03 December 2010

Aadhaar, Radiagate and Cablegate

Issues of privacy are cropping up in three events of immense importance to people in India and across the globe and it is necessary to put the discussion in perspective. The events are:

Aadhaar, the 12 digit number by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to be provided to every citizen.

Radiagate, a scam involving transcripts of telephone that points out the collusion between government, business houses and media in India.

Cablegate, is the leak detailing cable correspondence between the United States Department of State and its diplomatic missions.

In Aadhaar the basic demographic and biometric information - photograph, ten fingerprints, iris of eye will be stored, and hence, takes us close to do away with multiple identities. As this can be verified online in a cost-effective manner, it is said that this can be effectively used to target various public welfare schemes. Equally important is its intrusion into people's privacy and this cannot be overlooked.

Nira Radia, a powerful and influential public relations person, was lobbying for Andimuthu Raja to get the telecom ministry who in turn obliged with largess to the corporate houses and in this the media has been somewhat silent. A glimmer of hope has been the social media that has kept up the ante. To top it all, one of the corporate biggie, Ratan Tata, has gone to the Supreme Court stating that the revealing of the transcripts is an intrusion into individual privacy.

Wikileaks, which publishes leaked documents pointing out government and corporate misconduct has from 28 November 2010 started the Cablegate leaks. This will be done in a phased manner, but from the 251,287 documents that are likely to be put up,  130,000 are unclassifieds, 100,000 are confidential and 15,000 are secret and none are 'top secret'. Opinion about the leak is already divided. One view is that this  puts the conduct of diplomatic activity under jeopardy and that the stealing and dissemination of classified information surmounts to criminal activity. Others have hailed this activity as a freedom of speech and are aghast that a democratic government that should be open and transparent had hidden information from public scrutiny.

When it comes to have nots then information should be available for all (Aadhaar) for effective reach of public welfare schemes. When it comes to haves then information of national importance become matters of privacy (Ratan Tata's response to Radiagate). When it comes to nations then matters of global importance become matters of treason (a possible US response to Cablegate).

In reality, Aadhaar intrudes into people's privacy that is hidden under the guise of reaching out.  Radiagate exposes the nexus of money and power against people, that is hidden under the guise of public relations (nay, a private and personal chat). And, Cablegate exposes the intrusion into national sovereignty that is hidden under the guise of diplomatic exercise.

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