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Explained: Privacy Concerns Over Your Aadhaar Card

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Here is a quick refresher on the Government’s Aadhaar Scheme, its purpose, and execution.

As the video explains, one of the biggest concerns with this Aadhaar is data security and privacy. If we’re going to connect our personal information, biometrics, contact details, financial information, and familial connections to one database, that database better be secure. If it were to get into the wrong hands, the possibilities for abuse are endless – from something as small as annoying customer service calls to something as incriminating as financial identity theft. So far, there have already been many reports of how the security of the Aadhaar database has been compromised. And if these tales are anything to go by, there is a lot left to be desired from Government to beef up the data security of UIDAI.

1. With just someone’s Aadhaar number, you could find all their personal information 

On 28th July 2018, the Chief of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), R.S. Sharma very boldly tweeted out his Aadhaar number to showcase his trust in the security of the Aadhaar system. His ‘do your worst’ declaration went down south very quickly. People on Twitter were able to access his phone number, alternate numbers, date of birth, and residential address. Since he had linked his Aadhaar to his voting card and PAN card, even his polling station and PAN number were made public. Claiming to have his bank details, some Twitter users even posted screenshots of Re. 1 fund transfers that they had made to his bank account. His Air India frequent flyer number also became public. The Government’s defense to this entire debacle was that since R.S. Sharma is a public official, his details were public anyway. However, the ease and speed with which people could access Sharma’s Aadhaar and Aadhar-linked information still proved loopholes in the system’s security. This will probably become a cautionary tale for anyone who is asked to link-to-Aadhaar from here on out.

2. Creating an ‘inaccurate’ Aadhaar card could be as easy as creating an accurate one

One of the main objectives of putting the Aadhaar system in place was to keep an account of all Indian citizens through a universal ID system. With this, the government could also indirectly keep a track of illegal immigrants entering the country, especially those from Bangladesh and Myanmar. But they should probably have specified that the universal ID was meant for all ‘human’ Indian citizens, not pets and Gods. Back in 2015, Azam Khan, a supervisor at an Aadhaar card enrollment facility in Umri, Madhya Pradesh, was arrested for creating an Aadhaar card for his dog ‘ Tommy Singh’ s/o Sheri Singh, Date of Birth: 26/11/2009. The incident came to light when locals complained that they were being inconvenienced because the agency was creating cards for dogs and other animals.

Meanwhile, in Rajasthan, Lord Hanuman was assigned an Aadhaar card. The name on the card is registered as ‘Hanuman-ji’ and clearly shows a passport size photo of him wearing a string of pearls around his neck, it also lists ‘Pawan-ji’ (the God of Wind) as Lord Hanuman’s father.  The mobile number submitted along with the application for the card lead the police to the person behind the order – Vicky Kumar. A computer operator by profession, he claimed he only decided to make this ‘Hanuman’ card out of spite when his own fingerprints weren’t accepted. This brings up the additional problem of biometrics not being a foolproof format.  If Vicky Kumar could use his biometrics for Lord Hanuman, anyone could create a false identity using their biometrics.

These examples also show how easy it might be for an immigrant to get their hands on a card, which negates the purpose of keeping a track of such immigrants.

3. Aadhaar information could be accessed and misused for the benefit of private companies

In 2017, Ola employee and co-founder of Qarth Technologies, Abhinav Srivastava hacked into the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) server and accessed secured Aadhaar information. He did this by exploiting a pretty big loophole in the Aadhaar website, which is the absence of Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS). Unlike the Twitterati in R.S. Sharma’s case, the hack was not to prove the laws the in Aadhaar system’s privacy, but was for personal gain. Srivastava had developed a mobile application hosted on the Google PlayStore for Aadhaar e-KYC verification via which he illegally accessed the Aadhaar database without the government’s approval. This incident is truly scary because it shows how easy it would be for any company to access information for their benefit. What stops corporates from using our data just like Cambridge Analytica used Facebook’s user information?

4. You could replicate someone’s Aadhaar card for just Rs. 800

On January 2018, the Tribune during it’s investigative report on loopholes in UIDAI data security ‘purchased’ a service from an anonymous WhatsApp user that allowed them to access the details of anyone from the 1-billion large Aadhaar database for just Rs. 500. What’s worse? For an extra Rs. 300, you could even download a software that allows you to print any Aadhaar card yourself. The money had to be transferred via Paytm and the anonymous person would create a login for you to access any Aadhaar card number in the portal, all within 10 minutes. When the authorities were contacted about this, they were shocked this was possible, because apart from the Director-General and the Additional Director-General, no one should have login access to the database. The possible misuse of this ‘service’ reveals how dangerous linking your Aadhaar could become. Someone using this service could access your bank account, get mobile numbers linked to your identity, etc.

5. Government officials could post your details ‘by mistake’  

As if things weren’t bad enough, some Aadhaar-related fiasco were due to negligence on the part of the authorities. In July 2017, the details on 1.4 million pensioners from Jharkhand – all of whom had linked their Aadhaar numbers to their bank accounts, to receive direct bank transfers – became available to anyone who logged into the Aadhaar website. The authorities blamed this leak on a technical glitch. Then in August 2017, the Aadhaar numbers of over 20,000 people who had applied for low-cost housing in Ludhiana was leaked by mistake on the Punjab Government Aadhaar website. And in what was perhaps the silliest of these blunders, the government agency in charge of processing Aadhaar numbers tweeted a picture of M.S. Dhoni undergoing the Aadhaar process along with a photograph of his application form. Thanks to this, everyone who could access Twitter could access Dhoni’s personal details. This wasn’t even a database leak, it was literally an image of his details, tweeted out by the government officials themselves.

These instances prove that although linking Aadhaar means swifter government procedures, it could even result in third-parties getting their hands on your details. Taking note of these privacy concerns, Supreme Court is in the process of deciding whether or not Aadhaar should be made mandatory. But, according to the Government, if Aadhaar is not made mandatory, it’s effectiveness would diminish drastically.

So if you’re deciding whether or not to link your Aadhaar, the thumb rule is – Linking your Aadhaar is voluntary and at your discretion. Watch the video to understand what you can link your Aadhaar to and how you can do it.

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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.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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.

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