From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Aadhaar
Mains level : Data Privacy and Aadhaar
Reports have surfaced online of instances where block level officers have asked individuals to link their Aadhaar with their Voter IDs, failing which their Voter IDs could be cancelled.
What is the news?
- This furore comes in the aftermath of the Election Commission’s (EC) campaign to promote the linkage of Voter ID and Aadhaar that began on August 1.
- In the first ten days since its launch, the campaign saw almost 2.5 crore Aadhaar holders voluntarily submitting their details to the EC.
Aadhaar-Voter ID linkage: Why does the government want this?
- The EC conducts regular exercises to maintain an updated and accurate record of the voter base.
- A part of this exercise is to weed out duplication of voters.
- There have been migrant workers who may have been registered more than once on the electoral rolls in different constituencies or for persons registered multiple times within the same constituency.
- As per the government, linkage of Aadhaar with voter IDs will assist in ensuring that only one Voter ID is issued per citizen of India.
Is the linking of Aadhaar with one’s Voter ID mandatory?
- In December 2021, Parliament passed the Election Laws (Amendment) Act, 2021 .
- This was to amend the Representation of the People Act, 1950 and Section 23(4) was inserted in the RP Act.
- It states that the electoral registration officer may require voters to furnish their Aadhaar numbers to verify Authencity of voters list.
Why is it making headlines now?
- There has been the use of discretionary language throughout the amendments.
- This has been accompanied by assurances that linkage is optional by both the government and the EC.
- Alternative is provided to only who does not have an Aadhaar number.
- To that extent, the limited element of choice that has been incorporated in the amendments seem to be negated or at the very least thrown into confusion.
Why there is such proposal for linking?
The preference to use Aadhaar for verification and authentication, both by the state and private sector, stems from few reasons:
- Increase in UID-holders: First, at the end of 2021, 99.7% of the adult Indian population had an Aadhaar card.
- Most versatile document: This coverage exceeds that of any other officially valid document such as driver’s licence, ration cards, PAN cards etc. that are mostly applied for specific purposes.
- Reliable source of authentication: Since Aadhaar allows for biometric authentication, Aadhaar based authentication and verification is considered more reliable, quicker and cost efficient when compared to other IDs.
Issues with mandatory linking: Puttaswamy judgment highlights
- Puttaswamy judgment: The above reasons do not suffice the mandating of Aadhaar except in limited circumstances as per the Puttaswamy judgment.
- Indispensability of the purpose: It needs to be considered whether such mandatory linkage of Aadhaar with Voter ID would pass the test of being “necessary and proportionate” to the purpose of de-duplication which is sought to be achieved.
- Constitutional ambiguity: In Puttaswamy, one of the questions that the Supreme Court explored was whether the mandatory linking of Aadhaar with bank accounts was constitutional or not.
- Against informational autonomy: It is the right to privacy which would allow a person to decide which official document they want to use for verification and authentication.
Other judicial observations: Lal Babu Hussein (1995) Case
- The Supreme Court had held that the Right to vote cannot be disallowed by insisting only on four proofs of identity.
- The voters are entitled to rely on any other proof of identity and obtain the right to vote.
What are the operational difficulties?
- Aadhaar is not a citizenship proof: The preference to Aadhaar for the purposes of determining voters is puzzling as Aadhaar is only a proof of residence and not a proof of citizenship.
- Excluding non-citizens is not easy: Verifying voter identity against this will only help in tackling duplication but will not remove voters who are not citizens of India from the electoral rolls.
- Estimate of error rates in biometric based authentication: This certainly differs. As per the UIDAI in 2018, Aadhaar based biometric authentication had a 12% error rate.
- Disenfranchisement of existing voters: Errors have led to the disenfranchisement of around 30 lakh voters in AP and Telangana before the Supreme Court stalled the process of linkage.
Key concern: Right to Privacy
- Some civil societies has highlighted that linking of the two databases of electoral rolls and Aadhaar could lead to the linkage of Aadhaar’s “demographic” information with voter ID information.
- This could lead to violation of the right to privacy and surveillance measures by the state.
- This would leave the EC with the option of verifying its information only through door-to-door checks.
- There is a lack of enforceable data protection principles that regulate how authentication data will be used.
What lies ahead?
- Even as the amendments have been made and the EC has launched a campaign for linkage, a writ petition has filed with the Supreme Court challenging the same.
- It challenges the amendments as being violative of the right to privacy.
- The Supreme Court has transferred the writ to the Delhi High Court.
- In the meantime, it is important that the government clarifies through a correction in Form 6B that the linking is not mandatory.
- The govt should expedite the enactment of a data protection legislation that allays concerns of unauthorized processing of personal data held by the government.