World's Largest Biometric Databse and Privacy Danger

World's Largest Biometric Indian Database triggers privacy war

There is a lot that we should know about privacy matters as it is very dangerous to be ignorant. We need to understand it from global perspective as the agenda is the same and we need to know it as a whole in order to know it at all. The Atlantic published an article saying that India's largest biometric database, Aadhaar, triggered a privacy war. As the country’s biometric identity project, Aadhaar’s original intention was to help the government solve many social problems and simplify the process of government service provision. But its actual results were not ideal, and it did not help the many groups the government wanted to help There have been multiple incidents of information leaks, which have caused the already vulnerable people to suffer even more.


Largest Biometric Database in the World, Aadhaar

In 2009, the Indian government launched a new identity project that later became the world's largest biometric database, when the move did not attract much attention abroad.

The project is called Aadhaar and collects names, addresses, mobile phone numbers, and possibly more important fingerprints, photos, and iris scans of more than 1 billion people.

In the process, Aadhaar penetrated almost every aspect of Indian people's daily lives, from going to school to going to the hospital to see a doctor, to going to the bank to obtain financial services. It can be said to open a path for data collection that has never been seen before on scale.


Social Security Number Aadhaar Number

The Indian government considers Aadhaar to be an important solution to many social problems, but in the eyes of critics, it is a step towards national surveillance. Today, the Aadhaar experiment faces a serious threat from the Indian Supreme Court-a threat that may be related to its survival.

Supreme Court Order on Biometric Database

At the end of August, the Supreme Court of India issued a consistency judgment, for the first time in the Indian Constitution, the basic right to privacy was identified. The decision was supported by Aadhaar opponents who believed that the project was contrary to the newly granted rights.

Soon, the Supreme Court will focus on this issue. If they find that Aadhaar violates the right to privacy, the legislator will need to reconsider the entire project. But if the Supreme Court decides that the project is in conformity with the Constitution, Aadhaar, who has been trapped in vision and ambition, will continue to develop.


The original intention of the Biometric Database Project

When the Indian government first launched Aadhaar, it saw the opportunity to use the country's vibrant technology industry to reduce corruption and simplify the process of providing government services.

Before Aadhaar arrived, the government said it was suffering from welfare project management issues. The government lost millions of dollars each year because Indian residents used pseudonyms or used their own name registration system to obtain more benefits.

Privacy and Biometric Databases

With Aadhaar, it becomes easier and easier for residents to get benefits by touching the fingerprint scanner. If the fingerprint matches the archived fingerprint, the system will approve and issue benefits.

When the system works well, the entire process is as smooth as unlocking the iPhone, ensuring that government benefits only fall into the hands of qualified people.

 Biometric Database of Public Benefits?

The Aadhaar project is open to all Indian residents. At the beginning, it was voluntary. Only a few government subsidies were provided, including food subsidies and LPG subsidies for cooking and cooking.

It is aimed at those who need these resources most, especially those rural residents who cannot open bank accounts or participate in original welfare projects because they do not have official ID cards.


In India, Aadhaar can hardly live without registration

But gradually, the mission of the project deviated. Under the leadership of Nandan Nilekani, co-founder of outsourcing company Infosys, Aadhaar was used to apply data-driven improvements to various public and private industry services.

Aadhaar will soon be associated with a large number of activities, so that without registering Aadhaar now, it is almost impossible to live in India.

Participation in the project has become or is about to become a must-have option, because paying taxes, opening a bank account, obtaining school lunches in Uttar Pradesh, buying train tickets online, accessing some public WiFi networks, participating in universal health insurance services in Karnataka, Aadhaar is required for daily activities such as various benefits.

The member of the Indian Parliament, Jairam Ramesh, ridiculed the project as "compulsory voluntary participation".


The government agency in charge of managing Aadhaar declined to comment, but Ajay Bhushan Pandey, the CEO of Indian Express, said in the article that the project has been in the past two years. Saved about 8 billion US dollars for the government (the World Bank estimates that this number is close to 1 billion US dollars a year.) Pandi said the project has successfully improved the government's ability to reach and serve people directly.


Did not help many people who wanted to help

However, for the many groups that Aadhaar aims to help especially the poor and those in underserved areas. Technology has not yet met their expectations and has not helped them.

In a country with a low Internet penetration rate outside a large city, remote towns do not have good network conditions, so people cannot access the central database to verify their fingerprint information.

Some participants in the Aadhaar project said that their satellite network services are only available when it is cloudy; some people say that the network is easy to use when the weather is clear.


According to the analysis of government data by Reetika Khera, an economics professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, millions of people have not been able to receive government benefits due to the implementation of Aadhaar.

In some cases, it is because those elderly or disabled have difficulty walking and cannot go to the service site to verify their identity.

The situation of other people who do manual work is that their fingerprints have suffered through years of arduous manual work and cannot be scanned accurately, so they cannot pass the system verification and receive no food assistance.


Nikhil Dey, one of the founders of grass-roots organization Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, also studied government data. He found that in Rajasthan, due to Aadhaar, about 1 million people were unfairly removed from the government’s food assistance list, and more than 3 million people could not receive the specified food quota.

Dai said that in a region, 1,350 out of about 2,900 people were inappropriately marked as "dead" or "duplicate status", so they could not receive pensions.


Privacy Concerns of Biometric Database

Despite these implementation challenges, the most terrifying part of the Aadhaar project for privacy advocates is that it is ubiquitous, but security protection is very loose. According to technical engineer Anand Venkatanarayanan, when biometric information is used to access a service through Aadhaar, such as buying a new mobile phone, the service provider will obtain the demographic data (name, address, and mobile phone number) of the purchaser, and the government will obtain Metadata-that is, the date and time of the transaction, the form of identity verification used, and which company to conduct the transaction with.

This information can be used to paint vague but private and long-term portraits of users, so it has raised concerns about government surveillance and private company misuse of private information.


There is a core fear of people: the project may turn a person's identity into a prisoner

There has been a lot of evidence that personal privacy information has been misused. Cases that have received much attention in the past few months have been frequently reported: 210 government agencies have disclosed the full name, address and Aadhaar number of the beneficiary of the welfare.

Aadhaar information of 110 million users has been leaked from the telecommunications company Reliance Jio (the company claims that those leaked data is untrue).

Bank accounts and Aadhaar details of more than 100 million people were leaked through a specific public government portal.

The government’s electronic hospital database was compromised and Aadhaar’s confidential information was accessed.


These data breaches may hurt the already vulnerable groups the most. Apar Gupta, a lawyer who questioned Aadhaar’s team in the Supreme Court, was particularly concerned about the Dalits (formerly “untouchables” in the caste hierarchy) and manual scavengers (in the absence of security protection) Migrant workers who enter the sewer for manual cleaning).

This is a dangerous occupation with a high mortality rate, and it will bring great social stigma. Gupta is worried that Aadhaar will always shame these people because it allows future employers, schools, banks and new people to view their database information and judge them based on their socioeconomic status.

Social mobility in India may become more difficult. Concealing personal privacy such as pregnancy, a history of transsexual surgery, and failing grade eight exams will also become more difficult. Among the many objections to Aadhaar, there is a core fear: the project may turn a person's identity into a prisoner.


Human Rights and Privacy regarding Biometric Databases

The Indian Supreme Court’s decree on August 24 seems to address these concerns, stating that privacy is essential for individuals to live a normal life in society. "Privacy ensures that human beings can protect their hearts from harmful intrusion by the outside world and lead a dignified life." Judge Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud wrote.

When making the judgment, the Supreme Court rejected two verdicts that rejected the right to privacy in the 1950s and 1960s, and concluded that privacy is a "fundamental" right that must be fully understood in the Internet era. The judge also cited international laws on privacy from the United States, Canada, South Africa and the European Union to emphasize this view.


In this regard, Mishi Choudhary, legal director of the Free Software Law Center, was not surprised. He pointed out, "We are at a stage where technology is sweeping the entire planet in almost the same way. Many countries are referring to each other to get guidance on how to adjust their legal systems to the modern world."



In the past few years, Russia, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria have all been interested in the Aadhaar project. According to reports, representatives from Tanzania, Afghanistan and Bangladesh recently visited India and wanted to learn more about how to implement the Aadhaar system for their country. The Indian Supreme Court is preparing to hold another hearing on Aadhaar, and the world will follow closely.

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