Edward Snowden, the famous CIA whistleblower and notorious American defector, has been lashing out at the Unique Identification Authority of India and the biometric ID database it oversees.
Snowdens complaints have come in the form of tweets, with the most recent prompted by two important developments in the debate around Aadhaar. One is the publication of an article by the former chief of Indian intelligence agency the Research and Analysis Wing, in which he laid out concerns about Aadhaar’s pervasiveness across Indian society; Snowden tweeted, “Rarely do former intel chiefs and I agree,” adding his endorsement of the piece.
The other is the UIDAI’s request for a formal investigation into The Tribune newspaper, which recently published an exposé asserting that access to the Aadhaar database could be purchased for less than $10. Snowden expressed outrage at the move, saying that if anyone should be arrested it’s the officials at UIDAI, who have “destroyed the privacy of a billion Indians.”
It isn’t clear that Snowden’s voice carries a lot of clout among Indian citizens, but he is far from alone in these criticisms. There have been numerous scandals pertaining to the relative security of the Aadhaar database, and its growing reach across various aspects of everyday life – consumers need to provide Aadhaar numbers even to track lost Amazon packages – appears to be causing some discomfort about privacy violations. Nevertheless, the UIDAI continues to press on with its mission, and has been making tweaks to the program that appear to be aimed at improving its security, such as adding support for facial recognition, in addition to fingerprint and iris recognition, to prevent fraud in Aadhaar authentication. Such measures do little to address Snowden’s deeper concerns, which seem to revolve around state surveillance the loss of privacy; but ultimately it’s going to be up to Indian citizens to decide how much of Aadhaar they can live with.
January 22, 2018 – by Alex Perala