Link for Aadhaar-voterID link is at the end of the post
New Delhi/Bangalore: India’s Election Commission (EC) adopted a host of tactics to rapidly link hundreds of millions of voter IDs to Aadhaar numbers in 2015, some of which may have skirted the boundary between responsible data-sharing practices and outright violations of privacy and user consent.
According to documents obtained through right to information (RTI) requests, in at least four major states, the local election commissions had access to parts of the National Population Register (NPR) database, which helped hasten the Aadhaar seeding process.
Other methods the EC deployed included the use of the controversial DBT Seeding Data Viewer (DSDV) tool – a service that allows third-parties to view non-biometric identity data held by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).
In Gujarat, the state election commission used Aadhaar details and voter ID numbers (also called EPIC numbers) collected by a separate government department for the purpose of seeding it with electoral rolls, raising questions over whether informed consent was obtained.
At one point, the UIDAI, acting on the suggestion of the EC, even started a pilot project to mandatorily collect the EPIC numbers of adults (18-year-olds and above) who signed up for Aadhaar enrolment in order to help the linking process. While it’s unclear whether the pilot was replicated elsewhere, this too raises questions over the EC’s claims that the linking process was strictly voluntary.
Put together, the documents, which include correspondence between the UIDAI, EC and Registrar General of Census, help answer a crucial question with regard to Aadhaar-voter ID linkages: How did the EC manage to link the voter IDs of 300 million people with their respective Aadhaar numbers in just three months?
In March 2015, the EC launched the National Electoral Roll Purification and Authentication Program (NERPAP). As the name suggests, its aim was to “clean up” India’s electoral rolls using Aadhaar authentication. Or in other words, to eliminate potential voter fraud by deleting ghosts or people who had somehow gotten more than one voter ID from the system.
The programme’s goals and deadlines were ambitious: internal EC documents show that it wanted to achieve draft electoral rolls that were “100% error-free” and “100% multiple-entry free” by August 15, 2015.
While the EC is an institution known for its efficacy, the extensive coverage with regard to the NERPAP scheme before it was shut down by the Supreme Court in August 2015 is surprising.
By the time the initiative was forcibly shut down, it had collected the Aadhaar numbers of over 300 million voters. Chief election commissioner O.P. Rawat publicly claimed that 320 million voter IDs were linked to Aadhaar during NERPAP in the span of just three months and that another 545 million Aadhaar numbers would be linked to the remaining voter IDs in six months, once the Supreme Court allowed it.
How exactly was this done? Was the consent of voters taken for this exercise? If voters were in the loop, as Rawat and the EC have consistently maintained, was informed consent taken, with citizens clear on how their data could be used?
Individual states offer a few clues with regard to the bulk seeding of Aadhaar numbers.
For instance, in Maharashtra, only 301,000 voters had registered themselves for the voter ID-Aadhaar linking programme by the beginning of May 2015, but when the programme ended three months later in August 2015, the chief electoral officer of the state claimed that 1.8 million voters had provided their Aadhaar numbers.
On a national scale, the numbers look even more stark. A report published in DNA noted that by May 2015, 130 million voters had applied for linking – 30 million had “applied online” while 100 million requests came through “other means”.
Given that the EC “did 32 crore in just three months”, how did it do so and what other means did it employ?
Organic and inorganic
There are multiple ways to seed Aadhaar to new databases. The first is what is called ‘organic seeding’, where an individual provides the data by herself with consent.
In this ‘manual’ mode, a citizen links her voter ID to her Aadhaar by herself. To help out with this, the EC used the National Voters’ Service Portal (NVSP). All people had to do was enter their voter ID number, a few demographic details and their Aadhaar numbers.
A person could then verify that their Aadhaar number was indeed their own through a one-time-password (OTP) sent to the user’s smartphone, after which the voter ID would be linked. However, this approach is slower as it involves a citizen’s willingness: they have to come forward on their own and sign-up to link their voter ID and Aadhaar.
The other method is inorganic seeding of Aadhaar, in which details of the elector is collected and then seeded automatically with Aadhaar with the help of an algorithm.
In a response to the RTI request, the EC confirmed that it used the DSDV, which is a tool that can be used to automatically seed any beneficiary database with Aadhaar numbers.
Visit this link to Link Aadhaar and Voter ID