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Aadhaar has prompted fears of state surveillance on individual privacy, violating human rights: Amnesty, HRW

By Our Representative
Two of the world's top human rights organizations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (AI and HRW) , in a joint statement, have thrown their weight behind those opposing aadhaar, saying, the Government of India’s "mandatory biometric identification project, aadhaar, could lead to millions of people being denied access to essential services and benefits in violation of their human rights."
Especially referring to the Tribune expose, which said that "unrestricted access to the personal details of people enrolled in Aadhaar could be purchased for Rs 500 (less than US$10) from racketeers", in a joint statement, the two organizations demand, "The government should order an independent investigation of the concerns raised about aadhaar, and cease targeting journalists and researchers who expose vulnerabilities in security, privacy, and protection of data."
The statement, which comes ahead of a five-judge bench scheduled to initiate final arguments on the legality of aadhaar on January 17, says, "The large-scale collection of personal and biometric data, and linking it to a range of services, raises serious concerns about violations of the right to privacy", underlining, the aadhaar project, begun in 2009, "was initially meant to be voluntary, aimed at eliminating fraud in government welfare programmes and giving people a form of identification".
They regret, the Aadhaar Act, 2016 and subsequent government notifications have "dramatically increased the scope of the project, making aadhaar enrollment mandatory for people to access a range of essential services and benefits, including government subsidies, pensions and scholarships. It has also been linked to services such as banking, insurance, telephone, and the internet."
AI and HRW note, "Shops providing subsidized foodgrains as part of the government’s public distribution system to people living in poverty have denied supplies to eligible families because they did not have an aadhaar number, or because they had not linked it to their ration cards – which confirm their eligibility, or because the authentication of their biometrics such as fingerprints failed."
Giving the example Rajasthan, the two organisations say, "Between September 2016 and June 2017, after aadhaar authentication was made mandatory, at least 2.5 million families were unable to get food rations", adding, though in October 2017, the Central government instructed states not to deny subsidized food grains to eligible families merely because they did not have an aadhaar number, or had not linked their ration cards to it, "reports of denied benefits continue."
"Hospitals in Haryana state insist on newborn babies being enrolled in Aadhaar before giving them birth certificates. Aadhaar numbers are also demanded to issue death certificates... Many persons with disabilities have been denied benefits because they were unable to obtain aadhaar numbers", they note.
Raising the privacy issue, quoting experts, AI and HRW say, "Companies could store biometric data at the time of enrollment or authentication for a transaction, and biometric data once stolen is compromised forever", insisting, the government’s push for mandatory enrollment for aadhaar has "prompted fears of increased state surveillance, with the convergence of various databases making it easier for the government to track all information about specific individuals, and to target dissent".
Alleging the government has not even set up "an adequate or effective grievance redressal system", they say, "Aadhaar regulations allow the government to deactivate an aadhaar number for various reasons including for 'any other case requiring deactivation as deemed appropriate' by the UIDAI, leaving the broad wording open to misuse."
"Also", AI and HRW say, "The government is not required to give any prior notice before deactivating an aadhaar number, which could violate natural justice principles and also put access to essential services at risk... Between 2010 and 2016, the government deactivated 8.5 million aadhaar numbers, saying it was for reasons provided for under the law."

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