India Aadhaar ID cards: Collecting biometric data from 1bn people
The idea of getting biometric data – fingerprint and iris scans – of a billion people would seem to be an impossibly complex task.
But the Indian government is in the final stages of enrolling all of its citizens in the world’s largest ID system. Siva Parameswaran of the BBC’s Tamil Service finds out how they did it.
The system is known as Aadhaar, which means foundation.
It started as a voluntary programme to help tackle benefit fraud – and is now described as “the largest and most sophisticated ID database in the world”.
Once the government committed to it – with the hope that it would be able to use it to raise more taxes, register voters and identify the hundreds of millions of drivers using false licences – it began taking the details of people whenever they came into contact with state agencies.
Biometric details were – and continue to be – recorded in schools, hospitals, childcare centres and special camps.
Aadhaar’s website claims that 90% of Indians are now registered, though this figure is disputed by activists.
How does it work?
Aadhaar, or a Unique Identification Number, is allocated to every Indian and remains their national identity document forever.
It has become virtually impossible to do anything financial without it – such as opening a bank account or filing a tax return.
However, the scheme does in theory remain voluntary, and the highest court is hearing a petition on making it compulsory; the final judgement is awaited.
Why is it controversial?
When Indian cricket star MS Dhoni accidentally had his number published on Twitter in March 2017, it exposed the many worries Indians have about having one single code so crucial to many aspects of their lives.
One fear is that it will become a method of financial surveillance.
Questions have also been raised about the moral authority of the government to force citizens to share biometric data. Activists say it is breach of the UN’s Fundamental Right of Privacy.
People’s Union for Civil Liberties activist Suresh told the BBC that citizens were not briefed about the implications of sharing their private data, but did so as they feared they would not be able to carry out financial transactions, gain admission to educational institutions and access subsidised food products from government-run shops.
“There is no guarantee that the data will not be leaked and also no accountability structure is in place,” Suresh explained.
Activists also fear that it will be impossible to ensure that data will not be misused or abused, though authorities told the BBC that all the biometric data was well protected.
Investigative reporter Saikat Datta of the Observer Research Foundation says that Aadhaar has been converted into “the world’s biggest surveillance engine.”
And while India has a billion phones, laws for protecting the data on those phones are antiquated.
When the National Identification Authority of India Bill was introduced in 2016, it was sent to a special committee of the Parliament, whose members made scathing remarks about the project.
This committee recommended that enactment of legislation on data protection and privacy law was a “prerequisite” for the Aadhaar scheme.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, also strongly criticised the scheme in 2014.
But Aadhaar’s authorities say their data protection goes far beyond what is required in the law.
Here is an Indian discussion on this.
From Great Game India
The Indian government is planning to launch a mandatory digital health card modeled on Bill Gates’ concept. Under the ‘One Nation One Health Card’ scheme, a person’s medical history records, including all the treatments and tests that the person has undergone, will be digitally saved in this card. Hospitals, clinics, and doctors will all be linked to a central server. The move is aimed at mapping the health records of every citizen of the country in a digital format.
One Nation One Health Card
After the ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ scheme, the Government is now preparing to bring ‘One Nation One Health Card’ scheme. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to make the announcement on August 15, during the Independence Day celebrations, reported DNA.
Under the ‘One Nation One Health Card’ scheme, a person’s medical history records, including all the treatments and tests that the person has undergone, will be digitally saved in this card.
Hospitals, clinics, and doctors will all be linked to a central server. The move is aimed at mapping the health records of every citizen of the country in a digital format. Although it is being claimed that “it is completely up to hospitals and citizens, whether they want to opt for the ‘One Nation One Health Card’ scheme or not”.
Are we living in data privacy myths?
Besides, the scheme is completely up to hospitals/ citizens, whether they want to opt for the ‘One Nation One Health Card’ scheme or not. https://t.co/AGuRdeVVU9
— biju govind (@bijugovind) August 9, 2020
A unique ID will be issued to every citizen who opts for this card, through which he/she will be able to log in to the system. Health Card will be made on the lines of Aaadhar Card, reported DNA.
The scheme will be implemented in a phase-wise manner. A budget of Rs 500 crore has been allotted for the first phase of the plan. According to DNA, “the scope of the ‘One Nation One Health Card’ scheme will be gradually extended so that not only clinics and hospitals, but medical stores and medical insurance companies can remain connected on the server through this scheme”.
National Digital Health Blueprint
Although the DNA report did not disclose more details about the project, the ‘blueprint’ of the plan to set up a health data empire in India was released by the central govt last year. Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Dr Harsh Vardhan, unveiled the ‘National Digital Health Blueprint’, saying that he was ‘taking an oath to achieve a new dream’ – of a digitised healthcare ecosystem.
The main foundation of the blueprint is a unique health ID for citizens, with Aadhaar as a key identifier. A 2018 proposal of the NITI Aayog, the NHS has been developed in consultation with iSPIRT – an organisation of private sector ‘volunteers’, some of whom have also been involved in building the Aadhaar infrastructure and running operations that leverage it.
While the government has moved ahead with sale of vehicle registration data of millions, released a tender for a nationwide facial recognition system and also passed Aadhaar amendment, the DNA Technology Bill and now the Digital Health Card, it is yet to table the data protection bill.
Lobby Group iSPIRT
Data researchers and activists, however, have expressed concerns about the development of this policy, which proposes a health data set-up on a foundation of India Stack – a bouquet of privately-owned proprietary software applications.
“The health stack was proposed by the lobby group iSPIRT,” told Srinivas Kodali, an independent researcher to The Quint.
IndiaStack is a set of APIs that allows governments, businesses, startups and developers to utilise the Aadhaar infrastructure for businesses like eKYC and UPI digital payments.
“In fact it was found that NITI Aayog was emailing all consultation documents to iSPIRT while they did not place them in public domain. The Blueprint appears to give more legitimacy to stacks, which have been under criticism,” added Kodali.
Simultaneously, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has initiated a COVID-19 Surveillance Project in India in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. The data gathered through full-scale surveillance will be used to make future Indian strategies for containment in India.
Although, what “future strategies for containment” will be implemented by WHO’s pointman in India were not revealed, similar projects by the agency and related organisations implemented elsewhere give us a clear idea of where India is heading.
Vaccination based Digital Identity
A vaccination based digital identity program Trust Stamp funded by Bill Gates and implemented by Mastercard and GAVI, will soon link your biometric digital identity to your vaccination records. The program said to “evolve as you evolve” is part of the Global War on Cash and has the potential dual use for the purposes of surveillance and “predictive policing” based on your vaccination history. Those who may not wish to be vaccinated may be locked out of the system based on their trust score.
This Wellness Program involving GAVI, Mastercard, and Trust Stamp is soon going to be tested in West Africa. Similar program was also launched in the UK. The UK government is rolling out COVI PASS – Biometric RFID enabled Coronavirus Digital Health Passports to monitor nearly every aspect of citizens’ lives in the name of strengthening public health management through a military grade tech.
There is tremendous pressure on sovereign governments to implement such policies dictated by global agencies. Recently Belarus exposed the conditions laid by these agencies for loans being provided for COVID-19. The President of Belarus revealed that the World Bank coronavirus aid comes with conditions for imposing extreme lockdown measures, to model their coronavirus response on that of Italy and even changes in the economic policies which he refused as being “unacceptable”.