When Narendra Modi was chief minister of Gujarat he opposed Aadhaar, raising questions about privacy and efficiency through 140-character snippets of wisdom that endeared him to enlightened free-market liberals. It was part of the phase where Modi spoke all the words that were music to the ears of his more sophisticated supporters—those who wanted market more than mandir. Modi as prime minister is the architect of India’s most decisive push for an Aadhaar-enabled world, from the government to the private sector. His pithy slogans have morphed into a series of forgettable and forced acronyms for government schemes, an affliction that has spread down the cabinet.

In a fashion typical of this government, everything is being rammed down the throat, especially Aadhaar. About 110 crore people have enrolled, so the scheme is a success on that front. While legal challenges are pending in the Supreme Court, the opposition is led by a small group of vocal privacy warriors and data security experts online. It’s not become a public cause, probably because for most of the public Aadhaar makes their interaction with the government less painful. For most citizens being in a government database is more important than being invisible.

The security of biometric data of Indians, however, is essential. Our cover story, “The making of Aadhaar”, an investigation by staff writer Govind Krishnan V. exposes Aadhaar’s deep links with the western military-industrial complex. The Unique Identification Authority of India’s (UIDAI) data centres and databases were set up by three companies dubbed Biometric Service Providers (BSP): L1 Identity Solutions, Morpho-Satyam, and Accenture. They have links with Cambridge Analytica and Palantir Technologies, and others in the global surveillance business.  A small pool of former officials at the highest levels of America’s security and intelligence establishment continue to ship in and out of these companies.

Aadhaar’s biometric backbone runs on the proprietary software owned by the BSPs. Experts have said that India would have been better served if it had developed its own proprietary technology instead of relying on global corporations engaged in the surveillance business. These contracts were awarded during UPA’s rule when Nandan Nilekeni helmed the UIDAI.

UIDAI has been silent on why it selected this route of operation, on whether it was aware of the close ties the BSPs have with the American deep state, and on what basis it decided to award contracts. The answers are vital for the identities of Indians at stake.

Saurav Kumar

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