Research Essay

Lucia Geddes
Net Transformations
2, October 2018

                                                                      Aadhaar and Australia
India has become one of the world’s leading forces in implementing biometrics as the basis for their standard identification process of their populace. Their biometric identification program was created and installed by India’s Unique Identification Authority (UIDAI). The UIDAI provides each citizen with a unique twelve digit identification number, called an Aadhaar number. The number is linked to one’s fingerprints, iris scan, date of birth, and address. According to Frances Zelazny’s The Evolution of India’s UID Program the idea behind installing biometrics into India’s identification program was put into action by the Planning Commission of India in 2008 with their creation of the UIDAI. Even though the program was not set into motion until 2008, the idea behind the use of biometrics was originally conceived in 2006. In 2009, the former chairman of the tech giant Infosys, Nandan Nilekani was appointed chairman of UIDAI. During said time, the goal of the UIDAI was stated as “to develop and implement the necessary institutional, technical, and legal infrastructure to issue unique identity numbers to residents all across India” and to “issue a unique identification number that can be verified and authenticated in an online, cost effective manner, which is robust enough to eliminate duplicate and fake identities” (1, 2). In other words, the goal of the UIDAI was to create an infallible system where each Indian citizen could receive a unique identification number.  With the help of hindsight, the UIDAI believed that the most effective way to accomplish their goal of preventing fraud, theft, and duplicate identities was with the use of biometric technology.

            The UIDAI launched their Aadhaar program in 2009 and estimated that within five years, 600 million Aadhaar numbers would be issued. By the end of December 2011, the rate of enrollment came to one million per day. By April of 2012, 168 million Aadhaar numbers had been issued (Zelazny, 7). Now, midway through 2018, roughly 94% of India’s population has been registered with Aadhaar. As the number of Aadhaar registered citizens has grown dramatically, several changes in Indian society have arisen as a result. Some of the most positive effects of Aadhaar have benefited the largest marginalized group of India’s populace: women. According to a recent Time article titled, “How India’s Controversial Biometric ID System Can Help Women”, “the rate of financial inclusion subsequently rose by 24 percent among women between 2014 and 2015” (3). This in part is believed to be a result of Aadhaar being used as a valid form of ID when accessing bank accounts, especially since the majority of the 220 million accounts that were opened by April 2016 were opened in poor, rural areas. The article goes on to emphasize that in addition to bolstering financial inclusion amongst women, having a standard national ID system can lead to greater protection of women through the tracking of maternal care and vaccines, facilitating school enrollment, and helping prevent child marriage by providing proof of age for underage girls (3). In theory, Aadhaar can provide serious benefits to women and girls across India, and to a certain extent in practice, it has. However, the benefits provided by the system implemented by the UIDAI are more than balanced by the grave problems it has caused for many of India’s most vulnerable citizens.

            Arguably the largest problem caused by the Aadhaar registration system is the threat that it poses to Indian’s data security. Because one’s Aadhaar number is now needed to access bank accounts, government aid, medical assistance, and even some cell phone services, Indian citizens are becoming more and more vulnerable to data mining and identity theft (4). The reason behind this increased vulnerability is that Aadhaar acts as a personal link to all of one’s “data silos.” The Washington Post article, These digital IDs have cost people their lives privacy—and their lives, data silos are described as online data reserves storing personal information (4). Before Aadhaar, one took on the risk of having their banking information stolen, or their travel information stolen, even their medical records could be hacked. However, now that a single Aadhaar number is necessary for accessing all three of those records, or data silos, one is now under the threat of having all of their data silos hacked at once. According to The Post article, over one hundred reported incidents of Aadhaar related fraud have been reported. Cases where Aadhaar cards were allegedly used to open bank accounts and take out loans and even where Aadhaar-linked mobile payment apps were used to steal money. The Post article goes on to describe Aadhaar as “a textbook case of the damage that can be done when bad technology falls into the wrong hands” (4). Furthermore, over 15 deaths have been reported in the past year, all resulting from Aadhaar system failures where people were denied their basic resources. In turn, many social activists have spoken out against Aadhaar and have been very vocal on social media.

            Twitter has seen lots of action in response to the problems caused by the Aadhaar system. Feminist Rita Banerji, author of Sex and Powertweeted on September 29th, 2018 “If you are among those who think the entire #Aadhaar trial was a farce & this #AadhaarVerdict is a huge betrayal of Indian citizens and our Constitutional protection, and there must be a re-trial to declare #Aadhaar_is_Unconstitutional then reply here and let me know. Or DM me” (5). Banerji has been using her twitter platform to promote awareness of what she describes as #AadhaarWarOnWomen.

In contrast to the Time article which applauded Aadhaar for what it has done for women in India, Banerji is choosing to quite vocally counter the Aadhaar program. In a more specific example, political commentator Meghnad, highlighted a story using his Twitter account on the 7thof February 2018. In his post, Meghnad stated “No discharge of newborns without Aadhaar. Women who have given birth, might have been operated on, are being made to stand in line to get an Aadhaar for their child. This, THIS is freakishly evil. Makes my blood boil” (6).

Both Twitter users Meghnad and Rita Banerji argue for the need to reform or remove Aadhaar and both have garnered a wide online following for their thoughts and actions. In recent weeks user Meghnad posted a video to Youtube explaining what Aadhaar is, how it is being received by the Indian people, and how the government may choose to alter the program.
“NL Cheatsheet: Meghnad explains Aadhaar” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6-J1tAHaNU

            After looking at what Aadhaar has done for Indian society, government, and its population, one wonders whether a biometric identification system would be fitting for a country like Australia. Of course, Australia and India share very few commonalities when it comes to topics such as culture, geography, demography, economics, and so on. Therefor it is extremely difficult to predict the similar and contrasting affects that implementing a system like Aadhaar would have for Australia. When considering how Australia would adopt a biometric identification system, one has to look at many factors. For example, how would the government handle flaws in the biometric system? How would the government work to ensure the cyber security of its citizens? How might the installation of a biometric identification system be in opposition to Australian citizens’ right to privacy? Before deciding whether a country like Australia could effectively integrate biometrics into their national identification system, one has to consider said questions.

            As a country with a significantly smaller population, the Australian government could work to enroll its citizens in a biometric identification program with much more efficiency and efficacy than the Indian government. Furthermore, because the majority of the population is English speaking and resides within an hour of the coast, the Australian government would have a serious advantage in enrolling their citizens in comparison to India’s population, which is a diverse body of languages that is spread out all throughout the country.

Australian population distribution
Population density of Australia. (CC By 4.0)

Only in very select areas is the Australian population density at 100+ people per square kilometer (10). To contrast that, as of 2014 India’s average population density numbers at 382 people per square kilometer (11). Moreover, it seems that with a smaller population, less citizens would fall through the cracks of a biometric system; less, perhaps even zero deaths would occur from citizens being denied their basic provisions resulting from a denied identification. According to Statista.com, 26% of the Indian population accessed internet in 2015 compared to 89% of the Australian population which accessed the internet that same year (7, 8). Access to internet is another factor in which Australia could better maintain and monitor a biometric identification system, since many of the systemic problems that arise in India are caused by rural citizens unable to submit their Aadhaar number due to poor internet connection.

            Despite all the ways which the Australian government could better maintain a biometric identification system, the situation in India has proven to be an example of why Australia should not adopt such a program. The effort and resources required for the government to overhaul their current identification program and instate one as tedious and time consuming as a biometric system does not warrant the theoretical benefits. Furthermore, the government would have to drastically increase their funding to their cyber security department in order to effectively protect their citizen’s biometric details from the threat of online hackers. The implementation of a biometric ID system would dramatically increase the average Australian internet user’s likelihood of being hacked or having their personal information stolen. On a similar note, it seems that many Australians would take issue with having their bodily details become an intricate part of their daily activities like banking, voting, and even shopping. Current Australians who do most if not all of their business through online transactions would most likely be very up in arms in the face of incorporating their genetic features into their online business model. While the Aadhaar system may be working with relative success in India, Australia has no need or inclination to adopt a biometric identification system.

Sources

1) Zelazny, F. (2012, August 13). The Evolution of India’s UID Program Lessons Learned and Implications for Other Developing Countries. Retrieved October 3, 2018, from https://www.cgdev.org/files/1426371_file_Zelazny_India_Case_Study_FINAL.pdf

2) Source: Unique Identification Authority of India

3) LEMMON, G. (2017, June 22). How India’s Controversial Biometric ID System Can Help Women. Retrieved October 3, 2018, from http://time.com/4828808/india-biometric-id-system-aadhaar-benefits-women/

4) Khera, R. (2018, August 9). These digital IDs have cost people their privacy — and their lives. Retrieved October 3, 2018, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/theworldpost/wp/2018/08/09/aadhaar/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.e07dea999bd0

5) Banerji, R. (2018, September 29). If you are among those who think the entire #Aadhaar trial was a farce & this #AadhaarVerdict is a huge betrayal of Indian citizens and our Constitutional protection, and there must be a re-trial to declare #Aadhaar_Is_Unconstitutional then reply here and let me know. Or DM me. [Tweet].

6) M. (2018, February 7). No discharge of newborns without Aadhaar. Women who have given birth, might have been operated on, are being made to stand in line to get an Aadhaar for their child. This, THIS is freakishly evil. Makes my blood boil. [Tweet].

7) Internet usage in India – Statistics & Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved October 3, 2018, from https://www.statista.com/topics/2157/internet-usage-in-india/.

8) Active internet users as percentage of the total population in Australia from 2015 to 2018. (n.d.). Retrieved October 3, 2018, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/680142/australia-internet-penetration/.

9) NL Cheatsheet: Meghnad explains Aadhaar [Video blog post]. (2018, September 25). Retrieved October 3, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6-J1tAHaNU
published by newslaundry

10) Scutt, D. (2017, July 27). This map shows population density across Australia. Retrieved October 3, 2018, from https://www.businessinsider.com.au/this-map-shows-population-density-across-australia-2017-7

11) India, Government of India, Ministry of Statistics and Implementation. (n.d.). Statistical Year Book, India 2015.  Distribution Of Population, Sex Ratio, Density And Decadal Growth Rate Of Population (Census-2011)

12) Australia, Australian Government, Australian Law Reform Commission. (n.d.). For Your Information: Australian Privacy Law and Practice (ALRC Report 108).  Section 9. Overview: Impact of Developing Technology on Privacy

13) Emami C, Brown R & Smith R. 2016. Use and acceptance of biometric technologies among victims of identity crime and misuse in Australia. Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice
No. 511. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. https://aic.gov.au/publications/tandi/tandi511

14) Penny, W. (2002, March 18). Biometrics: A Double Edged Sword – Security and Privacy. Retrieved October 3, 2018, from https://www.sans.org/reading-room/whitepapers/authentication/biometrics-double-edged-sword-security-privacy-137 SANS Institute InfoSec Reading Room

15) Glaser, A. (2016, March 9). BIOMETRICS ARE COMING, ALONG WITH SERIOUS SECURITY CONCERNS. Retrieved October 3, 2018, from https://www.wired.com/2016/03/biometrics-coming-along-serious-security-concerns/

 

 

 

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