‘Aadhaar is world's largest honeypot waiting to be breached’: RS debates UID
The Rajya Sabha witnessed heated exchanges between the Opposition and the government over the implementation and implication of India's biometric identification Aadhaar.
While the government claimed that Aadhaar is robust, safe and secure, the Opposition raised doubts about securing the privacy of the citizens and questioned the move to make the unique identification number mandatory for citizens to avail welfare benefits.
Aadhaar’s exclusionary nature
Congress fielded former union minister Jairam Ramesh who raised concerns about the impact of Aadhaar on various social welfare schemes like mid-day meals, Mahatama Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the Public Distribution System. Criticising the government, Ramesh claimed that once Aadhaar is implemented, it would lead to one-fourth of the country's population being excluded from such schemes.
“I fail to understand why Aadhaar is required for mid-day meals. Are we saying we deny meals to children? Aadhaar is instrument of exclusion. What sterilisation was to the Emergency, Aadhaar seeding is becoming to your government,” the former Union minister said. Ramesh went on to add that the government is holding a pistol to his head to get an Aadhaar and that it must be used in a “non-coercive and non-mandatory manner”.
Replying to Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who claimed that savings had been made because of Aadhaar in PDS and direct benefit transfers, Ramesh said when people are being excluded from rations, they are being counted as savings. Citing figures from Rajasthan, Ramesh claimed, “There are 54 lakh old age pensioners today. The Rajasthan govt has deleted the names of 10 lakh pensioners. This is how savings are calculated. You are excluding people who are entitled to old age pension by making Aadhaar mandatory. Aadhaar is compulsorily mandatory voluntarily.”
Ramesh said that the government's claims for the savings made by making Aadhaar mandatory for availing gas subsidy, was debunked by the CAG which highlighted that the savings happened because of the fall in international prices.
Specifically speaking on the issue of privacy, Karnataka MP Rajeev Chandrashekhar said the government must know that data between 2010 and 2016 there were 100 crore Aadhaar numbers with little or no verification. “Aadhaar Act needs amendments on places no responsibility on UIDAI to protect the data and information of the people whose data it collects,” he said.
The Karnataka MP went on to add that there are solutions to the Aadhaar problems and there is a need to accept the issues first. Moreover, he said, “Aadhaar as mandatory or not mandatory is the wrong debate. The debate should be about inclusion or non-inclusion.” He claimed how the issue of surveillance is misplaced but did not rule out the possibility of the data being misused by those in power is a legitimate concern.
Countering these claims BJP's vice president Vinay Sahasrabuddhe accused the opposition of creating an atmosphere of paranoia amongst citizens which needs to stop. “Why are people opposing Aadhaar? There is an ATM lobby, hawala lobby and PDS lobby that is opposing it. We need to be careful,” he said.
‘World's largest honeypot’
Trinamool Congress' MP Derek O' Brien raised many valid points and mentioned that Aadhaar is world's largest honeypot waiting to be breached. “Aadhaar is not an issue on privacy alone. Aadhaar hurts the marginalised and Aadhaar will hurt the poorest of the poor. Don’t get me wrong. We are all for Aadhaar. But the implementation of Aadhaar has some serious issues,” he said.
Calling privacy a very important issue, O’ Brien questioned who UIDAI is responsible to? “It is not only the database which is the problem. It is the most vulnerable database of this kind. US passed a privacy law in 1974 to secure their social security numbers database (which is neither mandatory, nor biometric).”
Questioning the use of biometrics, he said departments within the government are exposing people's Aadhaar numbers on multiple websites. “The data can be sold cheap, can be misused.” He added that Aadhaar is just a deflection and that the government should also debate on other crucial issues like investments, bank credits and jobs.
‘A haven for hackers’
Supreme Court lawyer KTS Tulsi spoke next and claimed that Aadhaar Act is in violation of the original mandate and how the Section 29 of the Act prohibits the sharing of data stored with UIDAI with anyone. Calling Aadhar database as the “haven for hackers”, Tulsi cited examples of many foreign countries who scrapped such initiatives because of its inability to protect such data.
CPI (M)'s D Raja said that Aadhar cannot be considered as a magic wand that will solve all the problems. He also raised concerns about a foreign company that signed a contract with UIDAI for analysing the date and said that it is partly funded by US intelligence agencies. “Would such data be safe with such a company?” he asked.
Addressing questions of the opposition, Prasad pulled out his Aadhaar card and pointed out at all the details mentioned on the card. “How safe is Aadhaar? How secure is it? Very safe. Very secure. Minimum data is collected. No information on medical history, caste, religion, language etc.” he said.
Doling out numbers associated with Aadhaar, Prasad informed the Upper House, “43.4 crore bank accounts linked with Aadhaar. 69.9 crore LPG connections linked with Aadhaar. 17.51 crore ration cards linked with Aadhaar. 868.69 crore MGNREGA accounts linked with Aadhaar. 1.04 crore passports linked with Aadhaar, 1.08 crore PAN cards, 48 lakh pensioners are receiving pension with their Aadhaar cards!”
On the questions raised by the opposition on the misuse of the data, Prasad mentioned that the government in the last six years has cancelled and blacklisted 34,000 operators who misused Aadhaar.
“Since Dec 2016, action was taken against 1,000 operators. We have a proper oversight system available. Aadhaar does not know the purpose for which authentication is sought. Therefore, only minimum information, no profiling,” he assured the opposition.
Further, speaking on the concerns about the privacy of individuals, Prasad said biometrics would only be used for Aadhaar and if anyone uses it otherwise, he will be hauled up. He even slammed the opposition for trying to paint Aadhaar as a tragedy.