Time to stop Aadhaar abuse

The government’s obsession with the Aadhaar scheme seems to have assumed alarming proportions. Despite the Supreme Court admonishing it over issues like privacy and surveillance, the government appears determined to expand the scope and powers of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which runs Aadhaar.

Last week, the apex court pointed out that the UIDAI’s proposal to hire an agency to monitor the social media undermines its own pledge made earlier. “It [monitoring] is directly against the submissions made by the UIDAI during the hearing of the Aadhaar matters,” A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud said last week. The new proposal is against “what it had argued while seeking validity of Aadhaar.”

Earlier, the UIDAI had informed the Supreme Court that it did not want to monitor the online activities of citizens with Aadhaar cards. But a Trinamool Congress MLA, Mohua Moitra, recently filed a plea, stating that the UIDAI was hiring a social media agency for “online reputation management” and “social listening” tools to monitor and influence conversations related to Aadhaar on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. This, she claimed, was tantamount to “surveillance on social media platforms.”

Her petition said, “Such action of the government violates her right of privacy. The scope of work of the Social Media Agency intended to be selected through the impugned request for proposal (RFP) is in the teeth of the judgment laid down by this Court in K.S. Puttaswamy case, wherein a bench of nine judges of this court recognised privacy as a fundamental right under the Constitution.”

The petition and the apex court’s remark are understandable; the government’s position on the subject is not. What is it up to? Earlier, it wanted to set up a social media hub under the Information & Broadcasting Ministry. On July 13, the same Bench of the apex court had observed that this would be like creating a “surveillance state.” Thankfully, good sense had prevailed at that time, and the government decided to drop the move. But now, again, it wants to do something similar, by hiring an agency.

I wonder if the powers that be don’t have anything else to do. There are a million things to do in every sphere—from improving governance to galvanizing the economy and strengthening national security. But it remains obsessed with snooping on the lives, thoughts, feelings, and actions of citizenry. It is regularly snubbed by the judiciary and slammed by the media in such endeavors, yet it remains adamant.

It is time the government stopped intruding into people’s privacy. For its own good, if not for civil liberties.