News / Asia

    In India, Biometric Data Storage Sparks Demands for Privacy Laws

    FILE -  A woman places her finger on a biometric card reader before buying her quota of subsidized rice from a fair price shop under the Public Distribution System in Rayagada, in the Indian eastern state of Orissa, March 20, 2012.
    FILE - A woman places her finger on a biometric card reader before buying her quota of subsidized rice from a fair price shop under the Public Distribution System in Rayagada, in the Indian eastern state of Orissa, March 20, 2012.
    Anjana Pasricha

    In India, calls for strict privacy laws are growing after this week's passage of a measure that allows federal agencies access to biometric data of the nation's citizens, the world's largest such repository.

    The government says the use of biometrics will help cut rampant graft in the distribution of subsidies, but activists and opposition lawmakers warn it could usher in an era of increased state surveillance.

    Raghubir Gaur, who works as an electrician in the capital, New Delhi, says he has never collected subsidized rations such as wheat and rice, because “somebody else has been taking the rations I should have gotten.” Now, with a national proof of identity, or "Aadhaar" card in his hands, Gaur says he is confident he will be able to access his designated subsidies.

    The Aadhaar card is being used to give welfare benefits to the poor, who often cannot provide any proof identity, allowing corrupt officials to siphon entitlements.

    The government says it has saved nearly $2 billion by preventing misuse of the subsidies in the last fiscal year alone.

    Critics fear ‘police state’

    Civil activists and research groups, however, have dubbed the Aadhaar program “surveillance technology” that constitutes a serious breach of privacy. They point to identity-verification systems in other countries, where cards or identification numbers are used for verification without creating a gigantic central database that documents every last transaction.

    Indeed, the Aadhaar database also stores fingerprints and iris scans of every account holder, labeling each with a 12-digit identification number. 

    Raghubir Gaur (L) and his wife Kusum are confident their "Aadhaar" cards with their biometric data will enable them to access entitlements such as subsidized food rations. (A. Pasricha/VOA)
    Raghubir Gaur (L) and his wife Kusum are confident their "Aadhaar" cards with their biometric data will enable them to access entitlements such as subsidized food rations. (A. Pasricha/VOA)

     

    Concerns that this could lead to a massive invasion of privacy have been heightened because the new law allows the data to be used “in the interest of national security.”

    “From verifying yourself to the ticket conductor on a train to someone who is delivering something at your house, all the way to opening a new bank account, all these transactions get logged against the centralized data base," says Pranesh Prakash of the Center for Internet and Society in Bangalore. "So this invades your life completely and thoroughly.”

    Some lawyers and privacy advocates say this has made it even more important to support a strong privacy law to ensure the huge government database isn't misused.

    Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has defended the biometrics legislation, saying the data will be accessed only in rare cases that require authorization by a senior official.

    “You mark my words, you are midwifing a police state,” said lawmaker Asaduddin Owaisi, just one parliamentarian opposed passage of the legislation and found no comfort in Jaitley's assurances.

    Prior to the intruduction of biometric cards, millions of poor people across India did not have any proof of identity, making it difficult for them to take advantage of government welfare programs. (A. Pasricha/VOA)
    Prior to the intruduction of biometric cards, millions of poor people across India did not have any proof of identity, making it difficult for them to take advantage of government welfare programs. (A. Pasricha/VOA)

    Fraud concerns

    Despite objections, the bill was passed by legislators who argued that such a move is critical to ensuring subsidies reach intended beneficiaries in a country where millions are poor and illiterate.

    Attempts to draft a right to privacy bill to protect individuals against misuse of data by government or private agencies date back to 2010, but have made little headway. The latest push started in 2014.

    Citing a cyberattack targeting the U.S. government, in which a hacker gained access to the information of millions of people, research groups have also flagged security concerns around India’s ambitious Aadhaar program.

    “If this database gets leaked, the entire identification system collapses because people will be able to authenticate themselves as anyone else. So identity fraud is a great concern,” said Prakash of the Center for Internet and Society.

    Nearly one billion biometric identity cards have been issued in India in the last six years.

    You May Like

    Multimedia Obama Calls on Americans to Help the Families of Its War Dead

    In last Memorial Day of his presidency, Obama lays wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery

    The Strife of the Party: Will Trump Permanently Alter Republicans?

    While billionaire mogul's no-holds-barred style, high-energy delivery are what rocketed him to nomination, they also have created rift between party elites and his supporters

    China's Education Reforms Spark Protest

    Beijing is putting a quota system in place to increase the number of students from poor regions attending universities

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora