By invitation : Aadhaar - Orwellian dystopia or engine of progress?

Be very worried with mandatory Aadhaar- V Ravichander At birth, one welcomed Aadhaar. Here was a truly transformative use of technology providing identity to millions of Indians who had none. It was a magical panacea to check inflated government expenditure on leaky social welfare schemes and reach the truly deserving. The promise was optional, never mandatory and the technology would just authenticate with a yes, no response when confirmation was required.

Aadhaar 2.0 focus is on making it mandatory, be it for linking your PAN, bank accounts, mobile SIMs, train tickets and proposed for even watching an IPL match. The reason touted for mandatory Aadhaar is to catch cheating be it multiple PANs (25 crores while only 2 crores pay taxes), Benami accounts, etc. There are ways to fix these through a focused, honest effort than have this mandatory Aadhaar thrust on crores of ordinary, law abiding citizens. Many friends say why worry about mandatory linking when you are honest. Opponents to the move cite privacy, hacking, surveillance concerns to which the believers say that in the digital world much about you is already out there.

There is a gnawing worry that does not go away - since it is now mandatory to link our phones and Bank accounts to Adhaar what is to stop the system to ask telecom and bank service providers to temporarily stop services to X, Y and Z Adhaar numbers for say reasons of suspected anti national behaviour while the threesome are just critics of the government of the day. Shades of Sandra Bullock in 'The Net' where she is locked out of the system digitally since she was a perceived threat to the powers that be.

One is fearful of the vast power of the State and its potential for misuse particularly with weak institutions, manned by folks with not so good intent. A mandatory Aadhaar linked system is akin to a Master key lying out there with the powers that be, which can shut any inconvenient person out of life as they know it. What appears great to get a good outcome in the hands of good people can become lethal when the wrong folks have access to it. And in our times, we unfortunately do have many of the latter in positions of power. Ironically, for an identity initiative, mandatory linking provides the platform to invalidate your identity! Reason enough to worry.

‘It will make us a compliant society’- Mohandas Pai Want a driving license? Produce your Aadhaar card. Registering a vehicle? Aadhar, please. Filing tax returns? Or do you want to avail of your LPG subsidy? You better have your Aadhaar card at the ready! The government's decision to link the Aadhaar with a number of essential services has drawn widespread criticism from across the country, nearly all of it unfounded.

A single identity for multiple transactions is critical. In the United States, for instance, you have a social security number. This is used to report a person's wages to the government and determine, therefore, their eligibility for various social security benefits. It also ensures compliance - those who feel inclined to break the law can be traced. The same applies here. We need to become a compliant society.

At the moment, large numbers of people are non-compliant, only a handful pay tax and the black market is rampant. The burden of this has fallen, therefore, on the honest few - that this is unjust hardly needs pointing out. Very few people pay their taxes, when really, the everybody should share the financial burden of keeping the country up and running. The government is trying to make sure that the masses fall in line with the law and must ensure they have enough data to keep track.

Recently M.S. Dhoni's Aadhaar details were leaked across the internet, resulting in a nationwide uproar about privacy and security. As it turned out, his wife had approached a private agency and one of their staff uploaded his details social media. Any claim that our safety has been compromised at the government level is rubbish. As Finance Minister Arun Jaitley rightly said pointed out, this was an "immature" act by someone in Ranchi. The Aadhaar security is fantastic, it is one of the most secure databases in the world, with two-factor authentication. This is not a breach of security so much as misuse at the individual level.

Aadhaar has been made mandatory for welfare schemes, which mainstream media says is violation of a 2015 Supreme Court direction, which said that a citizen cannot be forced to apply for an Aadhaar to access centrally-sponsored welfare schemes. This remark was made when there was no law and the Supreme Court could not comment otherwise. Now, the parliament has passed the law, which is very clear. It guarantees privacy and addresses the court's major concerns. The Supreme Court cannot - and did not, in fact - lapse into ideology. They have to abide by the Constitution.

Linking Aadhaar to direct benefit transfer is important for two reasons. One, it prevents misuse, ensuring that benefits reach the people for whom they are intended. It helps the taxpayer keep track too. This brings about transparency for us, too, because we have the right to know where our money goes. In the future, welfare schemes can be tracked, there will be very little room for tax evasion or money laundering. Money that comes in to fund terror activities can be seized.

The critics of the Aadhaar make ideological arguments, calling it an Orwellian crisis and saying things like 'Big Brother is coming for us'.  The arguments are seldom rooted in fact or reality. The law, on its part, is clear. It promises privacy and our details are contained within one of the world's most secure databases. Aadhaar will mean greater transparency, less room for corruption and the creation of a more compliant, cooperative society.

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