By Manpreet Dhillon
Subramaniam Swamy, currently MP in the Rajya Sabha and member of the BJP, has claimed that Aadhaar is against ‘national security’. Given that he is famous for controversial statements in the public domain, it is important to scrutinize this claim and here are some reasons why Swamy’s assertion might have a kernel of truth to it.
When the Congress was in power, the BJP, as the main opposition party, was vehemently against the Aadhaar database. Their main concern was that illegal Bangladeshi immigrants can use the Aadhaar card to get legal entitlement of citizens in India as the UID could be made by any resident of India by providing certain pre-existing documents and that it did not segregate between citizens and aliens. Thus, the BJP claimed that it was a means through which illegal migrants could become legal in India and change India’s demographic map. Now that the BJP is in power, this concern seems to have vanished and it has been replaced by the mandate that everybody living in India needs an Aadhaar card to get services from the public and private entities.
The Aadhaar project has also been termed by the government as a tool to fight terrorism financing and black money. However, linking the UID with phone numbers, bank accounts, and other details might not translate into catching terrorists or breaking their network when the Aadhaar details are linked to shoddy demographic information. In the age of the internet, what guarantee is there that criminals will use Aadhaar authenticable networks when there are many other secret means available online to transact their communications? On the flipside, the centralization of the database puts the government at risk from hackers and compromising the system. The government might claim that the database is fool-proof; however, that is unbelievable in the age of cyber warfare between countries. M.K. Narayanan, former National Security Advisor, attests to these concerns as he writes, “Despite having a national cybersecurity policy, risks to our critical infrastructure remain. The Aadhaar concerns are valid, but India needs both offensive cyber operations and strengthened cybersecurity to deal with new onslaughts.” Considering that many leaks of Aadhaar numbers have been reported in the media, the question of protecting this information becomes important for national security and the privacy of citizens. Both of these are not separate from each other but are tied to one another as citizen’s privacy is important if a nation is to be secure.
The Aadhaar model is based on complete outsourcing of hardware and software to multinational corporations, which are, in turn, linked to foreign governments. Usha Ramanathan and Gopal Krishna have constantly red-flagged the issue that the UID database is not safe, when the whole system is controlled by corporations with links to foreign governments. For example, Ramanathan writes, “The companies engaged by the UIDAI to manage the database include L1 Identity Solutions and Accenture. The UIDAI, in response to an RTI request, has claimed that they have no means of knowing that these are foreign companies, given the process of their selection! Yet, a search on the internet reveals the closeness between the L1 Identity Solutions and the CIA, and that after a recent transaction, it is part-owned by the French government; while Accenture is in a Smart Borders Project with the US Department of Homeland Security. Data security, personal security, national security and global surveillance are all drawn into a ring of concern, but remain unaddressed.” Swamy’s concern is that the government is using the services of an American company to develop some core software and, hence, this may lead to the Aadhaar database being opened to U.S. Intelligence Agencies and, thus, compromise India’s national security interests.
Given that the government is elected by the people of India to safeguard their interests, it is incumbent that the citizens of this country ask the right questions that will enable us to understand this issue and take care of concerns about informational privacy, both at the individual and the national level. The government must come out with a whitepaper detailing these concerns and explaining to the public what methods have been adopted to allay the fears expressed by eminent citizens to protect and secure the nation from external and internal threats.
Manpreet Dhillon is a doctoral candidate at the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
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