India claims its Aadhaar push is for the ‘good’ of people despite serious privacy concerns

Last year, India’s top court ruled that the central government’s national identification system – Aadhaar – doesn’t violate the privacy of citizens. Now, there are three major developments on this front that might put privacy activists on high alert.

First, India’s parliament passed an amended bill on Aadhaar that allows voluntary use of the ID to open a bank account or get a SIM card and penalty for any private company if it stores Aadhaar data – a step to curb frequent data leaks.

Then the government’s chief economic advisor, K Subramanian, said in this year’s Economic Survey report that a master database built by the government collating all the citizens’ information too – with Aadhaar at the heart of it.

And finally, in the annual budget presented by the reelected government’s finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, suggested that Aadhaar should be used to file taxes instead of PAN (Permanent Account Number) – an ID issued by the country’s tax department. Earlier this year, the government made it mandatory to link the Aadhaar card to the PAN to file taxes. 

Impact of these developments

While the amended bill notes that use of the Aadhaar card is voluntary, companies have refused to give out new SIM cards without an ID in the past. The modified bill also introduces a penalty of Rs 1 crore ($146,045) and jail for private entities who store Aadhaar data. However, there’s no clarity at the moment as to how authorities will monitor and audit private firms; there’s also no details on who will bear the responsibility of checking Aadhaar data has been fairly used.

Subramanian’s suggestions in the Economic Survey 2019 also raises a lot of concerns. He said the collection of data can be used for good. In a chapter named ‘Data of the people, by the people and for the people,’ the survey notes the government already possesses large troves of data, and it’s just a…

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