your fingerprints = Aadhaar 1
2. My iris + my fingerprints = Aadhaar 2
3. My iris + your fingerprints = Aadhaar 3
4. Your iris + my fingerprints = Aadhaar 4
This is the stuff frauds are made of. Furthermore, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) exercises very little control on the private Aadhaar data-collection agencies.
As was seen recently, even MS Dhoni’s data and identity isn’t safe.
When cases of mismatching fingerprints and irises arise (Aadhaar 3 and Aadhaar 4), we ‘negotiate’ for a card by blaming it on ‘technological glitches’.
This can lead to an exponential rise in identity thefts via Aadhaar cards.
Chapter II, Section 3.6 of the Aadhaar Act states: “The Authority may require Aadhaar number holders to update their demographic information and biometric information, from time to time, in such manner as may be specified by regulations, so as to ensure continued accuracy of their information in the Central Identities Data Repository.”
The Act takes cognisance of the fact that our biometrics may alter with age and health. This therefore necessitates periodic updating. However, the Act does not spell out the time frame after which a subscriber needs to revisit the Aadhaar centre for to update the details. This can lead to potential situations where people may be harassed or even denied services due to mismatching biometrics (online and actual).
There’s a widespread fear that people may be deprived of subsidies, benefits and services, which they are entitled to, in the absence of Aadhaar identification.
However, the following caveat in Chapter III of the Act states otherwise: “Provided that if an Aadhaar number is not assigned to an individual, the individual shall be offered alternate and viable means of identification for delivery of the subsidy, benefit or service.”
When the Act itself does not specifically address the issue of lack of Aadhaar cards and its consequence, one cannot be coerced to subscribe for one.
The existing system for Aadhaar identification should not be the be-all and end-all of providing Indian citizens with identities. On the other hand, either the existing system can be made more foolproof, or a new system can be adopted which is free of the loopholes in the previous systems.
Whatever be the case, the highest standards of security should be attained before a system can truly be called the aadhaar (standard or basis) for everything.