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Standing Committee on IT is taking a closer look at the UIDAI’s security and surveillance possibilities

The government has initiated multiple projects that seed citizen data with Aadhaar in the absence of a privacy law.

Amidst new Aadhaar linkages with health and voter IDs, the Standing Committee on Information Technology has started looking into privacy and profiling concerns with the UIDAI, it is learnt. On November 16, the committee summoned UIDAI CEO Saurabh Garg and IT Secretary Ajay Sawhney to provide answers with relation to UIDAI’s safety measures.

The committee asked for details on the number of hackings the UIDAI database has seen, the steps the authority takes to secure the database, and how it addresses concerns of 360-degree surveillance with the authority’s Aadhaar database being linked with multiple other IDs.

Garg has been asked to return with written answers to the committee’s questions although a date has not been given for it and the committee also plans to summon others on the matter but no such communication has been issued yet, it is understood. During the session, two reports – one on internet shutdowns and another on ethical standards in media coverage were also adopted. The reports are expected to be tabled during the winter session of Parliament, which begins on November 29.

Aadhaar is increasingly being linked with several other government IDs like PAN, Ration cards, etc with a proposal to link it with Voter-IDs reportedly in the works as well. Privacy experts have repeatedly flagged such linking saying that it could lead to the creation of 360-degree surveillance machinery abetting voter profiling, frauds, and more.

Developments related to Aadhaar linkages

Aadhaar linkages have been taking place on multiple fronts, with various IDs:

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WIth birth and death records:  The Union Home Ministry is presently inviting consultations on its proposal to link birth and death records with Aadhaar by amending the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969.

With Voter IDs: The Ministry of Information and Technology has reportedly sent a letter to the UIDAI endorsing the authorisation Voter-ID linkage with Aadhaar.

With database on unorganised workers: The Ministry of Labour and Employment is issuing a (voluntarily) Aadhaar-seeded 12-digit E-Shram card as part of the National Database of Unorganised Workers.

With the Health ID: The Health Ministry is undertaking voluntary Aadhaar-based authentication to create a Unique Health Identifier or National Health ID which is a unique ID under the ministry’s Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission.

State-level IDs: The Haryana government started an Aadhaar-linked Family ID for permanently residing families to avail government welfare schemes in 2019. That year, Tamil Nadu also started allotting an Aadhaar-linked Makkal number, which tied up various departmental records of a citizen.

Other issues on the IT Committee’s agenda

According to the agenda notified by the IT Committee in October, here are the some of the other key issues it plans on taking up in 2021-22:

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  1. Safeguarding citizens’ rights, data security, privacy, and prevention of misuse of social/online news media platforms including special emphasis on women security in the digital space
  2. Digital Payment and Online Security measures for data protection
  3. Promotion of Electronics/IT Hardware/telecom equipment manufacturing sector under Make in India and measures for reduction of imports
  4. Reviewing the functioning of the Telecom Regulatory Authority and state telecom providers like BSNL, MTNL
  5. Internet shutdowns and their impact
  6. Review of the information Technology Act 2001 and the Telegraph Act, 1885

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Written By

I cover health technology for MediaNama, among other things. Reach me at anushka@medianama.com

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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