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Freedom Politics

Is the GoI’s database linkage plan a precursor to NRC?

Plans involves linking electoral roll, ration card, passport, drivers license, Aadhaar and a register of births and deaths

Sabrangindia 14 Oct 2022

NO NRC

The government plans to set up a national database of all Indian citizens, registering all births and deaths, reports NDTV citing a Cabinet note and Bill moved by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs. At present it is the states that maintain such databases through local registrars.

But the publication reports that the government wants to integrate all this data collected on the state level with population register, electoral rolls, Aadhaar card data, ration card, passport and driving license databases, and has moved a Cabinet note to amend the Registration of Births and Deaths Act. The Registrar General of India will maintain this integrated database.

However, this move raises concerns over how this linkage of various databases could enable surveillance, violate privacy of citizens, and potentially even control their actions should they be deemed to be against the regime. If all databases are interlinked, all the related documents could be invalidated with the mere push of a button, till that person falls in line. Also, if data from such a comprehensive database were to ever get leaked, it could lead to other crimes like identity theft that could completely jeopardise a person’s life.

Moreover, this could be laying the grounds for the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC), a register, much like Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC). While the purported aim of such a register is to weed out illegal immigrants, the power it will allow the regime cannot be ignored, especially given its potential impact on minorities and dissenters. There have already been widespread protests where citizens have taken to the streets to highlight the potential harm the NRC/NRIC could cause particularly in conjunction with the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Population Register (NPR).

Previous database linkage plans

A previous plan to integrate Aadhaar with voter ID voluntarily, was met with stiff opposition. SabrangIndia had reported previously on how over 500 entities such as civil rights groups including Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), Peoples’ Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), Adivasi Women’s Network, Chetna Andolan, etc.; as well as groups working to defend digital freedoms and rights, such as Rethink Aadhaar, Article 21 Trust, the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), and the Free Software Movement of India, as well as activists, journalist and educators including CJP secretary Teesta Setalvad signed a statement calling the move to link Aadhaar with Voter ID “ill-thought, ill logical and unnecessary”. They had warned that the proposal “creates the possibilities for disenfranchisement based on identity, of increased surveillance, and targeted advertisements and commercial exploitation of private sensitive data.”

In December 2021, a Cabinet committee approved a draft bill for the linkage of Aadhaar with Voter IDs. The linking was ostensibly to enable weeding out of fake voters or duplications from electoral rolls. The bill narrowly avoided violating a Supreme Court judgment by making the linking “voluntary” and says that the Aadhaar information will only be used “for authentication purposes.”

 

 

It is noteworthy that the Supreme Court had, in its judgment, allowed use of Aadhaar only for availing government schemes, shooting down the requirement to provide Aadhaar data to private players such as banks, telephone companies etc. Thus, the provision in the bill for linking Aadhaar to Voter ID voluntarily and only for authentication, allowed for a bit of a gray area, given how this could be argued by some to provide a smoother experience for the voter hoping to get enrolled or update their information, and thus exercise their Right to Vote.

CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechury has been a longtime critic of the move, calling it an attempt at surveillance and exclusion.

 

 

The party had issued a statement as far back as October 2021, saying, “The amendment proposed to the Registration of Births and Deaths Act 1969 providing for the Centre to maintain the database is to facilitate the updating of the National Population Register (NPR) which is the basis on which the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is to be prepared.  This NPR-NRC, along with the Citizenship Amendment Act, is going to be an exclusionary and divisive step. Further the centralization of this database is meant to strengthen the surveillance regime already in place.”

Later in December 2021 itself, the Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, authorising the linking of Aadhaar with Voter IDs, was passed by the Lok Sabha through a voice vote. In August 2022, Yechury wrote to the Election Commission of India (ECI), saying, “As part of this exercise several Chief Electoral Officers across the country have obtained the Aadhaar data of voters from several other databases like NPR, PDS and State Resident Data Hubs (SRDH). These electoral offices linked Aadhaar with Voter ID of 31 crore voters without informing the individual voters and instead using algorithms to automatically link them based on already existing data.”

He highlighted the case of voter deletions in Telangana. “This process has resulted in voter deletions across the country and in particular in the state of Telangana, where the NERP-AP exercise of Aadhaar with Voter ID was originally developed,” he said urging, “It is the duty of the Election Commission of India to investigate these serious lapses in voter deletions and data breaches that occurred. The Election Commission of India is mandated to protect the constitutional rights of the voters. Until the Election Commission produces an investigation report into these incidents, and comes out with a clear checks and balances this linking exercise must be kept under abeyance.”

Census-NPR delays, concerns about NRC

It is also noteworthy that Census operations could not commence in 2020-2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and remain suspended even now. The first phase of Census accompanied by the National Population Register (NPR) exercise was due to kickstart in April 2020, but was postponed repeatedly.

The first phase of Census includes the Houselisting and Housing Census and this time it was to be accompanied by the updating of the NPR, which had created much controversy and opposition. The reason being that NPR was seen as the first step towards the National Register of Citizens (NRC). A detailed analysis of a combination of Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA along with NPR and NRC may be read here.

The houselisting phase collects data on the house, the amenities in the house, like toilet, electricity, water supply. The second phase is about the members in the household.

The RGI has decided to surrender the partial budget allocated for the Census-NPR exercise, reported the Economic Times. The Finance Ministry had allocated Rs 3,768 crore in the 2021-22 budget for this exercise.

 

Related:

Aadhaar linking to Voter ID: Empowering voters or enabling surveillance?

Cabinet clears draft bill on linking Aadhaar with Voter ID

Is the GoI’s database linkage plan a precursor to NRC?

Plans involves linking electoral roll, ration card, passport, drivers license, Aadhaar and a register of births and deaths

NO NRC

The government plans to set up a national database of all Indian citizens, registering all births and deaths, reports NDTV citing a Cabinet note and Bill moved by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs. At present it is the states that maintain such databases through local registrars.

But the publication reports that the government wants to integrate all this data collected on the state level with population register, electoral rolls, Aadhaar card data, ration card, passport and driving license databases, and has moved a Cabinet note to amend the Registration of Births and Deaths Act. The Registrar General of India will maintain this integrated database.

However, this move raises concerns over how this linkage of various databases could enable surveillance, violate privacy of citizens, and potentially even control their actions should they be deemed to be against the regime. If all databases are interlinked, all the related documents could be invalidated with the mere push of a button, till that person falls in line. Also, if data from such a comprehensive database were to ever get leaked, it could lead to other crimes like identity theft that could completely jeopardise a person’s life.

Moreover, this could be laying the grounds for the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC), a register, much like Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC). While the purported aim of such a register is to weed out illegal immigrants, the power it will allow the regime cannot be ignored, especially given its potential impact on minorities and dissenters. There have already been widespread protests where citizens have taken to the streets to highlight the potential harm the NRC/NRIC could cause particularly in conjunction with the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Population Register (NPR).

Previous database linkage plans

A previous plan to integrate Aadhaar with voter ID voluntarily, was met with stiff opposition. SabrangIndia had reported previously on how over 500 entities such as civil rights groups including Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), Peoples’ Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), Adivasi Women’s Network, Chetna Andolan, etc.; as well as groups working to defend digital freedoms and rights, such as Rethink Aadhaar, Article 21 Trust, the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), and the Free Software Movement of India, as well as activists, journalist and educators including CJP secretary Teesta Setalvad signed a statement calling the move to link Aadhaar with Voter ID “ill-thought, ill logical and unnecessary”. They had warned that the proposal “creates the possibilities for disenfranchisement based on identity, of increased surveillance, and targeted advertisements and commercial exploitation of private sensitive data.”

In December 2021, a Cabinet committee approved a draft bill for the linkage of Aadhaar with Voter IDs. The linking was ostensibly to enable weeding out of fake voters or duplications from electoral rolls. The bill narrowly avoided violating a Supreme Court judgment by making the linking “voluntary” and says that the Aadhaar information will only be used “for authentication purposes.”

 

 

It is noteworthy that the Supreme Court had, in its judgment, allowed use of Aadhaar only for availing government schemes, shooting down the requirement to provide Aadhaar data to private players such as banks, telephone companies etc. Thus, the provision in the bill for linking Aadhaar to Voter ID voluntarily and only for authentication, allowed for a bit of a gray area, given how this could be argued by some to provide a smoother experience for the voter hoping to get enrolled or update their information, and thus exercise their Right to Vote.

CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechury has been a longtime critic of the move, calling it an attempt at surveillance and exclusion.

 

 

The party had issued a statement as far back as October 2021, saying, “The amendment proposed to the Registration of Births and Deaths Act 1969 providing for the Centre to maintain the database is to facilitate the updating of the National Population Register (NPR) which is the basis on which the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is to be prepared.  This NPR-NRC, along with the Citizenship Amendment Act, is going to be an exclusionary and divisive step. Further the centralization of this database is meant to strengthen the surveillance regime already in place.”

Later in December 2021 itself, the Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, authorising the linking of Aadhaar with Voter IDs, was passed by the Lok Sabha through a voice vote. In August 2022, Yechury wrote to the Election Commission of India (ECI), saying, “As part of this exercise several Chief Electoral Officers across the country have obtained the Aadhaar data of voters from several other databases like NPR, PDS and State Resident Data Hubs (SRDH). These electoral offices linked Aadhaar with Voter ID of 31 crore voters without informing the individual voters and instead using algorithms to automatically link them based on already existing data.”

He highlighted the case of voter deletions in Telangana. “This process has resulted in voter deletions across the country and in particular in the state of Telangana, where the NERP-AP exercise of Aadhaar with Voter ID was originally developed,” he said urging, “It is the duty of the Election Commission of India to investigate these serious lapses in voter deletions and data breaches that occurred. The Election Commission of India is mandated to protect the constitutional rights of the voters. Until the Election Commission produces an investigation report into these incidents, and comes out with a clear checks and balances this linking exercise must be kept under abeyance.”

Census-NPR delays, concerns about NRC

It is also noteworthy that Census operations could not commence in 2020-2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and remain suspended even now. The first phase of Census accompanied by the National Population Register (NPR) exercise was due to kickstart in April 2020, but was postponed repeatedly.

The first phase of Census includes the Houselisting and Housing Census and this time it was to be accompanied by the updating of the NPR, which had created much controversy and opposition. The reason being that NPR was seen as the first step towards the National Register of Citizens (NRC). A detailed analysis of a combination of Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA along with NPR and NRC may be read here.

The houselisting phase collects data on the house, the amenities in the house, like toilet, electricity, water supply. The second phase is about the members in the household.

The RGI has decided to surrender the partial budget allocated for the Census-NPR exercise, reported the Economic Times. The Finance Ministry had allocated Rs 3,768 crore in the 2021-22 budget for this exercise.

 

Related:

Aadhaar linking to Voter ID: Empowering voters or enabling surveillance?

Cabinet clears draft bill on linking Aadhaar with Voter ID

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