The Aadhaar Bill, 2016 : A new turn for the better

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley recently introduced the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016 in Lok Sabha with the objective of creating unique identity numbers called Aadhaar numbers to individuals residing in India.

In this article, we will discuss the salient features of the bill and analyse it in depth.

What is a unique identity number?

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) collects the biometric and demographic data of every Indian resident, stores them in a centralised database, and issues the Aadhaar number which is a 12-digit unique identity number. This is considered to be the world’s largest national identification number project.

Who is eligible?

According to this bill, every Indian resident who has lived for 182 days in India in the one year preceding the date of application for Aadhaar is entitled to have the unique identity number.

What are the personal details to be submitted?

To obtain the Aadhaar number, an individual has to submit his/her biometric and demographic information.

a) Biometric information:

● Photograph

● Fingerprint

● Iris scan

b) Demographic information:

● Name

● Date of Birth

● Address

How will your information be used?

While enrolling for the Aadhaar number, a candidate will be duly notified of-

i) the manner in which the information will be used.

ii) the nature of recipients with whom the information will be shared.

iii) the right to access this information.

What is the use of Aadhaar number?

In the previous National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010, there was no unique provision for the application of Aadhaar number. However, this bill stipulates that a person’s Aadhaar number is required to avail of a subsidy or service. However, in case a person has applied for an Aadhaar number and not been assigned one, the government will offer an alternative means of identification. As stated in the earlier bill, this bill also does not allow Aadhaar number to be used as a proof of citizenship or domicile.

What are the role & functions of UIDAI?

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is a central government agency that was instituted to issue the Aadhaar card. The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, benefits and services) Bill, 2016 was submitted into the parliament as a money bill. The UIDAI comprises a chairperson, two part-time members and a CEO. The chairperson and other members are required to have an experience of at least ten years in matters such as technology, governance, etc.

Basic functions:

a) Specifying demographic and biometric information to be collected during enrolment

b) Assigning Aadhaar numbers to individuals

c) Authenticating Aadhaar numbers

d) Specifying the usage of Aadhaar numbers for delivery of subsidies and services.

How is the Aadhaar number authenticated?

Here is a list of facts specified in the Bill as regards the authentication of an individual’s Aadhaar number:

a) UIDAI will authenticate an individual’s Aadhaar number if s/he requests for it.

b) Consent of an individual regarding using his/her personal information for Aadhaar authentication is mandatory. Without consent UIDAI cannot use any individual’s information.

c) UIDAI is not permitted to use an individual’s biometric information such as fingerprint, iris scan and other biological attributes to share or display publicly. A person’s biometric information will be used only in Aadhaar enrolment and authentication.

d) UIDAI authority will maintain records of a person’s identity, the time of request and the response received by the entity.

e) The bill specifies two special cases where such information may be revealed. These are:

In the interest of national security: A person’s Aadhaar number, biometric information, demographic information and photograph can be revealed by a joint secretary in the Union government in the interest of national security. Such decision will be reviewed by an oversight committee which will comprise Cabinet Secretary, Secretaries of Legal Affairs and Electronics and Information Technology. Such a decision will be only valid for six months.

On court order: A revelation of a person’s Aadhaar number, photograph and demographic information may be revealed on a court’s order.

f) For unauthorised access of the centralised database and disclosure of any information stored in it, a person will be punished with imprisonment upto three years and a minimum fine of Rs.10 lakh.

What are the merits & demerits of the Bill?

Merits:

a) The Aadhaar bill will ensure efficient delivery and implementation of various government subsidies and schemes. The centralised database will help in benefitting beneficiaries in a speedier way.

b) Creation of Aadhaar numbers, if done successfully, will transform the Indian economy to a cashless economy in the near future.

c) To protect personal data of individuals, the bill stipulates severe punishment for any individual accessing the database and divulging information stored in it.

Demerits:

a) The Aadhaar bill 2016 was criticised as it was introduced in the Lok Sabha as a money bill. Money bills cannot be introduced in the Rajya Sabha and thus this move was considered a deliberate step to pass the bill without any hindrance (with the ruling party’s complete majority in the Lok Sabha).

b) Supreme Court had clearly made Aadhar bill non-mandatory in its interim orders. As per the two orders released by SC, no individual in India will be denied the subsidies and services for not possessing the Aadhaar number. However, ‘by requiring recipients of subsidies to apply for it’ the Aadhaar Bill, 2016, indirectly aims to make it mandatory, thereby contravening the orders of the Supreme Court.

c) Though sharing an individual’s personal information is prohibited, the bill also provides two exceptions to this clause. Such personal information can be revealed in the interest of national security or on a court order. ‘In the interest of national security’ seems very vague if one considers the current imposition of sedition charges as regards the JNU incident. Thus, this will lead to constant monitoring of individuals and hence create an Orwellian system by which contradicts citizens’ fundamental right to liberty.

d) There are various concerns over the safety of information shared. Indian cyber safety systems need to be highly fortified to keep data from going into wrong hands.

Conclusion:

The Aadhaar bill primarily aims at speedy and efficient delivery of schemes, subsidies and services. It will also help to curb various malpractices done using citizens’ ration cards. The ethical implementation of this bill might do wonders in a small span of time. However, without such implementation the collected information can be used against the liberty of Indian citizens. Overall, rather than just giving information to people while authentication, the government needs to educate the masses about the benefits of this bill to ensure holistic acceptance. Such mass education can be done through the advertisements, interactive seminars, teaching children in schools. Any new idea of system becomes a system if it percolates through all the sections of society and is accepted by them.

           But also, we should keep in mind that in today’s cyber age information is certainly a two edged sword, it should be used wisely.

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