What is meant by e aadhaar

A yellow house stands on a dirt road in a hot, dusty village in the east Indian state of Jharkhand. This is where many residents decide month after month whether they will have enough rice to eat. It depends, among other things, on whether the internet is working and whether your fingerprints can be recognized - despite years of hard work.

In the house, the distribution point for subsidized rice in the village of Baridih, Jolen Minz is sitting in a small, dark room. Dozens of 50-pound sacks of rice are piled in one corner. They are left over from the previous month when the people who were entitled to the rice couldn't take it with them because of various problems.

On a small table in front of Mint is a device with a cash register roll that looks like a reader for debit and credit cards. “Welcome,” squeaks a female voice as Mint turns on the device. Before your customer can put her thumb on the device, the device indicates a network problem.

"The internet comes and goes"

"The Internet comes and goes," says Minz with a shrug. The customer, the 28-year-old brickworker Rina Devi, now has to be patient and hope that the connection will be established again today. Then the device can compare her thumbprint with a database, and she can buy the 35 kilos of government-subsidized rice that her family is entitled to every month.

What is meant is the central database of the Indian identification program Aadhaar - roughly translated as “foundation”. Most of the country's 1.3 billion citizens now have Aadhaar ID cards with a twelve-digit number, under which personal and biometric data is stored in the database - including iris scans of both eyes and all ten fingerprints. Anyone who purchases subsidized basic food has had to identify themselves using aadhaar for around six months. In Jharkhand, one of the poorest states in India, that's about 86 percent of the more than 30 million inhabitants.

As a result of the Facebook data scandal, data abuse is also being discussed in India, a country without a comprehensive data protection law. It turns out that a local partner of the data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica counts both of the major Indian parties among its customers. In addition, a hacker has revealed that data from users of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's personal app has been passed on to a US company without their consent - which subsequent research by Indian media has confirmed.

Data for US companies?

"Hi! My name is Narendra Modi. I am India's prime minister. If you sign up for my official app, I will pass all your data on to my friends in American companies, ”scoffs Rahul Gandhi, head of the opposition Congress Party, on Twitter. Shortly thereafter, the hacker tweeted about similar problems with a Congress party's app.

Little has been said about Aadhaar in connection with data protection. The program is becoming more and more a basic part of Indian life. From July recipients of state aid must identify themselves by Aadhaar, and on the same date, the Aadhaar number must be linked to the tax number. The same should also apply to bank accounts, SIM cards and passports - corresponding deadlines are currently suspended while the Supreme Court deals with lawsuits against the program.

Aadhaar was introduced under the previous government in 2009 to prevent fraud in social benefits. Modi is expanding it as part of its digitization initiative. “For a long time it was sold to people as voluntary,” explains the renowned development economist and activist Jean Drèze, who comes from Belgium but has lived in India since 1979 - when he was 20. "Now people are realizing that it is anything but voluntary, but in fact de facto mandatory."

One billion people in the database

The journalist Rachna Khaira found out that the data of more than a billion people stored in the Aadhaar database are by no means certain. In January she reported in the newspaper "The Tribune" that hackers gave her access to the entire database for a fee of 500 rupees (about 6.20 euros). The Aadhaar authority UIDAI drew disconcerting consequences from this: They reported Khaira to charges of fraud and forgery, among other things.

According to journalist and internet freedom activist Nikhil Pahwa, it was by no means the only Aadhaar data breach - although the government repeatedly emphasizes that the data is safe. Pahwa says that anyone who points out problems must expect criminal prosecution. There is also a lot of fraud because identification documents are not checked when assigning Aadhaar numbers. This sometimes has absurd consequences: “There have been reports of a chair that was given an Aadhaar number - with a photo of a chair on the ID card. Dogs have also been given Aadhaar numbers. "

According to Pahwa, a "mass surveillance state" is emerging in India. Aadhaar is a great threat to both individual freedoms and national security. Regarding the upcoming negotiations before the judges of the Supreme Court, he says: "Your decision will probably be one of the most important in the history of independent India."

Lots of shortcuts

This not only has to do with data protection issues, but also with the consequences of linking Aadhaar with the pension system, for example - and with the system for the distribution of subsidized staple foods.

"There are people who have not been able to buy their food rations since the biometric system was introduced," says Drèze, who is currently visiting professor in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand, who conducts surveys in the villages of the state. There have also been starvation because of aadhaar problems. Activists have documented at least four such cases in the past six months; however, the authorities deny that the victims died of starvation.

It hits the weakest, says Drèze - old people with worn fingertips; widows living alone who cannot cope with the system; Poor people who cannot afford a trip into town to have their ration cards linked to Aadhaar numbers. "So exactly the ones that the system is supposed to help."

"An absolute nightmare"

In Nagri, a cluster of villages near Ranchi, a change is currently being tested with the PDS: Instead of the needy being able to buy the rice at the symbolic price of one rupee per kilo, the subsidy is paid to them monthly - so they get 31.60 Transfer rupees per kilo of rice and buy it for 32.60 rupees per kilo. “An absolute nightmare,” says Drèze.

People now have to go to the bank for miles - often on foot - and find out whether the money has arrived. Often this is not the case or because of the long queues they cannot get there, so that they have to come back the next day. So the many day laborers living here are receiving urgently needed wages. Once the money is there, they have to identify themselves biometrically and then repeat the procedure at the issuing office.

In front of Jolen Minz's shop, a waiting customer said that in the four months since the transfer experiment began, she had only received the monthly money twice. Another woman: just once. A third reports that she is getting money, but less every month. These are not uncommon stories here. Money could have ended up in the account of a deceased husband or a scammer - nobody knows for sure. Nor to whom one can complain.

Rice in a 35-kilo sack

In the nearby village of Upardaha, the scrawny 62-year-old Soma Oraon sits in the shade in front of his house. He has not been able to walk properly since he was hit on the left leg by a moped driver six years ago. The hour-long queuing at the bank is troublesome for him, and if he is successful, he also has to drag a 35-kilo sack of rice home from the issuing point. If he does not buy his rice for two months in a row, the rules say that his grocery card could be removed.

The declared aim of linking the distribution of subsidized food with Aadhaar was to fight corruption, explains Drèze. However, this was always mainly from the dealers in the issuing offices - it does not change the fact that the recipients now have to identify themselves biometrically.

“Ultimately, corruption has not decreased, and inconveniences and exclusions have increased,” says the economist. Even in the capital New Delhi there are many problems with the system. “If you can't do it in Delhi, why go to an area like Jharkhand that is the least prepared for it?” He asks.

Government ignores the problems

The government ignores the problems that he and his researchers have documented time and again, says Drèze. And they are only interested in the poor people affected when elections are about to take place. In response to a demonstration he helped organize by the residents of Nagri at the end of February, there were only empty promises.

For Drèze, the fact that Aadhaar is being expanded and promoted despite all the problems is partly due to a blind belief that the system can eliminate corruption and save costs. On the other hand, there are commercial interests - such as the software and security industries. "In addition: If Aadhaar is linked to everything, it creates huge opportunities to evaluate data."