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Does Aadhaar serve any Public Interest? #UID

DR ANUPAM SARAPH | 12/10/2015 04:05 PM |   

The government claims that Aadhaar removes barriers to benefits, cleans duplicate and fraudulent beneficiaries and ensures benefits reach the beneficiaries. Are these claims justified? 
The purposes of Aadhaar were laid out in the Government’s Strategy Document . Let us examine each of the purposes in turn. The Government asserts, “In India, an inability to prove identity is one of the biggest barriers preventing the poor from accessing benefits and subsidies.”  More recently the UIDAI admitted that 99.97% of those now issued with Aadhaar numbers did not really need them because they were already in possession of adequate identification documents. If this is true, the inability to prove identity has not been the biggest barrier to access benefits.
The Government’s Strategy document also states “A single, universal identity number will also be transformational in eliminating fraud and duplicate identities, since individuals will no longer be able to represent themselves differently to different agencies.” This has come to be referred to as de-duplication of government databases.
While placing such unabashed trust on the use of Aadhaar, the government forgets to mention that no official certifies the identity or even the address associated with the Aadhaar number. In fact the data associated with the number has never even been verified or audited. It is unclear how a number that is not an identity card is a proof of identity, address, even existence or a basis to de-duplicate other databases!
The process of de-duplication does not require any new ID like the Aadhaar and certainly cannot be done with an un-certified, un-verified and un-audited database like the Aadhaar. In de-duplication, any two databases can be used for comparison with each other. The output of the comparison would be expected to be a list of records that matched and therefore deemed to be genuine, a list of records where the name matched but address did not and need verification, a list of records that are missing from one but present in the other and therefore deemed to have been excluded from one or likely to be fake in the other. The claim of de-duplication falls flat as we see no such lists, only exclusion of many amidst unverified claims of removal of fakes.
The Government’s Strategy document states, “It would enable the government to shift from indirect to direct benefits, and help verify whether the intended beneficiaries actually receive funds/ subsidies”. This means that as per the Government, to be deemed genuine, every bank account has to be linked to the Aadhaar and every transaction has to happen through the Aadhaar Based Payment System (ABPS) run by a private company, the National Payments Corp of India (NPCI). This implies that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI)’s own know-your-customer (KYC) and its own payment systems like National Electronic Fund Transfer (NEFT) and Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS), in comparison to that of a private entity, the NPCI, facilitates fraud and cannot be used.
In implementation of this objective of direct benefit transfer (DBT), by using just a uncertified, unverified and unaudited number submitted remotely as e-KYC, the RBI did away with its own KYC standards, the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the Basel Standards on keeping customer data and even the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
Bank accounts opened solely with the Aadhaar number are indistinguishable and undetectable from hundreds of thousands or even millions of “mule” bank accounts to launder money, take bribes, park black money or siphon subsidy passed through DBT schemes. There is no existing mechanism to detect such fake accounts or trillions of fake money transfers effected through the ABPS.
The Government fails to explain how 94.7% of the villages without a bank branch or bank literacy will be served by DBT through Aadhaar. The deliberate policy of insistence on Aadhaar and DBT has created new barriers that exclude beneficiaries. Therefore the claim of ensuring benefits reach beneficiaries is also without merit.
The Aadhaar is often likened to the American Social Security number. The 2013 Identity Fraud Report  released by Javelin Strategy & Research, found 12.6 million victims of identity fraud in the US, which equates to 1 victim every 3 seconds. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration in the US projected that fraudsters would net $26 billion into 2017. The question being asked in the US is: Why are we still using social security numbers (SSNs) to identify taxpayers?
The method of enrolment of Aadhaar has exposed every Aadhaar number ever generated to being copied, distributed, modified and stolen many times over. Transactions through such Aadhaar will be wrongfully attributed to the person whose identity was stolen to do such transactions. Aadhaar thus exposes the entire country to theft of lakhs of crores. Hyderabad alone is reportedly getting 20 cases a day related to Aadhaar  frauds. Aadhaar has exposed the identity of its residents to theft and misuse.
There is, therefore, no merit in arguing that Aadhaar removes the barriers to benefits, cleans duplicate and fraudulent beneficiaries and ensures benefits reach the beneficiaries. In fact, it does exactly the opposite. Technology should be an enabler, not a facilitator to build applications that serve as Trojan horses to compromise the fundamental rights of its citizens, the sovereignty of their decisions, national security, and thus enable the launching a cyberwar and in the process destroy law and order.
Aadhaar, therefore, not only serves no public interest, it actually destroys public interest.
(Dr Anupam Saraph is a Professor, Future Designer, former governance and IT advisor to Goa’s former Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar and the Global Agenda Councils of the World Economic Forum.)

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