Will Aadhaar spill trade secrets & encourage business espionage? 

There are clearly too many loopholes in the manner in which the Aadhaar scheme has been outsourced without regard to data theft, infringement of commercial secrecy and manipulation of markets

Photo courtesy: Twitter
Photo courtesy: Twitter

Raman Swamy

At a time when the matter is pending before the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, is it proper for various organisations in the public and private sectors to deny service without Aadhaar linkage? Does that not amount to contempt of court? Also, is it ethical for senior Central ministers to use social media to launch a massive propaganda campaign in favour of the controversial electronic identity programme? Does that not amount to an attempt to influence the judiciary? Such questions are being raised in the wake of the unusual flurry of tweets and online messages posted by several Modi ministers of the stature of Ravi Shankar Prasad and Piyush Goyal in the last few days. These posts are being retweeted in their thousands by the ruling party’s online media brigade.

A special hash-tag called #AadhaarMythBuster has been created for this purpose and soon became the top trending topic on social media. As regards banks and mobile phone companies continuing to send their tersely worded reminders to all customers to link their service to Aadhaar despite the court having extended the deadline for three months, legal pundits are of the view that it could amount to improper pressuring tactics in a matter that is sub-judice. Interestingly, the Life Insurance Corporation of India, which has till now not only been insisting on linkage but also making it virtually impossible for agents and policy-holders to access the official website without the 12-digit card number, seems to have suddently backtracked. LIC, which is the country’s largest life insurance company, with over 2000 branches and over 14 lakh agents, has been forced to relax its adamant posture and to issue a clarification. A major problem cropped up with the new design of the LIC portal which made it impossible for users to access their own accounts without updating details of both Aadhaar and PAN. This had resulted in users of the site being forced to provide their Aadhaar details even though the deadline the Supreme Court had kept the linking in abeyance till March 31.

This also prevented policyholders without PAN cards to access their own profiles. After a public outcry on social media and scathing newspaper reports, LIC’s corporate communications director belatedly issued a statement that this was “inadvertently” done and that the mandatory requirement for providing Aadhaar numbers would be removed from the portal.

Apart from this, some new questions have risen about certain perils of mandatory Aadhaar in an area on which little or no attention has been paid till now - commercial secrecy. Much of the debate so far has been on the violation of Fundamental Rights like the Right to Life and the Right to Privacy.

Both corporate players and activists are now realising that trade confidentiality, vitally needed in business transactions, negotiations and deals could become vulnerable due the multiple linkages between Aadhaar and GST. Almost every detail of pricing of raw materials, production processes, value addition and marketing costs have to be declared in GST filings. This is bound to seriously jeopardise competitiveness and confidentiality. This is especially relevant because of the numerous instances that have come to light of security breaches, design flaws in the technological architecture as well the rampant cases of insiders leaking out valuable data.

Even though there is no clear-cut law to protect commercial and trade secrets, certain provisions of existing legislations like the Contract Act, Negotiable Instruments Act, Partnership Act and Company Law do pertain to secrecy and could offer some protection. On the other hand, the Right to Profession is guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution. Hence, any attempt of the government to seek access and control over commercial information like share market information, financial transactions, PAN linkage, etc., appear to be a clear violation. The fact that a large number of private agencies and companies, including giant foreign multinational corporations have been entrusted by the UIDAI only makes the dangers even more real.

There are clearly too many loopholes in the manner in which the Aadhaar scheme has been outsourced without regard to data theft, infringement of commercial secrecy and manipulation of markets. As a leading economist said in the context of the disastrous demonetisation decision, “A bigger worry than the demonetisation itself is the failure of the Modi government to recognise and admit that it was a mistake”.

The same criticism can be levelled in the case of Aadhaar as well as GST, both of which were thrust down the throats of the entire Indian population in a hasty, ill-conceived and brutal manner. This is what is making investors, businessmen and scholars very worried and suspicious about the government’s motives and very apprehensive about future policy decisions. Already, the Modi government has dropped three colossal bombshells in a row affecting the entire citizenry in the country: note-bandi, GST and Aadhaar. All three have been completely invasive and totally disruptive. All the false claims and fancy justifications have been proved to be untruthful and make-believe. The nation has still not recovered from the shock and trauma of any of them.

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