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From Cradle to Grave: UIDAI Pilot To Link Aadhaar to Newborn Children and Death Records

Similar proposals to link birth and death-related data to national databases have been challenged for allegedly violating the Right to Privacy and heightening surveillance. 

Pilot projects that link Aadhaar numbers to death records and to newborn children will begin soon, reported Economic Times

Citing unnamed senior officials of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the projects aim to prevent the misuse of Aadhaar, expand its presence across the subcontinent, and stem the steady flow of money from the public exchequer to the Aadhaar-linked bank accounts of deceased persons. 

These projects mark steps to link Aadhaar numbers to people—quite literally from birth to death. Last year, similar proposals to link birth and death records to the National Population Registry, Aadhaar, and other national databases, were challenged for allegedly violating the Right to Privacy and heightening surveillance.

According to the UIDAI public dashboard, the number of Aadhaar numbers generated to date stands at over 1.33 billion. While 93% of the country’s population aged 5-18 are linked to Aadhaar, only around a quarter of children below 5 have Aadhaar numbers.

How Will Aadhaar Be Linked to Newborns?

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According to the former Director-General of UIDAI, the proposal to link Aadhaar numbers to newborn children has been in place since the program’s inception.

  • Now, when the pilot is executed, newborn children will be allocated a temporary Aadhaar number. This number will be used until they are at least five years old—after which their biometric data can be collected and linked to their Aadhaar number. Once they hit 18, their data will be re-registered, as it is presumed that after this their ‘biometric parameters’ would be stable for the rest of their adult lives. 
  • The officials stated that linking the data from a young age brings both children and families within the social security net, ensuring that they aren’t excluded from government welfare. Additionally, re-linking the individual’s data to the same Aadhaar number at 18 will ensure that multiple IDs are not created for the (erstwhile) child. 
  • In a report published in April this year, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) came down heavily on the UIDAI for issuing Aadhaar numbers to children below five without establishing the uniqueness of their biometrics—which it said violated the tenets of the Aadhaar Act. Additionally, up till March 2019, it stated that the UIDAI had incurred ‘avoidable expenditure’ on Bal Aadhaar numbers.
  • Reports suggest that newborn children have been allocated Aadhaar numbers for years now. In 2016, in an attempt to ensure wider enrolment and welfare delivery, the Union requested states to assign a parent’s Aadhaar number to their newborn child at birth registration. Under this pilot project, biometric data would be collected at the age of 5 and re-registered at 15. Aside from the logistical issues of the 2016 pilot project, at large, collecting children’s data raises concerns about consent and privacy for a vulnerable population yet to be protected by a comprehensive data privacy law.

How Will Aadhaar Be Linked to Death Records?

The officials cited a cross-verification process to ensure that there are minimal duplication errors while linking death records.

  • To that end, not only will death records be linked to Aadhaar numbers, but they will also be cross-verified with birth registration data at the city and state-level. UIDAI may also approach the relevant public or private hospital for the deceased’s data to ensure that no duplication errors occur.
  • Linking Aadhaar numbers to death records is an attempt to curtail the Union’s losses due to outgoing direct transfers. According to (disputed) government estimates, just under half a million people died in India due to COVID-19. However, the government claims that for some, their Aadhaar numbers are still active. As a result, direct bank transfers from the government continue to be automatically credited to their bank accounts and withdrawn—an ‘undesirable’ outcome for public finances.

How Else is UIDAI Claiming to Counter the Misuse of Aadhaar?

Two issues cited by the officials were the use of fake Aadhaar numbers, as well as multiple people using a single Aadhaar card. 

  • This may happen because people don’t have the documents required to sign up for an Aadhaar number. 
  • The forthcoming ‘Zero Aadhaar’ number may counter misuse of this variety of misuse. This number is assigned to anyone who cannot furnish proof of income, birth, or residence. 
  • To obtain this number, they have to be initiated into the Aadhaar system by an ‘introducer’. An introducer is a trusted individual periodically notarised by regional UIDAI authorities to bring people into its network. They are verified by the authority with an ‘electronic sign’. The sign signals that the introducer is trustworthy—and helps the UIDAI monitor the number of people integrated into the system by them.
  • An official also hinted at plans to link Aadhaar numbers with their corresponding entries in national datasets—such as for PAN or driving licenses. This ties all data points to a single person, preventing the use of Aadhaar by multiple people.

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