i) All that data that Aadhaar captures

Predictably enough, the recent Supreme Court order affirming that privacy is a fundamental right sent Aadhaar’s public-relations machine into damage control mode. After denying the right to privacy for years, the government promptly changed gear and welcomed the judgment. Ajay BhushanPandey, CEO of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), suddenly asserted, “The Aadhaar Act is based on the premise that privacy is a fundamental right.” He also clarified that the judgment would not affect Aadhaar as the required safeguards were already in place.

Types of information

The fact of the matter is that Aadhaar, in its current form, is a major threat to the fundamental right to privacy. The nature of this threat, however, is poorly understood.There is a common perception that the main privacy concern with Aadhaar is the confidentiality of the Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR). This is misleading for two reasons. One is that the CIDR is not supposed to be inaccessible. On the contrary, the Aadhaar Act 2016 puts in place a framework for sharing most of the CIDR information. The second reason is that the biggest danger, in any case, lies elsewhere.To understand this, it helps to distinguish between three different types of private information: biometric information, identity information and personal information. The first two are formally defined in the Aadhaar Act, and protected to some extent. Aadhaar’s biggest threat to privacy, however, relates to the third type of information.In the Aadhaar Act, biometric information essentially refers to photograph, fingerprints and iris scan, though it may also extend to “other biological attributes of an individual” specified by the UIDAI. The term “core biometric information” basically means biometric information minus photograph, but it can be modified once again at the discretion of the UIDAI.Identity information has a wider scope. It includes biometric information but also a person’s Aadhaar number as well as the demographic characteristics that are collected at the time of Aadhaarenrolment, such as name, address, date of birth, phone number, and so on.The term “personal information” (not used in the Act) can be understood in a broader sense, which includes not only identity information but also other information about a person, for instance where she travels, whom she talks to on the phone, how much she earns, what she buys, her Internet browsing history, and so on.Coming back to privacy, one obviousconcern is the confidentiality of whatever personal information an individual may not wish to be public or accessible to others. The Aadhaar Act puts in place some safeguards in this respect, but they are restricted to biometric and identity information.

Sharing identity details

The strongest safeguards in the Act relate to core biometric information. That part of the CIDR, where identity information is stored, is supposed to be inaccessible except for the purpose of biometric authentication. There is a view that, in practice, the biometric database is likely to be hacked sooner or later. Be that as it may, the UIDAI can at least be credited with trying to keep it safe, as it is bound to do under the Act.That does not apply, however, to identity information as a whole. Far from protecting your identity information, the Aadhaar Act puts in place a framework to share it with “requesting entities”. The core of this framework lies in Section 8 of the Act, which deals with authentication. Section 8 underwent a radical change when the draft of the Act was revised. In the initial scheme of things, authentication involved nothing more than a Yes/No response to a query as to whether a person’s Aadhaar number matches her fingerprints (or possibly, other biometric or demographic attributes). In the final version of the Act, however, authentication also involves a possible sharing of identity information with the requesting entity. For instance, when you go through Aadhaar-based biometric authentication to buy a SIM card from a telecom company, the company typically gains access to your demographic characteristics from the CIDR. Even biometric information other than core biometric information (which means, as of now, photographs) can be shared with a requesting entity.Quite likely, this little-noticed change in Section 8 has something to do with a growing realisation of the business opportunities associated with Aadhaar-enabled data harvesting. “Data is the new oil”, the latest motto among the champions of Aadhaar, was not part of the early discourse on unique identity — at least not the public discourse.Section 8, of course, includes some safeguards against possible misuse of identity information. A requesting entity is supposed to use identity information only with your consent, and only for the purpose mentioned in the consent statement. But who reads the fine print of the terms and conditions before ticking or clicking a consent box?There is another important loophole: the Aadhaar Act includes a blanket exemption from the safeguards applicable to biometric and identity information on “national security” grounds. Considering the elastic nature of the term, this effectively makes identity information accessible to the government without major restrictions.

Mining personal information

Having said this, the proliferation and possible misuse of identity information is only one of the privacy concerns associated with Aadhaar, and possibly not the main concern. A bigger danger is that Aadhaar is a tool of unprecedented power for mining and collating personal information. Further, there are few safeguards in the Aadhaar Act against this potential invasion of privacy.An example may help. Suppose that producing your Aadhaar number (with or without biometric authentication) becomes mandatory for buying a railway ticket — not a far-fetched assumption. With computerised railway counters, this means that the government will have all the details of your railway journeys, from birth onwards. The government can do exactly what it likes with this personal information — the Aadhaar Act gives you no protection, since this is not “identity information”.Further, this is just the tail of the beast. By the same reasoning, if Aadhaar is made mandatory for SIM cards, the government will have access to your lifetime call records, and it will also be able to link your call records with your travel records. The chain, of course, can be extended to other “Aadhaar-enabled” databases accessible to the government — school records, income-tax records, pension records, and so on. Aadhaar enables the government to collect and collate all this personal information with virtually no restrictions.Thus, Aadhaar is a tool of unprecedented power for the purpose of mining personal information. Nothing in the Aadhaar Act prevents the government from using Aadhaar to link different databases, or from extracting personal information from these databases. Indeed, many State governments (aside from the Central government) are already on the job, under the State Resident Data Hub (SRDH) project, which “integrates all the departmental databases and links them with Aadhaar number”, according to the SRDH websites. The Madhya Pradesh website goes further, and projects SRDH as “the single source of truth for the entire state” — nothing less. The door to state surveillance is wide open.What about private agencies? Their access to multiple databases is more restricted, but some of them do have access to a fair amount of personal information from their own databases. To illustrate, Reliance Jio is in possession of identity information for more than 100 million Indians, harvested from the CIDR when they authenticate themselves to buy a Jio SIM card. This database, combined with the records of Jio applications (phone calls, messaging, entertainment, online purchases, and more) is a potential gold mine — a dream for “big data” analysts. It is not entirely clear what restrictions the Aadhaar Act imposes, in practice, on the use of this database.In short, far from being “based on the premise that privacy is a fundamental right”, Aadhaar is the anti-thesis of the right to privacy. Perhaps further safeguards can be put in place, but Aadhaar’s fundamental power as a tool for mining personal information is bound to be hard to restrain. The very foundation of Aadhaar needs to be reconsidered in the light of the Supreme Court judgment.

ii) Episodic justice

The serial blasts that rocked Mumbai on March 12, 1993, occupy a special place in the history of terrorism in India. Planned abroad and executed with chilling precision in a dozen chosen spots, the crime altered the country’s understanding and perceptions of security; it inflicted near-permanent damage to inter-community relations in society; and more importantly, it warranted resolute action to render justice to the 257 people who died and over 700 people injured in the blasts. But then, justice in India is slow and episodic. More so when it involves the logistical challenge of trying a large number of suspects and apprehending conspirators living abroad. The trial that began with the accused available at that time took about 14 years to end, with a hundred suspects being convicted. One of them was hanged in 2015, while 28 are serving life terms. With Abu Salem being extradited from Portugal in 2005 and a few others subsequently arrested, a second trial began in 2007. This week two more have been sentenced to hang, subject to the Supreme Court’s confirmation, and two sentenced to spend their life in jail. One has been acquitted, another given a 10-year term, while a third, a key conspirator, died a few days after being found guilty in June. Few would disagree when the trial court says punishment must be proportionate to the depravity and gravity of the crime and taking a lenient view would weaken the fight against terrorism. Misgivings, if any, may turn around the fact that the trial took place under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, which allows confessions made to senior police officers to be admissible evidence.The outcome of the second trial has few surprises. With the conditions of his extradition prohibiting the death penalty, Salem has been handed down a life sentence despite playing a major role in the conspiracy by facilitating the transportation of arms and ammunition. In the normal course, the prosecution would have asked for the death penalty for him too. There seems to be some controversy over Salem getting a life term, which is for the duration of one’s remaining life, as India had assured Portuguese authorities that he would not be sentenced to a jail term beyond 25 years. Such a condition is binding on the executive, and at some stage the government may have to commute the life term and ensure that his imprisonment does not exceed this limit. Convictions at the end of the trial in heinous crimes usually leave one with a sense of satisfaction that the justice process has been successfully completed. In this case, the end of the trial may mean only a sense of partial closure to the families of the victims. As long as Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon, the main brains behind the serial explosions, remain out of the law’s reach, they have a right to expect a third trial.

iii) Nowhere people

India took extraordinary care to stay on Myanmar’s right side this week by resisting any show of sympathy to the Rohingya people. On his first bilateral visit to the country, Prime Minister NarendraModi said he shared the Myanmar government’s concerns about “extremist violence” in Rakhine state, which has seen unprecedented violence over the past fortnight. Meanwhile, at the World Parliamentary Forum on Sustainable Development, LokSabha Speaker SumitraMahajan abstained from the Bali Declaration because of a reference to “violence in Rakhine state”. New Delhi has traditionally been wary of internationalising the internal affairs of its neighbours; on Myanmar, it has concerns about keeping the country from spinning back into the Chinese orbit. But India must adopt a humane position when dealing with a refugee population that is stateless and has no place to call home. This week, when the matter of Rohingya refugees now in India came up for hearing in the Supreme Court, government counsel refused to guarantee they would not be deported. This was in line with the government’s indication to Parliament last month that all illegal immigrants, including the Rohingya, who number around 40,000, will be deported. The insensitivity of this plan is exposed by the unfolding crisis in Rakhine, where the Rohingya people had been living for generations. The Rohingya have been fleeing, mostly on rickety boats, for years now. But this exodus has picked up pace since August 25, when an attack on police posts by an extremistRohingya group invited sustained reprisal from the army and local Buddhist mobs. The UN estimates that about 270,000 people, more than a quarter of the entire Muslim Rohingya population in Rakhine, have fled since then, mostly to Bangladesh. The Rohingya have been the ultimate nowhere people since 1982, when a Burmese law rendered them stateless, with the government arguing that they are Bengali. Violence has targeted them in phases, most notably beginning in 2012 when inter-religious conflict forced them out in the thousands. In 2014, the Burmese census refused to enumerate the Rohingya, giving them only the option to identify themselves as Bengali. It is an irony that the period of Myanmar’s transition to democracy, that too on Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San SuuKyi’s watch, has coincided with the most heartless alienation of the Rohingya. A UN report has called them victims of “crimes against humanity”, while Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has referred to the violence as “ethnic cleansing”. This backdrop should worry Delhi, not just because its official stance is casting it on the wrong side of the humane position, but also because its deportation plans are perceived as being drawn by the sectarian pulls of domestic politics. And as a regional power, India must answer the question: if it is driving out a stateless people, where does it hope to send them?

Vocabulary/ Words:

1) Affirming

Meaning: State emphatically or publicly.

Example: He affirmed the country’s commitment to peace

Synonyms: Declare, State

2) Asserted

Meaning: State a fact or belief confidently and forcefully.

Example: The company asserts that the cuts will not affect development.

Synonyms: Declare, Maintain

3) Perception

Meaning: Intuitive understanding and insight.

Example: He wouldn’t have accepted,’ said my mother with unusual perception.

Synonyms: Insight, Percipience

4) Discretion

Meaning: The quality of behaving or speaking in such a way as to avoid causing offence or revealing confidential information.

Example: She knew she could rely on his discretion.

Synonyms: Circumspection, Care

Antonyms: Indiscretion, Rashness

5) Demographic

Meaning: Relating to the structure of populations.

Example: The demographic trend is towards an older population.

6) Obvious

Meaning: Easily perceived or understood; clear, self-evident, or apparent.

Example: Unemployment has been the most obvious cost of the recession

Synonyms: Clear, Evident, Apparent

Antonyms:Imperceptible, Inconspicuous

7) Concern

Meaning: Relate to; be about.

Example: The story concerns a friend of mine.

Synonyms: Cover, Treat

8) Loophole

Meaning: An ambiguity or inadequacy in the law or a set of rules.

Example: They exploited tax loopholes.

Synonyms: Escape, Clause

9) Exemption

Meaning: The action of freeing or state of being free from an obligation or liability imposed on others.

Example: Vehicles that may qualify for exemption from tax

Synonyms: Immunity, Exception

Antonyms: Liability

10) Proliferation

Meaning: Rapid increase in the number or amount of something.

Example: A continuing threat of nuclear proliferation

11) Unprecedented

Meaning: Never done or known before.

Example: The government took the unprecedented step of releasing confidential correspondence.

Synonyms: Unparalleled, Unequalled

Antonyms:Normal, Common

12) Collating

Meaning: Collect and combine (texts, information, or data).

Example: All the information obtained is being collated.

Synonyms: Collect, Gather, Accumulate


13) Invasion

Meaning: An unwelcome intrusion into another’s domain.

Example: Random drug testing of employees is an unwarranted invasion of privacy.

Synonyms: Violation, infringement

14) Far-fetched

Meaning: Unlikely and unconvincing; implausible.

Example: The theory sounded bizarre and far-fetched.

Synonyms: Improbable, Unlikely

Antonyms:Credible, Likely

15) Possession

Meaning: The state of having, owning, or controlling something.

Example: She had taken possession of the sofa.

Synonyms: Ownership, Control


16) Restrain

Meaning: Prevent (someone or something) from doing something; keep under control or within limits.

Example: The need to restrain public expenditure.

Synonyms: Prevent, Stop

Antonyms:Force, Compel

17) Precision

Meaning: The quality, condition, or fact of being exact and accurate.

Example: The deal was planned and executed with military precision.

Synonyms: Exactness, Accuracy

18) Resolute

Meaning: Admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering.

Example: He was resolute in his fight to uphold liberal values.

Synonyms: Determined, Purposeful

Antonyms:irresolute, Half-hearted

19) Apprehending

Meaning: Anticipate (something) with uneasiness or fear; to catch and arrest someone who has not obeyed the law.

Example: He is a man that apprehends death no more dreadfully but as a drunken sleep.

Synonyms: Arresting and charging

20) Extradited

Meaning: Hand over (a person accused or convicted of a crime) to the jurisdiction of the foreign state in which the crime was committed.

Example: Brazil refused to extradite him to Britain.

Synonyms: Deport, Hand over


21) Acquitted

Meaning: Free (someone) from a criminal charge by a verdict of not guilty.

Example: She was acquitted on all counts.

Synonyms: Absolve, Clear


22) Conspirator

Meaning: A person who takes part in a conspiracy

Example: Conspirators had planned to seize the state

Synonyms: Conspirer, Plotter

Conspiracy- A secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful.

23) Depravity

Meaning: Moral corruption; wickedness.

Example: A tale of depravity hard to credit.

Synonyms: Corruption, Perversion


24) Disruptive

Meaning: Disturbance or problems which interrupt an event, activity, or process.

Example: The scheme was planned to minimize disruption.

Synonyms: Disturbance

25) Confessions

Meaning:A formal statement admitting that one is guilty of a crime.

Example: He signed a confession to both the murders

Synonyms: Admission, Acknowledgement

Antonyms:Concealment, Denial

26) Facilitating

Meaning: Make (an action or process) easy or easier.

Example: Schools were located in the same campus to facilitate the sharing of resources.

Synonyms: Make easy


27) Ammunition

Meaning: A supply or quantity of bullets and shells.

Example: Guns, ammunition, and explosives.

Synonyms: Bullets, Shells

28) Heinous

Meaning: (of a person or wrongful act, especially a crime) utterly odious or wicked.

Example: A battery of heinous crimes

Synonyms: Odious, Wicked


29) Abstained

Meaning: to not do something, especially something enjoyable that you think might be bad.

Example: He took a vow to abstain from alcohol.

30) Deported

Meaning: Expel (a foreigner) from a country, typically on the grounds of illegal status or for having committed a crime.

Example: He was deported for violation of immigration laws.

Synonyms: Expel, Banish


31) Insensitivity

Meaning: Lack of awareness or ability to respond to something.

Example: The growth of our insensitivity to things of beauty

32) Unfolding

Meaning:(of events or information) gradually develop or be revealed.

Example:There was a fascinating scene unfolding before me.

Synonyms: Develop, Evolve

33) Exodus

Meaning: A mass departure of people.

Example: The annual exodus of sun-seeking Canadians to Florida.

Synonyms: Withdrawal, Evacuation


34) Extremist

Meaning: A person who holds extreme political or religious views, especially one who advocates illegal, violent, or other extreme action.

Example:Right-wing extremists.

Synonyms: Fanatic, Radical

Antonyms: Moderate

35) Reprisal

Meaning: An act of retaliation.

Example: Three youths died in the reprisals which followed.

Synonyms: Retaliation, Counterstroke

Retaliation – The action of returning a military attack; counter-attack.

36) Rendered

Meaning: Cause to be or become; make.

Example: The rains rendered his escape impossible.

Synonyms: Make, Leave

37) Enumerate

Meaning: Mention (a number of things) one by one; Establish the number of.

Example: There is not space to enumerate all his works

Synonyms: List, Itemize

38) Alienation

Meaning: Make (someone) become unsympathetic or hostile.

Example: A sense of alienation from our environment.

Synonyms: Isolation, Detachment

39) Stance

Meaning: The attitude of a person or organization towards something; a standpoint.

Example: The party is changing its stance on Europe

Synonyms: Attitude, Stand, Point of view

40) Sectarian

Meaning: (a person) strongly supporting a particular religious group and not willing to accept other beliefs.

Example: A sectarian murder.

Synonyms: Separatist, Dissenter