Privacy advocates slam bill that allows linking of Aadhaar to voter ID – The Economic Times

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SynopsisThe government has said that linking Aadhaar to Voter IDs is key to weeding out fake and duplicate voter cards and making elections fair and transparent.

Privacy advocates have slammed the Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which was passed by the Lok Sabha on Monday by voice vote, amid opposition.

They have said that the Bill, which allows for the voluntary linking of Aadhaar to a person’s voter’s identity, is “dangerous” for democracy as the proposed legislation violates citizens’ right to privacy by enabling voter profiling and linkage of data sets.

The government has said that linking Aadhaar to Voter IDs is key to weeding out fake and duplicate voter cards and making elections fair and transparent.

“It is a dangerous law that will undermine electoral democracy; free and fair elections; individual privacy. We have no data protection law. The one under consideration is leaky as a sieve,” Apar Gupta of the Internet Freedom Foundation said on Twitter.

Minister of Law and Justice Kiren Rijiju said the legislation will end bogus voting in the country and make the electoral process more credible.

Election reform advocates have also claimed that the proposed linking of Aadhaar and Voter ID is unconstitutional as it does not meet the test of proportionality laid down by the Supreme Court in its judgement on privacy in the Justice KS Puttaswamy vs Union of India case.

They said the new law can lead to disenfranchisement of voters and violate the secrecy of ballots in the absence of a strong data protection law.

“This is not a reform, in fact, it is a step backwards that will make voting difficult for many people. The government always says Aadhaar linkages are voluntary but ultimately it becomes compulsory. Voting is a fundamental right of the citizen,” said Jagdeep S Chhokar, co-founder of the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR).

Cyber law expert Pavan Duggal said the government is playing with fire.

“The law is silent on cybersecurity mechanisms. This can threaten India’s sovereignty in case of a data breach by state and non-state actors. Linking Aadhaar to Voter ID is a double bonanza for cyber criminals,” he said.

This is not the first time that the government has tried to link Voter ID and Aadhaar to “purify” the electoral rolls.

In 2015, it introduced the National Election Roll Purification and Authentication Programme (NERPAP), and during the Aadhaar challenge, the Supreme Court passed an interim order in August 2015 asking the Election Commission of India to suspend Aadhaar-Voter ID linkage.

In 2018, the chief electoral officer of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh linked Aadhaar data with voter identity cards, which led to at least 5.5 million voters being disenfranchised, according to news reports.

“Since there are no strong safeguards in the Data Protection Bill suggested by the Joint Parliamentary Committee with respect to government access, this is even more concerning,” said Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia policy director at Access Now, a non-profit that defends digital rights. “The use of any centralised digital ID system by the government must be approached with extreme caution. This proposed linkage is unprecedented.”

The new Data Protection Bill gives the government power to exempt its own agencies from legal oversight without sufficient checks and balances. This means various government agencies will have the power to collect and process personal data without consent or by applying other legal safeguards. The clause has raised alarm among many privacy advocates, but the government believes such exemption is required for the safety and security of the nation.

“Fundamentally, it has too many problems with potential surveillance. That potential is frightening,” said Nikhil Dey, a social activist who works for Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan.

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