Freedom at Midnight from Aadhar!

Aadhar controversy on individual privacy is being explained from common man’s point of view!

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Supreme Court gave a decision that “Right to Privacy is a Fundamental right of an individual”. This is a landmark decision and it is said that it will change many things in India. I am no political pundit nor am I a constitutional experts, I am a common man like most. This has directly affected LGBT community, who  are enthralled that their rights to choose sexual orientation can now be converted into a law! In another case, where there is a ban on beef business in various formats, a Supreme Court justice has said that what one should eat and if someone should drink alcohol are covered under fundamental rights. These cases will now get a different treatment. But in many discussions I have read that Right to Privacy can never be absolute and needs to be checked under proper legal infrastructure.

My take in this blog is going to be about Aadhar card! (Aadhaar is a 12 digit unique-identity number issued to all Indian residents based on their biometric and demographic data.) When Aadhar came into being under Nilekani, ex Infosys honcho, there were the usual Nay Sayers. In a conversation with Journalist Manu Joseph, Nilekeni divided the Aadhar Nay Sayers in four groups.

  • The Privacy gang
  • The rights of the poor gang
  • Oh My God 1984 has arrived gang
  • Luddites (meaning a person opposed to increased industrialization or new technology- this has old reference to British workers in textile industry having fear of losing their jobs due to technology in 19th century)

Privacy gang is those like you and I who are required to give their biometric details to the government and in return get nothing back. They don’t get any dole or any subsidy from Government. They are the most “affected” by what, god knows! This gang does not mind giving their biometrics for passport because it is an essential document for this group. Then when they go to cooler climes of Switzerland, “Oh! What do to do! For Schengen Visa you have to share biometrics!” For US visa, people will even shed all their clothes if forced! After all going to US of A is  life’s necessity! These countries are foreign governments so no harm in sharing the data with them but Indian Govt and Modi! Nah, I can’t share at the cost of loss of Privacy!” These foreign Governments have such fantastic data security, probably software written by Wipro’s and TCS’s of this world, that except Edward Snowden nobody has been able to steal the data from them! Trumpets & bugles please! Data security is definitely a concern but we have been giving data to banks, passport office, and various websites for sometime. What has Aadhar done that it makes people suddenly insecure about! Friends, I will share one example with you which might help you with the beauty of Aadhar number.  55 dealers from MP, Andhra and UP states returned their license to sell fertilizers which Government used to supply to them. Reason? They were supplied fertilizers at two rates, one with subsidy for those below poverty line and one normal rate. They would buy at low rates and sale at normal rates with huge profits. Government now made a rule that they should link the sale to Aadhar card and based on that the rate will be decided. How can Government come in our way of making huge profits? Return the license. I am sure Govt officials were also hand in glove in this chain!

Rights of the Poor gang was worried that if subsidy is linked to Aadhar, some may not get benefit as they may be too illiterate to enroll for Aadhar card. Ok, great! Courts gave a decision that if they don’t have Aadhar they should still get subsidy. So, as the Aadhar system improves more and more of these people will get Aadhar and still get subsidy. What is the problem with this gang? What this gang is worried if systems fall in place, their importance will reduce. Some of them had a gumption to tell Nilekeni that you have never lived in a village, what you know about villagers needs! (Gumption means shrewd or spirited initiative and resourcefulness)

 “Oh My God 1984 has arrived gang” is the trickiest ones. (Wikipedia describes, Nineteen Eighty-Four, often published as 1984, is a dystopian novel published in 1949 by English author George Orwell.[2][3] The novel is set in Airstrip One (formerly known as Great Britain), a province of the Super state Oceania in a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, and public manipulation.) This group of people probably thinks Government will use Aadhar data to spy on people. Government does it anyway but Privacy judgment will make Government more law abiding! How Aadhar was making this easy I have never understood! These proponents of Orwell theory, I am sure, give their latest status on Facebook, every time they travel. “Sitting in Jet Airways Gold Lounge, travelling to Egypt” or some such thing! This is  my cell number please call after two hours!  Privacy what is that!

Anyway once the human race decided to come out of jungle and live as a society, basic definition of privacy changed forever! I am always wondering what is privacy in days of internet! When filling some form can we say,  I should be allowed not to mention if I am a male or a female or transvestite! What happens to reserved compartments on trains for women? What happens to reservation for women in education? I am a private person I will not give my address, I will not tell my birthdate? Where will this lead to? So there is bound to be limit to privacy. During filling up of any form some information has to be shared, similarly more information may be needed for Income Tax purpose. Don’t forget that there is black money and terrorist angle too! To overcome lacunae in PAN card, (which people are having more than one) Aadhar is a better alternative. More controls, are most welcome but do we need Goebbels! Social media like FB and WhatsApp has already created them!

WhatsApp Image 2017-08-26 at 15.22.06

Luddites is the group which is very uncomfortable with new technology. As they are uncomfortable, they don’t believe in new technology. If you don’t believe in something how can you trust it! For such groups honestly there is no solutions.

No technology or a system is 100% perfect. These improve over a period. After using the systems for some time, may be some better additional viewpoints will come up. Systems are bound to improve but again data hacking is always a possibility. So called hacking incident that has been in discussion currently was an event, an illegal act by a bank officer. It was not hacking. Aadhar already has big base and I am sure once people understand the importance of the same, more will come forward and enroll. There is a big trust deficit with large organizations. Jio is selling their SIM cards against Aadhar card. Many Nay Sayers must be wondering, will their privacy be breached? Similarly many social organizations have axe to grind against Bill & Melinda Gates foundation. This foundation has achieved things in a few years that social organizations could not achieve in decades!

Aadhar system is a modern technology, take advantage of the same instead of thrashing it, embrace it! Bina Aadhar mat raho! Aadhar means support, “Don’t live without support”! 

 

 

 

 

My voting rights were on hold, almost…..

I and Jaya have been voting for last 45 years. This morning we got our morning stuff out of the way quickly and reached the voting station just at the starting time, 7.30 am! Of course we did not go in the finery to celebrate the dance of democracy, but enthusiasm had not diminished in 45 years. The election was for Pune Municipal Corporation and was a local one.

There were many web sites where one could search details like name, polling booths and so on, but both our names were missing from all lists. We tried different spellings but nothing worked. This was a couple of days back. We assumed that our names were “struck off”! Then suddenly I received an SMS which included details about Jaya and my brother Shrikant, who lives in the US! This increased our hopes and I thought maybe my name is also there somewhere.

Surprisingly this time, arrangement for locating ones name and polling booth were quite rudimentary. Normally, we would get detailed slips on the day before voting from different political parties. We just needed to show the slips to locate the booth. But this year there were no slips! I thought India has gone up the value chain, no paper slips only SMS’s and online search. I somehow had an inkling that my name may be missing after all. We managed to locate our booth and went inside. There was nobody with laptops, searching etc. We presumed that our names would be in the same booth. And Lo! Jaya’s name was there and mine was not found. We came out after Jaya voted and went to a Govt official who had a list of names separated alphabetically. We could not find my name. The beauty is that names of ALL our neighbours from the Condo were seen only my name was not found.

While driving back home, I felt sad and it was getting converted into a “Pall of Gloom”! How can this happen? All these years I have voted, there is no change in our official address, there was no change in anything. How can my name suddenly vanish? Human nature is such that cancer, heart attack, accidents and “name vanishing from voter’s list” happen to someone else to be read in the newspaper! I just could not believe that it happened to me! I went home and later went to my office. Luckily my polling center is very close to my office. When we discussed my missing name in the office, everybody sympathized but sympathies don’t bring the name back in the voter’s list. Then my man Friday Pankaj took all the details from me and said, “Don’t worry! I will recheck.” In half an hour he came back with my details. My name was in another booth. There were six booths with approximately 800 people to vote at each booth. But Pankaj met one of the candidates and he made sure that my name was properly checked, manually and successfully! Was I happy!

Now thoughts come to my mind, why do these things happen? Why simple search on websites is not efficient? How can names actually get deleted? Or do they really get deleted? My perseverance helped me locating the name. But all people may not be that keen. If the name is not found, people just let go, in fact I also let go but Pankaj helped me vote, which is my basic democratic right! From work point of view creating and updating the lists is not rocket science but we read stories of a lot of errors. Why it cannot be stopped? That my name was not found on any search sites indicates that their data is not properly updated or their search criteria are wrong! Along with improving searching, volunteers should also be sitting with Laptops on the Election Day to make life easy for people! But for that to happen, data must be proper. Another thing that could be done is the vendors who process the data for Govt agencies should be penalized if names go missing. Probably they are given medals today! Financial punishment is a great way of increasing efficiency and correctness! May be they should also be offered bonuses, for zero errors!

One thing I have learnt today, if your name is not there don’t give up! Make an effort, maybe the name is misplaced and not deleted. Voting is our basic right, we don’t know how lucky we are that we live in a democracy! Check about life in non-democratic countries! We only look at chaos in India but we must also start looking at the vibrancy of democracy seen everywhere. We may not like the candidates in our area, we may not like the politicians but we must not forget the power of democracy! Democracy allows Modi to become Prime Minister and it also allow Trump to become President! Long live democracy!