What Aadhaar collects?
Claims, institutions and ever jokes have done the rounds on print and social media about how the aadhaar system could lead to a surveillance state. There are worries suspecting aadhar carrying residents will be closely tracked by the government while they authenticate themselves as they pay for their pizza or buy rice at a ration shop.
We need to understand what data aadhaar collects and more importantly what it doesn’t determine scenarios are likely or even possible.
Aadhaar does only two things. First, enrolment, wherein an application is processed and issued an aadhaar number. Second, online authentication where the ID holder is accurately verified during a transaction such as buying rations.
Back in December 2009, a government-appointed committee with representatives from several ministries, regulators and NGOs met to determine which demographic fields should be collected to issue an aadhaar. After all these processes the committee came up with a simple rule- UIDAI should only collect the minimal amount of information in order to protect the privacy of people. The four mandatory fields were, “NAME”,”ADDRESS”,”GENDER” and “DATE OF BIRTH”. Whereas MOBILE and EMAIL were left optional.
Similarly, a government appointment biometric committee decided that ten fingerprints, two irises, and a photo of de-duplicate the entire population and issue a unique ID, thus ensuring that a resident does not get multiple IDs. This was the major problem with the previous IDs which lacked uniqueness, resulting in duplicates and ghost IDs, leading to resource capture, leakage and other fraud transactions.
How is this aadhaar authentication done?
During authentication, the user enters the aadhaar number and one or more of the biometric or demographic fields and aadhaar returns the yes/no response. It does not return other details of the person so that the privacy of the individual is maintained.
An average telephone user can be tracked by the telecom provider who can triangulate the user’s location through telecom base stations. Apps from Google, Facebook, Apple and thousands of many other companies are also able to track Smartphone user location using GPS sensors. Reports show that over 75% of Smartphone users enable location services. This is the reality of the digital world we live in. In contrast, the aadhaar authentication is designed to protect people’s privacy by not collecting such information.
India is coming to terms with privacy in this increasingly digital world for the very first time. This debate around unique ID privacy is a precursor to the larger privacy debate. It is a good thing that people are becoming aware of the issues around privacy.
Aadhaar brings tremendous benefits to our country, by convenient payment methods to privacy database of the individuals. The passing of this bill and aadhaar compliance to it will definitely help alleviate concerns as we strive to build systems of better service delivery in a data rich and digital growing India.