Lift the shroud of secrecy

We must thank the Supreme Court for doing what the Centre should have done in the first place: clearing the confusion on whether Aadhaar is mandatory for citizens to avail of State subsidies by ruling, on Monday, that it is not.

It must be mentioned here that even though personal information of citizens is being collated by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) for Aadhaar, the authority has no legal backing. At best, the UIDAI only guarantees identity, and does not guarantee rights, benefits or entitlement.

While the court order may have come as a shocker to the government and upset its plans of showcasing the Aadhaar-backed Direct Benefit Transfer scheme as one of its main achievements ahead of the general elections, it has only itself to blame for this situation.

From the time the government launched Aadhaar, questions were raised about the scheme but it chose to stonewall those queries. While citizens were told that Aadhaar enrolment is voluntary, in practice many states are making it mandatory simply by tying it up with benefit schemes. Hopefully, this roundabout way of coercing citizens into enrolling for Aadhaar will stop after the SC order.

For any citizen of India, there is a plethora of identity documents. All that we really needed was a ‘base document’ that would work as an identity card. Instead of doing that, the government launched two schemes: Aadhaar and the National Population Register (NPR), leading to confusion.

Most people still don’t know if/why they need to enrol for both the schemes. Questions have been raised on the legality of the UID and NPR collecting data and biometrics of citizens. Many concerns have been raised about the use of biometrics in terms of the legality, effectiveness, and accuracy of the technology.

At a time when the State control of Big Data is becoming an increasingly touchy issue worldwide, it is imperative for the government to clear the air on UID and NPR and their respective merits. Failing to do so will only create further confusion and raise questions on transparency in governance.

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