The constitutional validity of Aadhaar has been upheld by the Supreme Court of India. The judgment agrees with UIDAI’s submissions, that the security of Aadhaar data is ensured at every stage of enrolment and storage.
Majority judges also agree with UIDAI on how surveillance is not possible by UIDAI or any of the entities regulated under the Aadhaar Act, with minimal collection of data. However, without a legal definition of surveillance, one can argue that any form of tracking which may cause potential harm to an individual, can be considered ‘surveillance’.
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Data Collection & Surveillance
Surveillance comes in many forms; even people looking at you with their eyes is referred to as natural surveillance in urban studies. American author and activist Jane Jacobs always believed natural surveillance can be used in urban planning and design to reduce crime by making people look at the surroundings. Not all forms of surveillance are intrusive in nature, but any form of mass surveillance or surveillance without legal sanctions are bad in a democracy.
Many states like Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and 13 other states have been building State Resident Data Hubs and are increasingly collecting information of citizens with the purpose of electronic governance and ‘good governance’. Aadhaar to them is an important asset and has eased the task of linking various databases to build profiles of citizens to track whether they pay taxes or not.
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Andhra Pradesh Govt & Surveillance
But this building of profiles has crossed the limits of legitimate state interest and has brought in concepts of 360-degree profiles. Andhra Pradesh is championing this cause and wants to track every governance activity and citizen real-time, for real-time governance.
The Andhra Pradesh real-time governance operating system e-Pragathi (e-progress) mandatorily uses Aadhaar and includes a 360-degree database which is part of its architecture called People Hub.
A presentation on People Hub presented to the Cabinet by UIDAI part-time Chairman J. Satyanarayana shows its architecture, and how it will be a single source of truth about citizens to the government. Accordingly, Andhra Pradesh has used a statewide survey to collect personal information of residents including geotagged information of their residential address using Aadhaar eKYC.
All of the Aadhaar data collected for People Hub under various schemes by the Government of Andhra Pradesh has been published by them, effectively leaking it to everyone on the Internet.
A look at some of these leaks shows us that any non-state actor on the internet could have built a surveillance database using this information.
Leaky Citizen Databases
Aadhaar-linked geo-tagged location of residents
Aadhaar-based search portal of residents:
Aadhaar-linked pregnant women’s health profiles
Aadhaar-linked property owners’ profiles
Aadhaar, Religion, Caste, Occupation-linked geotagged profiles of housing scheme beneficiaries
Aadhaar-linked electricity bills
An Orwellian Society
All these Aadhaar-based profiles and many more such databases are linked to create 360-degree profiles by Andhra Pradesh government. This case has shown the problems with Aadhaar which UIDAI and government won’t accept. The thin line between governance and surveillance is decreasing with the information the government is collecting and linking with the help of Aadhaar.
So effectively, surveillance becomes a form of governance and the courts are approving this form of governance.
(Disclaimer: All the screenshots of Aadhaar data and citizens’ profiles cited are from publicly available websites, which were collected by the author and have been reported to concerned authorities part of his cyber security research work.)
(Srinivas Kodali is a independent researcher working on the intersection of cities, data and the internet. He volunteers with internet communities in India. He tweets at @digitaldutta. This is an opinion piece. Views expressed in the article are that of the author’s own. The Quint does not advocate nor is responsible for them.)