Biometrics, Privacy, and Governance in India: the Unique Identity (‘Aadhaar’) Case

[Excerpt] Aadhaar’s vast database of biometric information is another pillar of India’s national security state. India is currently engaged in technological projects of astonishing dimensions, a colossally wide array of information collection, communications monitoring, and identity profiling. Biometrics have long been associated with biopower, a Foucauldian concept that is being frequently revisited as the world negotiates pervasive surveillance. The Aadhaar project is a new frontier in biopower: unparalleled in scale and unchecked by law, it is obliterating privacy.

The Battle for a Right to Privacy Has a Long Way to Go

[Excerpt] Because of its disjointed development, the constitutional basis of the right to privacy in India remains muddy. Indian courts have yet to craft a privacy rights jurisprudence that responds to surveillance, morals-based denials of personal choices, and forcible collections of bodily information. There are wide gaps in the right to privacy through which the collection of biometric information for the Aadhar project could easily slip through, perhaps even be made compulsory.

The Four Parts of Privacy in India

[Summary] Because privacy enjoys an abundance of meanings, it is claimed in diverse situations every day by everyone against other people, society, and the state. Traditionally traced to classical liberalism’s public/private divide, there are now several theoretical conceptions of privacy that collaborate and sometimes contend. Indian privacy law is evolving in response to four types of privacy claims: against the press, against state surveillance, for decisional autonomy, and in relation to personal information. The Indian Supreme Court has selectively borrowed competing foreign privacy norms, primarily American, to create an unconvincing pastiche of privacy law in India. These developments are undermined by a lack of theoretical clarity and the continuing tension between individual freedoms and communitarian values.

Privacy and Surveillance Law in India – Lok Sabha TV (click for video)

On 20 August 2014, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta spoke to me about privacy and surveillance law in India on Lok Sabha Television (LS TV). The Lok Sabha is the lower house of India’s parliament, and LS TV is the state parliamentary broadcaster. The discussion covered constructions of privacy norms, defences to privacy, the Aadhar card scheme – India’s biometric identification project, telephone and Internet surveillance, wiretaps, the identity of rape survivors, DNA collection for family disputes, ‘sting’ journalism, the harm principle, and free speech.