The Modi government may soon come up with a master database, known as the National Social Registry (NSR), which will enable 360-degree-tracking of the lives of each and every Indian of the 1.2 billion population.
According to an exclusive report by Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava of HuffPost India, the all-encompassing, auto-updating and searchable database is in the final stages of its development.
The report was published based on RTI information obtained by HuffPost and Srinivas Kodali a data and internet governance researcher.
Once the system is implemented, it will automatically track all the aspects of a citizen’s life- from birth to death including movement between cities, job changes, bank balance, marriage, and when he or she has a child. Due to a high level of interoperability, there is no limit to the extent of data that the master database system can collect and index.
The report says, the database which is being built for the past five years, has been reported as a routine exercise to update the 2011 Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC), under the Ministry of Rural Development, to prevent misuse of government schemes for the poor.
However, the SECC or NSR, will be a single searchable database which either will be linked with Aadhaar numbers of integrated with other databases that use Aadhaar details, to assimilate information on a citizen’s caste, income, property, education, marital status, employment details, disability, and family-tree data, the report says.
Also, while the Indian Census Act of 1948 mandates the confidentially of enumerated citizens, NSR is bound by no such rules.
According to the HuffPost report, which also took into account file notings, meeting minutes and interdepartmental correspondence, an expert committee has been set up to implement the registry by 2021. The committee will soon plan a pilot project to test the efficacy of the system.
According to the report, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) as per the proposal of the expert committee has decided to amend rules under the Aadhaar Act to enable the government to use Aadhar data without flouting a 2018 Supreme Court judgement restricting the use of Aadhar data. The changes will remove the privacy safeguards in the Aadhaar law.
The government has also roped in World Bank, which as per its assurance on June 17, 2019, has agreed to grant an initial $2 million grant under its Non-Technical Assistance programme, for the project.
Quoting privacy experts, the report states that if the registry is implemented in its current form, the government can use opaque algorithms to access a large quantity of data and “arbitrarily designate” individuals as citizens or non-citizens, especially in the backdrop of the debate on Nation Population Register (NPR) and National Register of Citizens (NRC).
“Such an unrestrained mass surveillance system could threaten liberty like never before… India’s safeguards for state surveillance have always been weak. But this near-complete Orwellian surveillance would overturn the balance of power between citizens and the state,” Arun said. “It may be safe to say that if the state manages successfully to watch us so closely, India’s democracy will gradually become unrecognisable,” said Chinmayi Arun, Fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School, who taught law in India between 2010 and 2018,” the report quoted Chinmayi Arun, fellow of Information Society Project at Yale Law School as saying.
The SECC has its roots in 2011 when it was meant to be a foundational census. The UPA government under then prime minister Manmohan Singh had decided to prepare a census, which would collect data on caste, incomes and social parameters of Indian citizens Under the BJP government, it has transformed into a mass-surveillance system.