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Why Ram Sewak Sharma violated Aadhaar Act-Part XI

Written By mediavigil on Thursday, August 02, 2018 | 2:24 AM

In an interview with The Print, Ram Sewak Sharma, Chairman of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) claimed that Aadhaar does not violate privacy. He asked “Tell me what harm can you do to me if you have my Aadhaar details? I will give you my Aadhaar number if you like”.

This question made active Twitter society members to demand asked TRAI Chairman to walk the talk and reveal his Aadhaar number on 28 July. They said if he has so much trust in the 13 feet wall secured aadhaar system. Following this exchange of words over Twitter, Sharma made his 12 digit biometric unique identification (UID) number branded as Aadhaar public on this micro blogging site.

In the early evening of 28 July, Sharma announced that “My Aadhaar number is ***********. Now I give this challenge to you: Show me one concrete example where you can do any harm to me!”

By doing so, Sharma committed an illegal and punishable act. Publishing of Aadhaar number is prohibited by Aadhaar Act, 2016. As per Section 29 (4) of the Act, “No Aadhaar number or core biometric information collected or created under this Act in respect of an Aadhaar number holder shall be published, displayed or posted publicly, except for the purposes as may be specified by regulations.” So far there is no regulation which condones this illegal act of the TRAI Chairman.

Within few hours some cyber security researchers, the ethical hackers accessed his personal details using the Aadhaar number and shared some excerpts on twitter.

In such a backdrop, Sharma wrote an article in Indian Express on 31st July explaining why he gave out his number wherein he has argued that his “purpose in engaging in debate is to prove by my own example that Aadhaar number disclosure cannot cause any harm.” He hoped that his challenge would put an end to the scaremongering so that the people of India can benefit from the technology.

But the facts are contrary to his claims about right to privacy, disclosure of personal sensitive information, digital vulnerabilities and benefits.

In its affidavit before the 9-Judge Constitution Bench of Supreme Court, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) submitted that right to privacy is not a fundamental right. The Court debunked its claim in it verdict of 24 August 2017 and ruled that “The right to privacy is protected as an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 and as a part of the freedoms guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution.” It conclusively established that right to privacy is a fundamental right. The Court observed, “The dignity of the individual encompasses the right of the individual to develop to the full extent of his potential. And this development can only be if an individual has autonomy over fundamental personal choices and control over dissemination of personal information which may be infringed through an unauthorized use of such information.” On the question of vulnerability, the court took note of “increased the vulnerability of individuals to having their actions, words, images, and personalities communicated without their consent beyond the protected circle of family and chosen friends.” It is crystal clear that all the claims of TRAI have been demolished by the Court. TRAI and Sharma have failed to revise their position in the light of this verdict.  

On 1 May 2012, Sharma “took the biometric fingerprints of Mr Modi for his identity card and registered him under the project” as per the website of Narendra Modi. (Source:   http://www.narendramodi.in/cm-kicks-off-uid-project-in-gujarat/). It is apparent that, he misled the then Gujarat Chief Minister because it was not mandatory as per the declaration on every Aadhaar enrolment form and there was no legal framework in place. 
CM kicks off UID project in Gujarat

(Photo: R S Sharma behind Gujarat Chief Minister in May 2012 to kick off Unique Identification Number (UID) – Aadhaar project)

Notably, Mr Modi had protested against biometric data collection in aletter to the then Prime Minister. This was after the then Home Minister P Chidambaram had sent a letter to Mr Modi pointing out that creation of biometric National Population Register (which has now been converged with UID/Aadhaar) was a "statutory requirement" under the Citizenship Act, 1955, and "once initialized, has to be necessarily completed". Gujarat had stopped collection of biometric data. It demonstrates that Mr Modi himself had gnawing doubts about biometric data based identification. But Sharma seems to have succeeded in persuading him to part with is biometric data for UID/Aadhaar.  

As chief secretary of Jharkhand, he violated Supreme Court’s orders to make aadhaar mandatory. This has contributed to ongoing starvation deaths in Jharkhand. In all his official capacities he continued to illegitimately and illegally use foreign Gmail accounts of. He did so even during his tenure at UIDAI. He did not learn any lessons from Hilary Clinton’s private email controversy which contributed to her defeat. The use private email server for official communications during her tenure as US Secretary of State rather than official US State Department email accounts maintained on secure federal servers became a huge scam. These official communications included over 100 emails which contained classified information at the time they were sent, as well as 2,093 emails which were not marked classified but were retroactively be ranked as "confidential" by the State Department. Her communications did not have classification markings. In July 2016, FBI announced that its investigation had concluded that Clinton was "extremely careless" in handling her email system. It was a factor in her loss in the 2016 presidential election. Sharma is guilty of a similar offence. His current stance with regard to his own Aadhaar number creates a compelling reason for probe into his gmail and other private email accounts he has been using.    

Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI)’s Committee on Biometrics revealed that in its sample of 25,000 people, 2-5% did not have biometric records. It is estimated that approximately 5% of any population has unreadable fingerprints, either due to scars or aging or illegible prints. 

(Photo: R S Sharma with N Nilekani)

In the Indian environment, experience has shown that the failure to enroll is as high as 15% due to the prevalence of a huge population dependent on manual labour, revealed Sharma as the director general and mission director, UIDAI in an interview to Frontline. When as many as 15% fail to enroll, how does “Aadhaar in the beneficiary database ensures detection of a large number of duplicates”? Failure in this regard has contributed to starvation deaths in most states. The accountability for these deaths lies with officials like Sharma.  

Sharma has been violating laws with impunity for quite a while. Therefore, he did not desist from violating even the punitive provisions of the Aadhaar Act. If law does take not its own course to charge him of this offence, it will once again demonstrate that Aadhaar Act is a black law because it is apparent that its implementation is only aimed at causing starvation deaths and civil deaths by coercion.   

Dr Gopal Krishna

The author had appeared before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance that examined the Aadhaar Bill and the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution that examined the Consumer Protection Bill. He is editor of www.toxicswatch.org and is the convener of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties which has been working on UID/Aadhaar issue since 2010.

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