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The Chennai Municipal Corporation’s website now lets anyone search for birth and death certificates, only requiring them to fill in gender and one other criterion from registration number, person’s name, date of birth, place of birth or mother and father’s name to display the birth or death certificates of Chennai residents or those born there. (H/T: St_Hill, NDTV reported it originally.)

It is not clear since when the corporation let anybody search for these details, but the online birth and death certificates seem to have existed from 2008 (!!), when one could verify and print their birth and death certificates online.

A quick search for other metros like Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Hyderabad revealed that only Kolkata and Delhi do not list an online process for birth and death certificate search, whereas for Mumbai and Hyderabad, users could use registration number and year, ward, gender, DOB (somewhat safer alternative); and DOB and gender to avail certificates.

The public relations officer of the Chennai Corporation told MediaNama that users could obtain birth and death certificates only of Chennai residents, starting from 1990 to date, but on the website, users can access certificates right from 1910 to date. What’s worse is that the user looking for someone else’s birth or death certificate can also print the downloaded PDF file.

Previous privacy violations:

– In May this year, as part of its initiative to encourage LPG users to pay market price and not avail the LPG subsidy provided by the government, Bharatgas put up a list of customers who opted out on its website.

– In April, the TRAI released the email IDs of everyone who replied to its consultation paper on net neutrality, providing another glaring example of how lightly online privacy is treated in India.

India has seen it’s own share of privacy nightmares this year: the TRAI wants a definitive date to make GPS mandatory, a draft encryption policy which weakened personal and business security but was later pulled due to an outcry (lest we forget the porn ban and the moral un-policing); but the rest of the world is not far behind. A Parliamentary Standing Committee on IT for 2015-16 is also looking into digital privacy after the Government said that Indians do not have a fundamental right to privacy.

MediaNama’s take:
We’ve said it before, we need a privacy law. If you’re a Chennai or Hyderabad resident or were born there, one of your most important national identity papers is online for the world to see and print, and might we add, take advantage of. Digitisation is great, but not at the risk of individual privacy.

Also read:

Is there a fundamental right to privacy in the digital age? Notes from the SFLC.in debate
MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar pushes for a Privacy Law, says IT Ministry’s response in Parliament was “misleading”
Aadhaar and the Waiver of the Right to Privacy
The privacy nightmare that no one in India talks about
Which countries are better at protecting privacy? (BBC, 2013)

Our Privacy and Right to privacy coverage.

Image Credit: Josh Hallett