Aadhaar overkill

Originally conceived as an empowerment tool, it is disempowering citizens now
Times of India – Unique identification was originally sold to citizens as a way to efficiently deliver welfare benefits without duplication and pilferage by intermediaries. In the last couple of years, however, it has grown into an all-encompassing Leviathan even as there has been little progress on welfare. On one hand we have central and state governments conceiving uses for Aadhaar in everything from property to death registration, hailing ambulances to getting rations.

The enthusiasm has rubbed off on the private sector too, with three-year-olds requiring Aadhaar for nursery admissions and job opportunities tied to Aadhaar submission.

Making biometrics a keystone to access so many essential services invades privacy, increases the potential for abuse, makes doing business difficult and ties up everyday activities in red tape. Fake Aadhaar card rackets have been busted that allegedly exploited vulnerabilities in the UIDAI enrollment ecosystem.

Biometric verification is susceptible to failures and unauthorized usage. Poor connectivity, lax cyber security and data storage standards heighten the risks. All-encompassing Aadhaar linkages create the framework for mass surveillance and enhanced cybercrime.

It’s time to roll back the Aadhaar empire and initiate restrictions on its mandatory use. more>

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Aadhaar After Privacy

By Ananth Padmanabhan, Madhav Khosla – This attempt to present a fait accompli of sorts when the constitutional challenge to Aadhaar comes up for hearing is not a new development. Yet, the Court’s privacy verdict has put both linking and enrollment efforts on overdrive. Even private actors have stepped on the accelerator, and not a day goes by without mails and messages from banks and telecom companies asking customers to link their Aadhaar number with their bank accounts and mobile numbers, respectively.

But amidst all this bustle, what are Aadhaar’s realistic chances of survival post-Puttaswamy?

The fear of a digital panopticon is real for the simple reason that desirous individuals need not necessarily approach the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) to form a complete picture of the various services availed by a citizen. The authentication records also exist in the multiple government offices, ration shops, and other service centers from where welfare benefits are disbursed to citizens.

In fact, the data leakages ailing Aadhaar have all occurred thus far from similar end-points where personnel in charge of our data have little training and even lesser interest in keeping such authentication records confidential.

The data leakages, in fact, are telling not only because they challenge the mantra that the program is technologically safe, and not only because they simply represent a state program that contains flaws and operates below expectations in practice, but because the nature and upshot of the leakages calls into question the safeguards on which the legitimacy of the program rests.

Furthermore, the UIDAI’s role poses serious institutional and rule of law concerns. On one hand, it is the custodian of the Central Identities Data Repository. On the other hand, it is also the data regulator.

As a regulator, it is tasked with deciding on how to deal with data breaches. Thus, we have a body that has minimal incentive to report or act upon data breaches because a vulnerable database architecture does not bode well for either its financial or power incentives as a data custodian. Any breach is, plainly put, a challenge to its authority. more>

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Make in India is looking more and more like a bad joke

By Abheek Barman – Flashback to September 2014, when PM Narendra Modi unveiled a scheme called, ‘Make in India’ (MII), with a gear-and-cogs lion logo. Three years later MII has, literally, gone off the rails. By October next year, work was supposed to start on the largest MII project: a $2.5 billion venture by America’s GE to make diesel-electric locomotives in Marhaura, in Chhapra, Bihar.

But two weeks ago, New Delhi switched off the Bihar project, saying electric trains were the future. Chief minister Nitish Kumar, who gambled his political future by breaking with a Congress-Lalu Yadav coalition to ally with BJP recently, isn’t amused. He says it’ll take ages to electrify India’s 1,10,000 km of tracks. As a two-time rail mantri and Bihari, Nitish should know.

Against government claims that 96% of Bihar villages are electrified, a 2015 survey found only 8% of households get electricity for 20 hours a day. A staggering 80% of homes don’t use electricity for lighting, but get by with kerosene lamps. An incensed GE wants India to pay it Rs 1,300 crore ($200m) in compensation. Such irony: our loss-making, cash-poor railways will now pay to cancel MII investments. What is New Delhi smoking?

New Delhi thinks electric trains will save India the cost of diesel. Is electricity made out of thin air? A study in the mid-2000s argued that it makes no sense to run heavy freight trains, moving under 100km per hour, with electricity.

For the near-30,000 young people trying, but failing to get jobs every day, Make in India is a joke in poor taste. more> https://goo.gl/rS7R1N

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The British Raj gave us a sense of nationhood but it’s now under threat

By Sunanda K Datta-Ray – Access to contemporary Western thought and literature was part of the liberalizing process for a culture that had for centuries looked inwards, gloating over memories of past achievements that became more mythic as time went on. It was no longer animated by any awareness of other cultures or any sense of competition with them. For all its exploitative faults, colonialism had a wonderfully liberating effect on the stagnant mind of India.

Paradoxically, the twin forces of British promotion and resistance to British rule helped to shape the same sense of national identity. Aravind Akroyd Ghose — later revered as Sri Aurobindo — demonstrated that the most Anglicized Indians were often the most patriotic.

Other British gifts are subject to deterioration. Judges are dilatory, the civil service is corrupt. The railways and post office have succumbed to neglect. Misfortunes of many kinds can and do befall other legacies.

India’s acquired sense of nationhood not only sustains a vigorous independence but, ironically, it also inspires Hindutva champions to look back at the frontiers of the Raj and yearn for an “Akhand Bharat” that existed only under British rule. The greater irony is that the sense of nationhood Britain generated eventually defeated the British.

Whether it will save India from the looming threat of a narrowly majoritarian definition of nation and nationhood remains to be seen. more> https://goo.gl/3ZaiNJ

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Momentous judgment

Locating privacy in the Constitution upholds civil liberties in a digitally networked era
Times of India – The 9-0 Supreme Court judgment pronouncing right to privacy as a fundamental right intrinsic to the right to life and personal liberty protected by Article 21 is a great victory for the Indian citizen. Without the right to privacy there is no defense against an Orwellian surveillance state, or against data and identity theft and misuse.

Previous SC judgments had mixed views on recognizing privacy as a fundamental right. The recognition that it needed a larger nine-judge bench to settle the matter conclusively led us to yesterday’s momentous judgment. We live in a time when technology allows the state to conceive an Aadhaar database that can uniquely identify a billion plus residents, where private corporations with and without consent amass vast storehouses of personal data, and arms of the state and vigilante forces use the power of law and lawlessness to intrude into homes in search of beef, homosexual persons, and even witches.

The tendency to wrest ownership of data away from individuals and expand Aadhaar to every conceivable arena must now surmount the privacy check. Governments, corporations and individuals must fall in line. more> https://goo.gl/RUK7ti

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Junk today’s secularism

India needs a reinvented secularism 2.0 rooted in separation of religion and state
By Bhanu Dhamija – India’s ambitious experiment with freedom of religion has failed. Our insipid brand of secularism, based on states’ active engagement amid stated religious neutrality, has led to the appeasement of a few, but empowers none and brings injustice for all. Instead of uniting our society, it has fomented fragmentation and alienation among our diverse religious communities.

The Hindu majority has now risen against years of over-accommodation of the Muslim minority. This puts the country at risk of losing its tolerant and pluralistic democracy.

India today desperately needs a new definition of secularism, one based on freedom of religion, equality before law, and separation of religion and state. All of these requirements are essential for secularism to work in any country.

Indian secularism fails because it allows governments to grant religious freedoms, but not to treat religions equally.

The biggest failure in this regard began in the early years of the republic, when the government codified Hindu social customs into law but allowed Muslims to continue practicing Sharia law. For seven decades, the requirement of a uniform civil code has remained a Directive Principle in India’s Constitution.

Without constitutional restrictions on state sponsorship of religious activities, Indian secularism turned into a carte blanche for governments to do as they pleased. They began exploiting religious communities with special treatment, sops and populist slogans.

Today, the Modi wave among the Hindu majority has shattered the Nehruvian concept of secularism. And for good reasons; Nehru’s approach was impractical in its denial of all communal identities, and it was open to abuse by governments.

Now the majority is flexing its muscle and taking revenge for years of minority appeasement. This makes it all the more necessary that India adopt real secularism, lest the pendulum swing too far, and allow Hindu chauvinism to take over India’s democracy. more> https://goo.gl/reCSRz

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Forthcoming Supreme Court decision on right to privacy one of the most important legal decisions in the world this year

By Eben Moglen and Mishi Choudhary – Arguments before a nine-judge constitutional bench of the Supreme Court, which is at long last deciding whether Indian citizens have a fundamental right to privacy, have established two realities clearly.

First, the judges see the profound importance of any decision to create such a fundamental right. Second, they would like to know just what the outlines of this right should be.

Privacy is, as Brandeis and Warren said in 1894, “the right most valued by civilized men,” “the right to be left alone.”

But in our age, the age of the internet, the right to be left alone includes also the right not to be put out there, or exposed involuntarily. Forced disclosure of the information that comprises our identities, in the age of biometric identification, social profiles, and cashless economic transactions, damages an essential component of all personal liberties.

Whether the individual’s information is used on its own, or is analyzed, profiled, or linked in the “social graph” to that of other related persons, forced disclosure of personal information in today’s society creates power in the state which receives that information.

The importance of a fundamental right in our system is that it can only be enforced against the state. “Platform” social media companies receive voluntary disclosures of personal information in immense quantities every minute, but they are not subject to constitutional controls.

Moreover, though these corporates are indeed ubiquitous in our lives, they are not obligatory. In dealing with them, we still have choices. Only the power of the state can, in fact, compel us to expose ourselves more fully than we choose to do. The state can as well, of course, legislate to protect our privacy against private parties, and should do so.

India will, as a result of the Supreme Court’s judgment, take the lead among democracies in recognizing and enforcing its citizens’ fundamental right to privacy, or fall in line behind despotic societies in destroying it. more> https://goo.gl/WXWbzf

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Why is Trai even considering bill and keep model?

Airtel boss Sunil Mittal, in a letter to Trai chairman R.S. Sharma, says ‘at a loss as to why Trai should be considering bill and keep model’ and break away from the global practice of interconnect user charges
By Amrit Raj – What surprises the most, he wrote in the 24 July letter, is no one has talked about abolishing IUC (interconnect usage charge) for international call settlement, which is prevalent across markets.

Neighboring countries such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal charge about 2-13 cents. Similarly, when the calls come into India, Trai has set an IUC to be paid to the mobile operators at 53 paisa and, in turn, the Indian international operator charges approximately 1 cent as IUC for the incoming calls on their network.

“The Trai not even debating this issue, therefore, confirms Authority’s acceptance to the principle that IUC is indeed a settled global practice built on fair and equitable settlements for work done by each operator for carrying each other’s calls,” Mittal said.

Mukesh Ambani-controlled Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd is pressing for the bill-and-keep model, wherein IUC (paid by the telco from which a call originates to the telco which receives the call) will be effectively scrapped.

Rivals Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India Ltd and Idea Cellular Ltd, on the other hand, want these charges raised to at least 30 paise per call from 14 paise now. more> https://goo.gl/Ntz5Cd

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Preserve privacy

Threats to privacy have snowballed in the digital era, SC must act
Times of India – The creation of a nine-judge Supreme Court bench to decide whether right to privacy is a fundamental right focuses attention on an issue of critical importance in a digital era.

The right to privacy is not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution but Article 21 guaranteeing the protection of life and personal liberty does encompass various aspects of privacy.

Categorizing privacy as a fundamental right will grant it constitutional sanctity, and by implication, greater respect and compliance. But the government has opposed this classification citing two SC judgments, delivered in 1954 and 1962 that rejected a “fundamental right to privacy.”

Strong legal safeguards are needed against unauthorised access of databases and retention of data, data theft, and leak of private information.

The mushrooming of Aadhaar – initially pitched as a system to aid welfare transfers by eliminating impersonation and pilferage – into a Sisyphean identification system dictating every aspect of a citizen’s life is a valid cause for concern.

Similarly, SC is also hearing a petition questioning midstream changes in WhatsApp’s privacy policy that allowed it to share user data with its parent company Facebook.

Government mustn’t fear privacy. Making it a fundamental right will give governments, businesses and courts a definitive framework to facilitate Digital India. more> https://goo.gl/ogZrii

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Can India be First World?

We dream of leapfrogging to First World status, here’s how to do it in real life
By Sanjeev Sabhlok – What will it take for India to become a First World nation?

Such a question is about matters more important than mere economic growth.

It is about freedom, rule of law, justice, separation of religion and state. Such a question can reset our expectations and start a meaningful conversation about what we want to be as a nation.

It is time for us as a nation to step back and look at the big picture. The facts that face us are not pleasant.

Transparency International has ranked Indian governments as the most corrupt in the Asia-Pacific region. Our businesses, despite being one of the world’s best, continue to be let down by our governance system. We continue to rank close to the bottom on ease of doing business. We remain one of the least free countries in the world.

We do not protect private property. We do not have credible rule of law. The concept of justice is largely fictitious. There is very little infrastructure. Our school systems are dysfunctional. Vocational training is non-existent or of very low quality. And we continue to be one of the world’s poorest countries.

Second, we need to redesign our governance system. Today, neither ministers nor bureaucrats are accountable. They see themselves as rulers. We need to invert this mindset and hold our servant – the government – to account.

No First World country has India’s antediluvian, super-centralized IAS-type tenured service to govern everything. more> https://goo.gl/kjrftm

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