Privacy in the time of Aadhaar

This Week: Aadhaar and the midday meal scheme, privacy and data security, defining your personal brand, and more

Founding Fuel

Dear friend,

Cricketer MS Dhoni was in the news recently for dropping something more important than a catch. His data. The information he gave while enrolling for Aadhaar got leaked on Twitter.

It’s not the first time that something like this has happened. Niti Ayog’s chairman Amitabh Kant’s Aadhaar number was in full display when he gave a demonstration to NDTV. But, this was Dhoni, and it created a stir. P Chidambaram, former finance and home minister, raised the matter in parliament, and didn’t seem to be too happy with finance minister Arun Jaitley’s response. “The Pentagon got hacked even without the Aadhaar being there. So the hacking doesn't happen because of Aadhaar,” Jaitley had said.

It might have sounded like he was evading the issue instead of addressing the fears about data security. But Jaitley was only speaking the truth. No technology is 100% secure. Besides, there is a trade-off between convenience and security. Everyone wants a basic level of security and privacy, and above that, some might want more convenience and some more security, as a McKinsey study showed.

This has serious implications. Over the last couple of weeks, my colleague Charles Assisi and I had long conversations on security and privacy in the digital world, especially in the context of Aadhaar. Here’s a gist of our discussions: There is little doubt that the convenience of digital economy comes with the risk of breach of privacy and security. There is a lot of debate on the need for a strong privacy law. What kind of laws we should have is still under discussion. Rahul Matthan, a partner at Trilegal, a law firm, recently argued that India needs to look beyond consent-based privacy laws even as it is in the process of enacting data protection law.

But, in India, laws alone won’t work. Our infrastructure is simply not good enough. We also need good technology. Many countries have seriously started thinking about it. The US-based National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) chairman Venky Ganesan’s recent testimony on cybersecurity to a US Senate committee has several lessons for India too. India too needs to modernise government procurement, has to set standards around cyber hygiene, and start thinking about using cyber insurance. Closer home and just around the corner, technologists associated with Aadhaar are working on a consent layer, which will allow users to share data with different levels of security.

However, what’s missing from the discussions is the initiatives around creating awareness of the data risk. We need a vision, plan and institutional mechanisms to teach data risks to everyone in the country. Risk literacy should become as important as learning to read, write and do arithmetic. The time to think about it is now.

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Have a great week!

For Team Founding Fuel.
NS Ramnath

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