Aadhar cards

It is time for Modi Government to answer questions raised by media reports on foreign links, motives behind mandatory linking and the leaking structure of Aadhaar

Hopes are soaring among anti-Aadhaar petitioners and activists. With each passing day, fresh proof is surfacing that the UIDAI scheme is not only riddled with serious technological flaws and vulnerabilities but there are grave suspicions of foreign companies and intelligence agencies gaining access to the entire pool of private biometric data of every single Indian citizen.

With barely ten days to go before the final hearing in the Aadhaar case before the Supreme Court on January 17, new revelations regarding ease of data breach as well as hitherto unsuspected and deep corporate linkages between the Unique Identification Authority and certain Indian and foreign companies, have provided the petitioners with additional arguments while preparing their counter-affidavits.

Government lawyers, on their part, are reportedly finding it difficult to cope with the flow of detailed information that has now poured out into the public domain and are looking for ways to block their inclusion in the case at this late stage.

However, legal experts say it is highly unlikely that the five-judge Constitutional Bench will refuse to allow any new material that is pertinent to the efficacy of Aadhaar and may be helpful in arriving at a holistic assessment of the positive and negative aspects allowing the government to go-ahead with the scheme across the board.

Bureaucratic sources acknowledge that the chances of obtaining full judicial approval for making Aadhaar mandatory have considerably dimmed in the wake of developments on the last few weeks, including the journalistic expose by The Tribune newspaper and the public outcry over the action taken by UIDAI against the investigative reporter and the editors.

Senior Ministers of the Modi government are said to be bracing for the possibility of the apex court passing strictures and adding certain riders in the implementation of the scheme.

This is the best case scenario for the government at this juncture –because it would be a major blow to the government if the Constitution Bench decides to give the green signal only for welfare programmes for direct fund transfer to underprivileged sections of the population and prohibits mandatory Aadhar-linking for bank accounts, telephone connections and other personal activities and transactions of citizens at large.

What is particularly worrying for the government is that with each passing day the anti-Aadhaar campaign is gathering more momentum. The mishandling of The Tribune case has sparked off protests from journalistic bodies, civil rights organizations and political parties.

More infuriating and worrisome for those responsible for ensuring that the Prime Minister’s electronic verification project is implemented in toto, is that the names of various multi-national corporations and their specific nexus with UIDAI and contracted private-sector Indian companies have spilled out to public glare and triggered conspiracy theories.

These conspiracy theories have already given rise to speculation about the real motives behind imposing mandatory Aadhaar in all spheres of national life. With the injection of the foreign commercial angle, not only has the compulsory collection of private and personal data of every single Indian citizen, expanded beyond the issue of Right to Privacy, but has aroused fears of national sovereignty and national security being consciously put at risk. This is viewed in ruling party circles as tarnishing the image of the Prime Minister himself, since he has been the main driving force behind the entire exercise.

Grave doubts and misgivings have already been expressed in the public domain. Here is a summary of some of the startling details of alleged MNC involvement and potential national security implications put out by civil rights organisations, media publications and anti-Aadhaar activists.

The actual execution of the Aadhaar project has been contracted to several private sector companies, both Indian and foreign. They allegedly include: Hewlet Packard, Wipro, Sai Infosystems India Ltd, Tata Consultancy Service, Linkwel Telesystems Pvt. Ltd., Totem International Ltd., Telesima Communications Pvt. Ltd., Geodesic Ltd, Reliance Communications, Airtel-Vodafone and Bharati Airtel.

IBM reportedly controls around 10 per cent of the Aadhaar-linked Digital India business. Microsoft has corporate linkages with Infosys, which has been entrusted with major UIDAI projects.

The Sunday Guardian newspaper has published the name of several agencies which have access to Aadhaar data. One of them is a firm known as L1 – certain very high-profile individuals are either current or former members of the L1 board. These include George Tenet, former CIA chief, Loius Freeh, former FBI head and Admiral Loy, former acting director of US Homeland Security.

If true, such reports involve very serious implications. It is for the Modi government to clarify the situation. Since some of these details — and there are long lists of other names of individuals and corporates directly or indirectly connected with the whole Aadhar exercise and who allegedly have easy access to the data of all Indian citizens once the scheme is implemented in full – are alarming, to say the least, it is likely that the Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court would seek answers during the resumed hearings of the Aadhaar case.