“If the census of 2021 takes place properly, and if we’re able to make a proper digital format for it, then your Aadhaar card, electoral photo identity card, PAN card, passport can all become one card,” said Union Home Minister Amit Shah at the foundation stone laying ceremony for the new headquarters of Office of Registrar General of India and Census Commissioner.

He emphasised that currently the government isn’t working on any policy to make a single multipurpose ID, but said that the digital census of 2021 will act as a base for such a possibility. He added, “By doing this, we can de-duplicate the electoral roll”.

Digitised census data can be used for analysis: Shah announced that the census of 2021 will be done digitally. “We’ll use a mobile app for the 2021 census of India… People can upload their entire family details via a mobile app for the upcoming census,” the minister said.

While census data on paper will remain, it’s digitised version can be used for lots of analysis, Shah said, before adding, “and only then can we use this data multi-dimensionally”. Shah also said that the transformation from a paper- based census to digital census will be completed after the 2021.

UIDAI allows ‘voluntary’ use of Aadhaar for NPR: The UIDAI has allowed “voluntary” use of Aadhaar card for the compilation of a National Population Register (NPR), per a report in the Economic Times. It said that once Aadhaar details are included in the NPR, it will contain 15 categories of demographic information on citizens who choose to provide their Aadhaar details.

Please note that the Election Commission is already pushing for the linkage of Aadhaar and voter ID. In a letter to the Law Ministry last month, the EC sought amendments to the Representation of the People Act, 1950 so that it has grounds to link voter ID with Aadhaar card.

Problems with an all-in-one ID

Amit Shah’s proposal means breaking down silos that exist between different databases. However, people’s data is more secure when it is surrounded by silos. The government has also proposed breaking silos between databases in the Economic Survey 2018-19.  In a post in 2017, MediaNama’s Founder and Editor, Nikhil Pahwa had highlighted the problems that arise by having an all-encompassing ID. Here are some excellent reasons for not having a national ID:

1. Linking multiple datasets creates a single point of failure: Linking multiple databases to a single ID is harmful for citizens, and puts them at risk. Federated means of identification ensures that people can identify themselves where needed without necessarily compromising the only ID they have. A credit card theft doesn’t affect a debit card usage. A theft of a drivers license as an identity doesn’t affect collection of bank subsidy. However, the more linkages you create for a single ID, and the more places people use it, the risk of identity theft increases.

2. Don’t forget NATGRID: Home Minister Amit Shah is also keen on reviving NATGRID – a national intelligence grid which is linked to multiple public and private databases together, and is available to intelligence agencies. In all likeliness, having a single ID is only going to make data collection easier for NATGRID. Also, a single, all-encompassing ID, is more likely to form the basis of a mass surveillance system.

3. The Aadhaar card isn’t reliable in itself: The Wire had reported that a Pakistani spy and ‘Lord Hanuman’ were not just able to gain Aadhaar numbers but also link them to LPG connections. Debayan Roy, a journalist with CNN-IBN, was able to get an Aadhaar in a fake name by using a fake drivers licenseTerror suspects have been caught with Aadhaar cards. Imagine if that Pakistani spy and ‘Lord Hanuman’ also get included in the census using their Aadhaar cards!

4. We still DON’T have a data protection law: Making an all-in-one ID which is linked to every government ID that you have, collecting census data of the second most populated country in the world on a mobile app – all this is being talked about in the absence of a data protection law in the country. We launched Aadhaar in the absence of a data protection law all those years ago, and it would be a similar blunder to have this all-in-one ID without one too.

Here’s Amit Shah’s speech: