Saturday, April 1, 2017

Aadhar: State machinery for mass surveillance

how is aadhar is used for mass surveillance by government

If the machine of the government is of such nature that it requires you to be an agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law.
- Henry David Thoreau

Denial of treatment in government hospitals or no food for children enrolled in mid-day meal schemes, all the necessary means of survival could be denied. This is the reality of today. The government is clamping down heavily on rights of citizens, and there's a growing threat to civil liberties. If you want to build a toilet in your home with the assistance of Swacch Bharat scheme you need aadhar, if you are availing medical aid from Government or issuing a driver's license, then you must enrol for aadhar. From filing Income tax to issuing PAN card we need aadhar. By the time, you'll finish reading this post, the government would probably have linked couple more public services with aadhar. A system which was supposed to be purely voluntary for citizens is now turning into a quotidian exercise. India against aadhar is the movement against the total subservience to government.

If you do not have allegiance to your government, then the government is ready to take it from you. Aadhar was introduced as a public welfare scheme to distribute benefits of state subsidies to the different sections of society and to reduce fraud. Ignoring issues of privacy and security implications it has on one-sixth of humanity, the government is clear contempt of court has blatantly violated orders of the supreme court.

The government has trivialised the issue of privacy and security of billion Indians by subversion of democracy. Inducing fear and panic among citizens by underplaying the flawed system of aadhar and not issuing direct orders, it has let the heated stream of questions cool off. The game gets murkier here.

A realm of government supremacy.

resisting aadhar to save citizens against privacy and mass surveillance
The introduction of finance bill (backdoor bill) saw the most dangerous face of government. Notoriously proliferating multiple bills as money bills. Beating down the code of parliamentary affairs. A backdoor entry for aadhar into the finance bill.  To the government that can give you anything holds the power of taking away with the same speed. The government is not taking the healthy spoons of criticism too well. We need to feed the government with the right amount of critique to make sure we are heard. It becomes imperative to discuss further aspects of money bills that are packaged with aadhar to systematically add to the power of state machinery.

Anonymous political funding - Electoral bonds

Removing the cap on political funding is one of the benign efforts of the government to make the political funding clean and transparent. Now there is no limit as to how much one can donate to political parties. The government further introduced electoral bonds that allow the donors to be anonymous. It is issued by banks once the payment is processed through cheque or digital transaction. Previously, the donations below 20,000 INR was permissible without disclosure of information, but now this has come down to 2,000 with a push of cashless India. Playing a balancing act with this, Finance Minister has not been able to bring a good change in the corrupt system of political funding. With electoral bonds, the identity of donors is recorded by the banks, but it is not disclosed to the public which makes these steps redundant. 

Merger of tribunals - Reducing the power of judiciary

In another episode of finance bill, centre subsumed 8 tribunals into existing ones to purportedly bring uniformity in the judicial system. More tribunals can be similarly be amended without parliamentary approval. The government will have the power of appointment, removal and terms of service of members of 17 tribunals. With the lack of specialisation and overburdening the judicial processes government has severely damaged the pillars of democracy by virtually destroying the prominence of tribunals in the country.

Unprecedented power to taxmen - Political oppression

The section 132 of the Income Tax Act proposes to give authority to the tax official not to disclose the reason for suspicion that may lead to the investigation and seizure on any tax paying individual, to any authority including the tribunals, with retrospective effect. With zero accountability, the taxpayers can terrorise the taxpayers with scrutiny. It can very well be used as a manoeuvre for political oppression.

Right to privacy

Interestingly, BJP had initially raised questions over the introduction of aadhar when it was first introduced by Congress in 2010.

Lok Sabha dismissed all the five amendments moved by Rajya Sabha. Finance Minister Arun Jaitely has rebuked opposition for raising the concerns of security without substantially acknowledging the work government is doing.

In recent findings, the government has itself admitted that aadhar data has been leaked online. Exposing the flaws in the system. It is not difficult to get aadhar data online. With Google dork query, it is easy to get access to personal information of thousands of aadhar card holders. A Google dork is a search string that indexes the data deep within websites that are not publicly available. It takes a simple search of Google dork to get access. In another series of shocking incidents, Economic times also reported a possible snooping of CIA into aadhar system through private entity MongoDB funded by CIA.

Miffed at the press for participating in policy making Mr Arun Jaitley said: "Somebody will write an editorial, citing a problem for every solution we offer."

Unfortunately, that's how democracy works. When you put the personal information of billion people at stake which is at the risk of fraud or theft. That somebody must definitely speak up.

Surgical strike on civil liberties 

everything is being recorded by UIDAI.

Let us understand this through a simple analogy. Download a new application on your Google Android smartphone. It notifies and seeks permission to access the system tools and controls like storage, network communication and location on your smartphone.

Here the government is google, android is UIDAI, and your smartphone is your aadhar number.
Now when we avail different services linked with aadhar, we give our sensitive information logs like time, location and services availed to UIDAI. It would be a cakewalk to keep track of users activities. In this case, the government can control the citizens likes botnets.

We have a right to accept or deny these simply deleting the application from our phone to safeguard our privacy, but these commands of free choice are banished by our government that is severely pushing the use of aadhar in the name of reformative measures. A company like WhatsApp or Instagram may argue that it provides free services, so they make up for it by selling the data to other businesses. However, once a government follows the same footsteps it's different ball game. If the government can't work in the interest of people, then such government should be no longer needed.

Transparency for the State. Privacy for the citizens

Depending upon corrupt and visionless bureaucracy for policy making is not going to make things better for citizens. The government must realise its mistakes and understand that aadhar is ill-conceived. It should engage with civil societies to formulate an improved course of action for establishing a universal ID rather than bullying its way through causing inconvenience and misuse of power. People must control their own data. not the government, Not UIDAI, not private companies. It is Not the case with aadhar, a central repository of billion Indians is a dangerous idea.


Expansion of aadhar in business services is even more worrying. An ecosystem that can enable tracking, profiling and tagging. The third party that offers services can collate the data of individuals Know your customer is When the aadhar will be rolled into private services through seeding. The advent of big data has made it possible to analyse the patterns of user behaviour and tendencies. One may argue, that it would be beneficial in providing better services to the customer but it maximises the potential of damage and corporations privately lobbying for the government.

Linking aadhar with every service would invite trouble. The government is updated of what people are using, buying, spending, eating, travelling and resistance against such a regime would get harder by the day.

India against Aadhar (IAA) 

aadhar card is a state machinery for mass surveillance.
Disobedience to a regime that relies on massive data mining can take many forms, from aggressively encrypting personal information to leaking government secrets, but all will require conviction and courage. A journalist was arrested for pointing out vulnerabilities in the aadhar system. The Finance Minister is quick to retort to the editorials that question the government's way of working, but, he has no definite solution to provide to the citizens.

It is time we raise our voice against aadhar. It should either be worked out well before it can become a part of law and order system. There are no proper redressal systems to deal with identity theft. Adopting a trail and error approach to such an important matter is foolish.

#IndiaAgainstAadhar is a digital movement to enlighten the people about the security implications of aadhar.
In our series of next post on aadhar, we are going to enforce our ideas of fixing loopholes and establishing safeguards to ensure a safe system that keeps the data safe and encrypted from both state and non-state actors.