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[Aadhaar debate] 5 more questions for critics

Ritesh Dwivedy
16th May 2017
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Aadhaar is a transformational Indian innovation that will help make India a developed nation. The benefits are enormous, and the whole world is amazed by the potential of Aadhaar.

I support all efforts and encourage all constructive arguments to improve the Aadhaar system. However, there is an ‘anti-Aadhaar’ brigade that is not interested in improvements, and they use half-truths and spread confusion to advance their own interests.

The card of contention.

A few days ago, I asked five questions to this anti-Aadhaar brigade. Their responses have left me disappointed. Allow me to ask a few more questions, and provide some clarification to my previous questions and to the points raised by them:

Why speak half-truths and ignore the lakhs of people who are getting benefits for the first time because of Aadhaar?

You claim Aadhaar is excluding the needy.

For example, Andhra Pradesh went through a public distribution system (PDS) clean-up exercise. While doing so, nine lakh families were found who were excluded by the earlier system. Thanks to Aadhaar, they are now receiving the benefits they deserve and need. In this process, there are 100-200 families who are left out. (They are still getting benefits, but not via Aadhaar). The government is working on making it 100 percent effective.

So, you tell me, which is a better system? One that excludes nine lakh families, or the one that is missing 200?

It would have taken years to include those nine lakh families via the older system. Now, the system is fast, accurate, and inclusive. Even if we have an issue with one in a million, we end up with 1,200 issues (with a population of 1.2 billion). While we should work towards resolving any issues, should we judge the system for its one percent failure or for its 99 percent successes?

So, the anti-Aadhaar brigade should answer this: How many people were excluded from getting any benefits earlier? How many people used to get only a small percentage of the ration or subsidy?

Will you judge a programme only from its worst implementation?

You highlighted implementation in a few places where the PDS implementation is not smooth. Hence, Aadhaar has failed.

Here is an example: Zimbabwe and Pakistan have failed in implementing democracy. There have been critics of democracy. Do we then scrap democracy from every place, saying democracy is bad and has to be stopped?

While you are mentioning about few instances where Aadhaar implementation needs improvement, you do not mention those places where Aadhaar has excelled and in some cases excelled beyond the best expectations.

Why are you equating Aadhaar with unrelated events, and defaming the programme?

You wish for a utopian world. You also think there would be a magic wand, which will solve all problems by a mere swish and flick. If you were to believe me, everyone has a similar dream and if that were true we wouldn’t need military, government, currency, and even Aadhaar.

You claim Aadhaar does not solve problems that it was anyways not meant to solve. Timeliness, or quality of rice, or quantity or absence of bribery. Why stop here? You are looking at one solution that solves all issues.

While the government and agencies claimed that it will remove duplication, and hence reduce corruption, you start questioning its impact on other forms of corruption, and since Aadhaar does not solve various forms of corruption it was not meant to solve, you say, 'well let’s not implement it!' It is unrealistic to expect one idea to serve as an elixir for all the curse this society endures.

In the earlier Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) system, middlemen would take a standard 30-percent cut to disburse salary amounts - this is actual ground data from villages in north Bihar. There were innumerable reports of people not getting MNREGA work and the prescribed remunerations (an actual trip to the villages might not be required, a simple Google search will help corroborate).

Moreover, with the Aadhaar-enabled PDS (AePDS), an eligible beneficiary can collect ration from any ration shop in the state, instead of only one specific shop. By creating competition, Aadhaar empowers the poorest Indians who were helpless earlier; if a ration shop owner was a thief or a crook, or was cheating in any way, they can now go to any other ration shop.

My claim is that things are getting better, faster than they have in any old system. It is the power of exponential systems versus the linear ones. This is why we must back Aadhaar.

Why are you creating deliberate confusion again between data disclosures and so-called ‘data hacks’? If this is not fear mongering, then what is?

The Aadhaar data disclosures were data voluntarily published by government agencies for transparency and RTI purposes. Here is a good article on it. Whereas the cases like Ashley Madison or other data leaks are actual cases of hacking, where the data was stolen from their database.

The second example on how Aadhaar is increasing the risk for data being stolen is equally misleading. Let’s assume the Aadhaar database is hacked. The hacker would get Aadhaar ID, your KYC (which is anyways public), and your encoded biometrics (not of much use). For example, using this information, they cannot get your bank details, because Aadhaar does not store any information about which bank it is linked to and the account number. This data is saved with the banks' databases.

In my opinion, the anti-Aadhaar brigade is fairly aware of the nuances and the differences between hacking and data disclosures, yet they are spreading half-truths and creating confusion. The facts remain that there has been no hacking of the UIDAI database, no leak of biometric information, and the systems will only get stronger going forward. Yes, there have been instances of agencies or individuals disclosing some data. A strong data protection and privacy law will address such problems.

In fact, Aadhaar-based biometric authentication is much safer than the existing systems we use.

Do you know the various ways in which your PAN card can be used for fraud? For example, there are jewellers who used to steal PAN card copies from travel agents and SIM card sellers, so that they could buy and sell jewellery in your name worth crores of rupees. You must also know that identity theft is rampant in the US, because their system does not have a strong authentication process for financial transactions.

This is where Aadhaar authentication could keep us safe. For example, for high-value transactions, banks and service providers could be required to confirm presence either with password/PIN-based authentication or with biometric authentication. That way, you have multiple layers of security, which is the best defense to the risk of identity theft.

If this is not fear mongering, then what is?

The CIS report published is illegal. In the case of finding a vulnerability of any system, like a bank, the entity is required to inform the right authorities, and only after the issue is fixed, they would be able to write about it. If not, the person could be arrested and put in jail on illegal hacking charges. (What the CIS did was irresponsible, and proves malicious intent written all over.)

Will you support a strong data protection and privacy law for India, instead of just being negative, and in your bid to destroy Aadhaar?

India does not have any data protection and privacy law. This is a big risk in this digital age. Our smartphones and Internet usage generate huge amounts of personal data. Private companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and telecom companies and phone manufacturers store this data with little or no regulation.

Data protection and privacy laws are needed, irrespective of Aadhaar. I call on all my technologically-aware and vigilant compatriots to join the movement to create a strong data protection and privacy law for India.

The law should be designed for the modern technology age, and it should protect the rights of every Indian citizen as well as our national security.

No good can be achieved with a negative attitude and attacking the government on flimsy grounds. Even if you talk about data protection or privacy, why will anyone in the government listen to you?

 

For those who are genuinely interested in bringing a strong data protection and privacy law or those who want to polish the rough edges around Aadhaar, let’s work together. I have become a part of #SupportAadhaar campaign, which aims to do this. Bring positive changes and improvements in the system, while supporting the goodness of Aadhaar.

Once again, I reiterate that we should not oppose the use of technology, especially when it benefits one-billion-plus people of the nation. This may sound clichéd and to some folks canned but I truly believe that this is an important step for India as a nation to develop and raise its masses out of poverty.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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