Aadhaar is good, but I probably trust Apple more with privacy

The headline wasn’t intended. It happened over the course of writing the piece. I must also disclose that as of writing this piece, I do not own an Apple product. I am, however, registered with the UIDAI for Aadhaar – the desi avatar of social security. Only it isn’t.

Update: The Lok Sabha has passed the Aadhaar bill on 11 March.

The headline wasn’t intended. It happened over the course of writing the piece. I must also disclose that as of writing this piece, I do not own an Apple product. I am, however, registered with the UIDAI for Aadhaar – the desi avatar of social security. Only it isn’t.

A few years ago when I excitedly and hopefully registered for Aadhaar, I went through a process of standing in a queue, performing my duty as a citizen and sharing all possible information needed. That included where I lived, what I did, details of my bank accounts, telephone bills, electricity bills, LPG subscription and photographs. At the next stage, I interfaced with a piece of technology. Fingerprint scans and iris scans were impressive. I'd only witnessed these at embassies and immigration checks before. That this was happening in India, and was done by the government, made me hopeful that we were finally moving ahead.

Essentially, the Aadhaar database has all my vital information.

It's information that's otherwise not readily shared with anyone. Now when it comes to my fingerprint, my smartphone does have it stored. But on its chipset, rather than memory that's otherwise accessible to rogue apps. In addition, my iris scan has been tied in to the Aadhaar as well. That's deeper than personal. As someone with a BlackBerry past, the presence of rogue apps on the Play Store does get me concerned as well. Apple and its iOS on the other hand, gives me some sense of assurance that each app meets certain specific requirements and given the closed nature of the platform, things are in place.

What about trust?

When it comes to Aadhaar, there are several aspects that makes me wonder. My information is out there on a database somewhere. As per information publicly available, it's in Bengaluru. In the run up to the Net Neutrality debate, millions of online users wrote to TRAI. The result was that someone decided to put out about a million email addresses out in the open for the world to see. In an ideal world, it's supposed to be harmless. But in the real world of rising crime rates, you're the ideal victim. What if someone puts out a file on a website for the world to see. Sounds ridiculous, you think?  Emailing TRAI was voluntary as well. And so is enrolling for Aadhaar.

There are a couple of things that don’t add up when it comes to Aadhaar. Why is it voluntary, if it is supposed to be a document that aims to serve the purpose of identity. A colleague, I learned, had an interesting experience, wherein her landlord insisted that she present her Aadhaar instead of a PAN card, or passport as a proof of identity.

The right to privacy

Each one of us has a right to privacy. And when companies such as Apple take a stand to defend that right, it does leave us impressed. And securing privacy is a great responsibility which the powers that be ought to fulfil. Whether Apple is doing enough is something that we will see over a period of time. For now, there's definitely a lot that's been done. Besides, the collective support of technology giants such as Microsoft, Google, Facebook and several others for Apple on the issue of encryption only makes us feel positive about the topic as a whole.

The record with Aadhaar, on the other hand, hasn't been quite so positive. Since the change of guard at the Centre, the ruling by the Supreme Court indicated that Aadhaar couldn't be mandatory. With that, the hope of having a fail-proof means of plugging holes seemed far fetched. Yet, it seems that there has been a significant number of registrations already with Aadhaar so far. According to the official Aadhaar portal (at the time of writing), the total number of cards issued so far is 98,42,50,470. That's approaching a billion users.

And up until now, authorities have managed to lose data of three lakh people in Maharashtra. Similarly, computer systems with Aadhaar data have been stolen in the past. Reports such as these definitely shake up the confidence around security and privacy, but hopefully these would streamline in the future. Till then, I'd continue to be concerned.

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