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India working on creating a common database with family as the unit: MeitY in Parliament

The IT Ministry promised adequate security measures for the database but was mum on the details.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has initiated a proof of concept to understand the feasibility of creating a common database with family as the unit, the ministry said in the Lok Sabha on December 1.

MeitY was responding to a question on whether the Indian government was considering developing a National Social Registry. It was a no from the ministry which cited government welfare schemes as the reason for a common database with family as the unit, by reasoning —

Since a large number of government welfare programmes provide benefits to family as the unit, an accurate family database is considered important for administering such programmes. Various departments of State and Central Governments have been developing such databases for specific schemes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Housing, Healthcare etc (sic) — MeitY in Parliament

The creation of more databases without proper data protection legislation raises questions on issues such as surveillance and privacy. The last publicly available draft of the Personal Data Protection Bill, exempts governments and its agencies from various provisions of the bill. The Joint Parliamentary Committee which was deliberating the bill for the last 2 years, is slated to submit its report in the ongoing Winter Session of the Parliament.

Have taken measures for data security: MeitY

MeitY in context to the proof of concept for the creation of a database with family as the unit said,” ..(the government) has taken adequate measures to ensure integrity and security of data…” However, it did not provide any further details on what those measures were.

The question by BJP MP Varun Gandhi also pointed out that in the case of Puttawasmy vs Union of India, it was ruled by the Supreme Court that profiling of citizens by the state could result in discrimination based on religion, ethnicity, and caste.

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A look at other government databases in the pipeline

National database for registered births and deaths: The central government wants to create a national database for registered births and deaths, a proposed amendment to the Registration of Births and Deaths Act 1969 indicates. The database would be used to update multiple records, including the National Population Register (NPR) and the Aadhaar database.

Farmers’ database: The Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare (MoAFW) has started ‘internally’ issuing 12-digit unique IDs to farmers as part of a database it is creating on all 140 million Indian farmers, according to an Indian Express report. The database includes 55 million farmers so far, Vivek Aggarwal, head of the Ministry’s Digital Agriculture Division, told Indian Express. The ministry plans to include 30 million more before a ‘launch’ in December, he added.

Kerala Health Database: The state government in Kerala which has the country’s oldest digital health system is planning to create a database of all adults over the age of 30. State health minister Veena George made the announcement during an event on November 6, according to a report by The News Minute.

Tamil Nadu’s State Family Database: The Tamil Nadu government is developing the State Family Database (SFDB), a mammoth e-governance project announced in January 2019. The project, which falls under the aegis of the Tamil Nadu e-Governance Agency (TNeGA), involves building a cross-departmental database of electronic records for all the citizens of the state.

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

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