Bill Gates Brings Aadhaar Discussions to Spotlight

Discussions on Aadhaar have once again garnered momentum as Microsoft Chief Bill Gates has expressed that for other nations Aadhaar technology is worth following. We are all aware that the Supreme Court has entered its fourth month with the Aadhaar hearing. On the flipside, the nation is actively exploring the data breach theories.

Instead of the most recent events, it was reported that Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had provided the World Bank with funds to implement the Aadhaar technology in other countries. During a media interaction on May 2, 2018, the Microsoft chief stated that Infosys founder and the chief architect of Aadhaar technology, Nandan Nilekani, had been providing consultations to the World Bank and helping it with the project.

Also, Bill Gates has also cited that Aadhaar in itself is not a breach of privacy. This is because, according to him, Aadhaar is just a bio ID authentication system. He also stated that problem lies with the specific applications that utilize Aadhaar. These applications have to check the content that has been stored and even the ones with access to that information. He furthered his statement by saying that management of these applications has to make sure that everything is organized.

Let us now discuss the Aadhaar issue, as a whole.


Why Aadhaar?


The government of India had initiated a unique identity system (UID) which made use of cards known as Aadhaar cards. The purpose of launching an identity system of that sort was to distribute various benefits to the citizen of India. These benefits included the LPG grant and MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) earnings. The project was launched in 2009 while being run by the Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI) which was headed by Nilekani.

Aadhaar acts as a nationally acceptable identity card which can be used in:

  • Availing subsidies
  • Acquiring a passport
  • Opening bank accounts
  • Drawing pension
  • Utilizing the Jan Dhan Yojana
  • Disbursing the provident fund
  • Having a digital life certification


The Aadhaar Data-Breach


Concerns started piling over one another after people realized that the personal information collected by Aadhaar is highly detailed and are of extreme importance. The crisis initiated when reports came out stating that after collection of data it is not being treated with the needed sensitivity for privacy issues. While such matters were making headlines, Aadhaar data gathered by Reliance Jio was revealed online. In fact, the information became broadly available to several hackers. According to the UIDAI, almost two-hundred-plus government websites were openly exhibiting private Aadhaar data. Furthermore, another issue of breach came into existence when classified Aadhaar information was being sold for INR 500 in Jalandhar.


During August 2017, Wikileaks generated a tweet stating that the American company, which sells fingerprint and Iris scanning apparatus, had collaborated with the CIA to spot Osama Bin Laden. The tweet mentioned that the same company was supplying biometric tools to India. It was speculated that the CIA could hack the Aadhaar database and gain access. In fact, the flow of data to multiple foreign agencies is also something which is being continually feared.


Indian Government Takes Steps


The leaked data which were available on the government websites had been taken down by the government of India. However, the government stated that the data leaked cannot be scoured from databases belonging to the hackers. The issue about privacy and Aadhaar was taken to the Supreme Court and discussed in 2017.


During those discussions, the Center for Internet and Society provided a report which noted that data about 135 million Indians might have been leaked. The government of India identified a loophole which had permitted access to such data. The government stated that by using that loophole, hackers had been finding a route to enter and my data. Later on, the loophole was fixed by authorities.


Linking Your Aadhaar: The Legal Side


The Supreme Court has entered its fourth month regarding the Aadhaar hearing. The hearing had started regarding linking the Aadhaar with bank accounts, cell phone networks and more. The primary question which was asked in the SC was whether Aadhaar should be made compulsory.


At the most recent hearing, senior counsel Shyam Divan stated that there were two methods of identification – deterministic and probabilistic. He showed diagrams and pointed out the differences in the two ways. He continued with his argument that Aadhaar is a probabilistic method of identification and so it cannot be made mandatory. Furthermore, Divan stressed that equipment used for authentication are of inferior quality, and then described the technical facet of Aadhaar.


During the hearing, Justice Chandrachud also exclaimed that in case of manual laborers or old people, the biometrics might be indecipherable. In that context, Divan furthered his argument that informed consent was absent when the Aadhaar enrollment was taking place. He cited that the ones who enrolled had no awareness of the repercussions. The hearing also talked about how the enrollers parted away with most intimate personal details which make the entire design defective.


With Bill Gates’ foundation funding money to the World Bank to incorporate an Aadhaar-like system in other nations, the Microsoft chief noted that the advantages of that fundamental Aadhaar ID are quite high. He expressed that countries must implement the system because the excellence of governance has a high impact on how fast nations can thrive in their economy and encourage their people. Earlier in January 2018, twenty countries including Russia, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia had shown interests in espousing Aadhaar technology in their territories. Although India is discussing the privacy issue of Aadhaar and if it needs to get compulsory, the technology is somewhat beneficial. Measures must be taken to fine-tune the technique and prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.

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