India's latest economic survey makes a case to use Aadhaar to create a master database for every citizen

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India's latest economic survey makes a case to use Aadhaar to create a master database for every citizen
K Subramanian's India economic survey 2019 has recommended that all data that is spread out across departments and private institutions be linked with Aadhaar at the centre.
  • K Subramanian's India economic survey 2019 has a dedicated chapter on use of data by government.
  • The survey recommends that all data that is spread out across departments and private institutions be linked with Aadhaar at the centre.
  • 'Efficient use' of data available with the government is the objective, the survey said.
  • Use of Aadhaar as a mother database to track a citizen's activities has been a contentious issue for the last few years.
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The latest economic survey recommendation on Aadhaar, India's unique biometric identity for citizens, may reignite the fierce debate around the programme.

K Subramanian's India economic survey 2019 has recommended that all data that is spread out across departments and private institutions be linked with Aadhaar at the centre. "The prospect of empowering the government with such comprehensive, exhaustive information about every citizen may sound alarming at first. However, this is far from the truth. First, large quantities of data already exist in government records, and the objective is only to use this data in a more efficient way, the survey said.

Use of Aadhaar as a mother database to track a citizen's activities has been a contentious issue in India for the last few years. As it stands today, while Aadhaar has become an inevitable proof demanded by providers of all kinds of services even though it is not mandatory as per a Supreme Court ruling. "When one adds an Aadhaar number to an existing database such as a database of bank accounts, it is only one more column that is added to the table. The linking is so to speak “one-way”. Banks can now use the tokenized Aadhaar Number (i.e., a proxy 64-digit number that is based on, but not equal to the individual’s 12-digit Aadhaar Number) to combine duplicate records and weed out benaami accounts. But, this does not mean that the UIDAI or government can now read the bank account information or other data related to the individual," the survey noted.

Making a case to link all citizen's data, the survey cited the examples from the United Kingdom and the United States. "At last count, more than 600 apps were being powered specifically using the Transport For London open data feeds, used by 42% of Londoners," Subramanian's survey said and it added that it led to savings of £70m-£95m per year in time, reduced uncertainty and lower information costs.

The question of consent


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The proposal envisioned here does not gather any new information; rather, it seeks to make available all data within the government for citizens, government, private and public institutions to utilize the data subject to user consent and appropriate privacy and fairness related constraints. 4.35 Second, people can always opt out of divulging data to the government, where possible. For example, one can choose not to participate in a survey or use government-run payments services. There are exceptions, of course, the survey said without elaborating on what they are.

The concerns

While the ideological debate on whether the government should have access to a citizen's private life through the digital infrastructure has enough takers on both sides, one thing that continues to be a concern to one and all is the how secure is the Aadhaar database itself.

Time and again, the government has been pushed into the defensive by stories of data leaks which the government has had to deny but the biometric identity programme has never quite earned the citizen's trust fully. It is another matter that institutions, both private and public, have made the use of Aadhaar mandatory even to access basic services but the demand has been met more with annoyance than with pleasure.

SEE ALSO:
Latest Aadhaar leak may have hit 6.7 million Indians, alleges Elliot Alderson

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