Why India’s Big Fix Is a Big Flub

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court began hearings in a long-running collective case challenging the program’s constitutionality. In their opening statement, the petitioners argued that Aadhaar, if fully implemented, would “reduce citizens to servitude,” since not having an Aadhaar number — that “electronic leash” — in effect meant “civil death.”

.. the eastern state of Jharkhand, where only about 7 percent of residents aged 6 to 23 get an adequate diet.

.. To buy subsidized grain in some states, for example, a beneficiary must authenticate her identity by placing the tip of a finger on a hand-held machine. Collecting a readable fingerprint this way requires functioning electricity, an internet connection and operational servers.

.. In large swathes of rural India, such as in Rajasthan, all of this is a steep ask. Yet if any one of these steps fail, applicants are denied food assistance.

.. We discovered that the percentage of households that failed to obtain any grain at all was five times higher in the villages where Aadhaar authentication was compulsory (20 percent) than in those where it was not (4 percent).

.. In theory, biometric identification could help reduce identity fraud, but there has never been much evidence of large-scale identity fraud in India’s welfare programs.

.. There is no evidence that Aadhaar has put a dent in corruption. In our 2017 survey, we found that among households that succeeded in buying grain, skimming levels were the same — about 7 percent — in villages with or without the Aadhaar system.

.. Worse, the government wants to make it compulsory to link bank accounts and mobile phone numbers to Aadhaar numbers. Online shopping portals have also started asking for the ID from Indians simply trying to buy a book or a pair of shoes.

.. Some critics have warned that Aadhaar could turn into an instrument of mass surveillance. At a minimum, it already raises grave concerns about data security and privacy, neither of which is currently protected under Indian law.

.. The government has admitted that last year millions of Aadhaar numbers had been carelessly displayed on more than 200 government websites

..  an investigative reporter for The Tribune newspaper claimed to have found a way to buy unrestricted access to the details of any Aadhaar number for just 500 Indian rupees, about $8, from people operating on the mobile app WhatsApp.

.. Aadhaar was supposed to showcase the government’s forward thinking about efficient administration; it has only exposed the state’s coerciveness.

  • It was supposed to ease the poor’s access to welfare; it has hurt the neediest.
  • It was supposed to harness technology in the service of development; it has made people’s personal data vulnerable.