In our next addition to the ‘Sparking A Conversation’ series, Ali Khan Mahmudabad discusses the growing role of unique identification in India, namely Aadhar. Khan argues that it is financial institutions and other such organisations who benefit from the big data provided by UIDAI, made worse by the government wanting to integrate Aadhar with as many public schemes as possible. The question that thus arises is “Who truly benefits from unique identification – the citizens for whom it was intended to make using government services easier, or the government by profiting off people’s private information?”
Khan argues that the reason there is a separation in the three governmental wings of the government – the legislature, judiciary and executive – is for the government to keep checks and balances on itself. Thus, the government is supposed to keep the people as its priority, by ensuring their rights and freedoms. Despite this, we see the government pushing, almost threatening, citizens to link their bank accounts and mobile numbers to Aadhar, stating that there will be a suspension of services if there is a failure to comply. Moreover, while the government claims that Aadhar is optional, it is very hard today to use any government service without it. Such an insistence can only be explained if there is government incentive behind the push; Khan argues that this incentive is big data. Using Aadhar for government schemes can also record lifestyles, habits, spending patterns and other such personal information, which people may not be comfortable sharing.
Other than the growing threat of surveillance, there also exists the threat to privacy, as seen when 130 million people’s personal information was leaked through just four government websites. This is not even accounting for the amount of data sold by insurance and telephone companies. Thus, with the ‘ulterior motives’ of the government and private companies being highlighted, a serious discussion on the need for privacy must begin in order to maintain a stable democracy and ensure people’s basic civil liberties are being upheld.