Edward Snowden is campaigning against the world’s largest biometric ID programme

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Image: Reuters/Rafael Marchante
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American whistleblower and former Central Intelligence Agency employee Edward Snowden has joined the campaign against Aadhaar, India’s 12-digit unique identification number programme that has been under fire for its security and privacy systems.

On Sunday, Jan. 21, Snowden backed KC Verma, former head of India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), who had written about his experiences with Aadhaar. Snowden retweeted the article published in The Wire saying the act of organisations such as banks and telcos forcing individuals to produce their Aadhaar numbers should be “criminalized.”

Rarely do former intel chiefs and I agree, but the head of India’s RAW writes #Aadhaar is being abused by banks, telcos, and transport not to police entitlements, but as a proxy for identity–an improper gate to service. Such demands must be criminalized.

— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) January 21, 2018

Snowden’s voice against the Aadhaar programme has been growing louder ever since he first made a reference to the scheme on Jan. 04 after tech journalist Zack Whittaker tweeted a Buzzfeed News piece on the alleged security breach of the Aadhaar database.

It is the natural tendency of government to desire perfect records of private lives. History shows that no matter the laws, the result is abuse.

— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) January 4, 2018

A couple of days later, he spoke up on Twitter against the state-run Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) filing a first information report (FIR) against a journalist with The Tribune newspaper who wrote about security breaches of the Aadhaar database. The journalist, Rachna Khaira, described in an article how she paid just Rs500 ($7.84) to buy Aadhaar data from an anonymous seller over WhatsApp.

Snowden, currently under temporary asylum in Russia, also retweeted a statement posted on Twitter by the editor-in-chief of The Tribune.

The journalists exposing the #Aadhaar breach deserve an award, not an investigation. If the government were truly concerned for justice, they would be reforming the policies that destroyed the privacy of a billion Indians. Want to arrest those responsible? They are called @UIDAI.

— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) January 8, 2018

In addition to openly pointing out flaws in the Aadhaar system, Snowden has also spent time retweeting multiple complaints from Indians about their experiences with Aadhaar.

For months now, Aadhaar has been under attack due to privacy concerns and criticisms of the flawed implementation of the programme, forcing the UIDAI to step up its security processes by introducing new features such as a Virtual ID to authenticate and verify the Aadhaar numbers. Ever since 2015, there have been a number of purported data breaches, including duplication of cards and fraudulent bank transactions made using leaked biometric data.

Meanwhile, the implementation of the Aadhaar scheme is currently being evaluated by a five-member bench in the supreme court of India, led by chief justice Dipak Misra. The perusal follows multiple petitions filed in the courts over the security and privacy being maintained by the UIDAI. This includes a case filed by a women’s rights activist claiming that linking Aadhaar data to mobile phone numbers violates privacy, and another filed by a group of bank employees stating they don’t have the wherewithal to provide Aadhaar-related services.

The hearing comes four months after the supreme court ruled that privacy is a fundamental right of all Indians, which immediately put a cloud over the aggressive linking of Aadhaar with other schemes and programmes under the Narendra Modi government.