Srikanth @logic
Sep 21, 2018 · 4 min read

How checks and balances that exist in a democracy are hacked in policymaking.

Aadhaar ECMP Hack and skirting security checks

HuffPost India exposed in detail how a patch to ECMP client, the software used to enrol people into Aadhaar can disable security checks that were intended to prevent fraudulent enrollments.

The UIDAI came with usual denials, but HuffPost India followed it up with another expert’s report detailing the list of 11 functionality changes to weaken/ disable the security checks that were made through 26 modifications in the patch. Fake / Ghost enrollments give a window of opportunity for fraud actors to exist in UID system, reap the benefits intended only to residents, citizens. The mere existence of Aadhaar legitimizes a person this is why terrorists are loving it.


Aadhaar, Privacy, Welfare state, State Liberalism

An article titled “Privacy, Aadhaar, Data Protection: Statist Liberalism and the Danger to Liberty” contains commentary around welfare state, state liberalism, Aadhaar and privacy discourse. I respond to some of the arguments below.

The commentary on Aadhaar oversimplifies the problems. The problems with Aadhaar is not just about welfare delivery, privacy. The other problems with Aadhaar are many — centralized technical architecture, technology governance, national security, accountability, revolving doors of state and market, regulators and bureaucracy, economic and rights cost of ID system on citizens, cyber-security, governance, hijack of agency, data hygiene issues, grievance redress, separation of powers (no legal recourse), mockery of parliamentary democracy in passing the Aadhaar Act, bureaucratic over-reach among others.

In fact, the welfare state character of the Indian State has been significantly expanded in the past two decades through initiatives such as MNREGA and others addressing food security and debt relief.

This has been said multiple times on Twitter. Aadhaar is Employment Guarantee Scheme for professionals in IT, software, auditing, public policy think tanks, law firms among others. This is nothing but expansion of role of state in expanding itself for the welfare of market in implementing a new layer of technology solutions to minimize the role of state, not just in subsidy delivery, but its presence in banking and other sectors as well. Even when this is done through a deceit, free market lovers cry foul on MNREGA and fail to conveniently see problems it causes and provide clean chits.

  • It was markets mandate to broaden financial inclusion, universal banking.
  • It was markets mandate to reduce subsidies, because subsidies cause fiscal deficit. This call created the notion of targeted subsidies which created the need for Aadhaar.
  • eKYC solves a market problem of minimizing cost of regulations.

It is surprising that someone who sees markets as efficient instruments, does not want identity market to be open to all players and is okay with an inefficient state monopoly and justifies its mistakes as problems of welfare state and its schemes.

Hacking Democracy and removing checks

The Democracy hack is defined as application of patches of institutional, parliamentary, legislative, regulatory hacks to undermine the democratic checks and balances that provides right to information, accountability, constitutional safeguards. Sample these

  • National Payments Corporation of India — A retail payments settlement monopoly run by banks as a non profit, to enable profit for banks has National and India in its name and strategic investment of public sector banks (PSU banks) but with no transparency provision under Right To Information Act(RTI).
  • National e-Governance Service Limited — An insolvency resolution information utility with strategic investment from PSU banks, again not under RTI.
  • The RBI rules on eKYC for Prepaid instruments is a regulatory hack on decision making for furthering Aadhaar, even when its constitutionality was challenged and matter was pending before Supreme Court.
  • The money bill route of passing Aadhaar act is a parliamentary hack (poorly executed, which was why it was challenged soon, even by Congress which bought in Aadhaar.)
  • The Mobile eKYC directive by DoT was a regulatory cum judicial hack, which was later found and called out by Aadhaar bench itself recusing judiciary’s approval of the same, even while staying silent all the while enabling Aadhaar linking to mobile.

The list is endless. There are several entities that are actually private in nature, but use National / India in its name, with / without state’s strategic investment in the form a stake held Public Sector Undertakings. The entities bring about a public perception that they are public / state run institutions, without having proportional transparency, accountability structures. In one way they can be seen as entities masquerading as state institutions that have enrolled in policy making, business for benefit of proponents and investors of these entities using a benefit of trust by people, usually given only to legitimate state institutions.

Accountability of both state and corporations, privacy from both.

I will conclude by saying people criticizing Aadhaar do not view through single prism of privacy. They seek privacy, accountability, transparency in governance, decision making when it comes to usage of personal identity from both state and private actors. Coercion / Control is not unique function of welfare state liberalism just as much as how welfare is not unique function of philanthrocapitalism aided markets. We need the right balance to be struck after a democratic processes, not by running over it.

Kaarana

Kaarana (ಕಾರಣ; कारण; reason) is a collection of independent critiques of Aadhaar and digital India

Thanks to Abhay Rana (Nemo)

Srikanth @logic

Written by

Pseudogeek #CashlessConsumer

Kaarana

Kaarana

Kaarana (ಕಾರಣ; कारण; reason) is a collection of independent critiques of Aadhaar and digital India

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