Denial won’t do

What we know today is that there are some sections of law that can be slapped on persons who are able to break into the UIDAI’s huge Aadhaar database, of course after the act is done and dusted. But what we do not know yet is the extent to which the Aadhaar database is compromised, although the authorities still claim it is foolproof. Even if, in a hypothetical situation, it is assumed that the systems are secure enough to ensure that data on servers are inaccessible to hackers or such other elements, there is no guarantee that the personnel manning the gates are incorruptible and would ensure that there is no breach of secrecy or security. Reporter Rachna Khaira of ‘The Tribune’ has only brought to light a weak point in the system that could be exploited by those with malevolent intentions. The men behind the system are the ones that could easily fail it from within. Edward Snowden, who is himself fundamentally an example of the typical human chink in the system, fortunately was on the side of common good and was not driven by selfish interests. He hit the nail on the head when he recently tweeted: “It is the natural tendency of government to desire perfect records of private lives. History shows that no matter the laws, the result is abuse.” The Snowden tweet points to the fact that the abuse of any such data collected by governments would be inevitable; it is bound to happen if not in the short-term, then definitely in the long-term. In the case of Aadhaar, one of the biggest worries, as has been proven, is the people who are part of the creation and maintenance of these systems. If Khaira was able to gain access to Aadhaar data for as little as Rs500 and even get printouts of Aadhaar records for an added Rs300, the scale of possible misuse is clearly evident. In the current context, the question is — what would the government do to ensure that citizens’ data remains private. People from economically disadvantaged segments, who are eligible for benefits the government provides, have already been hit by variances in the data of very many government IDs.

While the government keeps pushing the Aadhaar agenda and is willing to come down heavily on anyone pointing anomalies, there are no assurances regarding data security. In case of data breach, middle and upper middle classes would be the worst-affected. Unless the government is clear about how it will control the misuse of power that such one-point aggregation of personal data entails, its implementation is rife with immense, unjustifiable risks. Every person with the powers to provide access to Aadhaar presents the opportunity for the misuse of these. While the Modi government punishes whistleblowers, will it be able to ensure that each of these individuals in charge of data maintenance behaves selflessly and in public interest? There is no precedent to pin hopes on that and there is no prudence in adopting the ostrich policy to a real problem that stares us in the face. Denial of data breach won’t help as problems of mammoth proportions are already indicating what lies ahead.

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