Liquid data and a leaking UIDAI

Creating a massive biometric database of the citizenry and making the ID attached to it the primary document for every financial and civil transaction within the country is not without pitfalls.

Published: 10th January 2018 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th January 2018 02:41 AM   |  A+A-

Creating a massive biometric database of the citizenry and making the ID attached to it the primary document for every financial and civil transaction within the country is not without pitfalls. Given the levels of inefficiency and moral laxity India is used to and the very liquid nature of things digital, data security is a looming nightmare.

The private details of millions of citizens have been rendered vulnerable to manipulation. Is it possible to protect such masses of data on a daily basis? From airports to railway stations, from the post office to PDS outlets, Aadhaar is the entry point to services. The exact ways in which biometrics can be abused may not even be clear.

However, before the Supreme Court rules on it, the government is rooting for making it mandatory for operating bank accounts and mobile phones. The Unique Identification Authority of India-stamped Aadhaar card has therefore gained a primacy and centrality in citizens’ life. But it has been a contentious topic ever since the UIDAI was set up. For one, the biometric data collection and its management is largely done by outsourced personnel.

An investigative report by a newspaper on January 3 revealed exactly how vulnerable the data is. A reporter found she could purchase the data through a PayTM transaction of a mere `500. The data was delivered within minutes.

And instead of ordering an internal inquiry, the UIDAI has targeted the newspaper and its reporter with an FIR and criminal charges. What they do not understand is that threats and blandishments may only increase public mistrust. Citizens’ anger is visible on social media and the Editors’ Guild has rightly flagged the FIR as tantamount to muzzling of the press.

The Law and IT Minister has made allaying noises, saying the FIR is not against the media per se but “the unknown’’ culprit, but the UIDAI’s attitude is deeply worrisome. Does an organisation sitting on piles of data on citizens, and which wants to be above questioning, have any place in democracy?



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