New Delhi: Early two decades after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee proposed a single multipurpose identity card for all Indians, the idea is back in the limelight. However, this time, concerns have been raised over personal data security and privacy.
Union home minister Amit Shah on Monday said the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government was working on the possibility of a National Population Register (NPR), which would eliminate the need for multiple identifications. The entire exercise of Census 2021 and preparation of NPR could cost the government up to ₹12,000 crore. “We can have just one card for all utilities like Aadhaar, passport, bank account, driving licence, voter card," Shah said.
The Union government believes that a cleaner and more streamlined census would enable compilation of data for NPR, and it would also club all other forms of identification such as Aadhaar, permanent account number (PAN), driving licence and voter identity card under one platform. Besides, a single identity card may streamline service delivery and curb leakages.
Former chief economic adviser Arvind Virmani, however, pointed out the possibility of cybersecurity risks. “A multipurpose card would make things easier for more than 75% of the population. (But), approximately 25% of the population is likely to have privacy and security concerns about the storage and use of data connected to the card or generated using it," said Virmani, who worked on the unique identification project, when he was adviser to the erstwhile Planning Commission.
“This is particularly so with financial data, which many criminals would like to get their hands on. We also have to be very concerned about hostile foreign governments hacking into these databases. These concerns would need to be addressed by legislation, rules, and penalties for unauthorized use and misuse of such data. Many agencies are ill-equipped to ensure confidentiality and security of any data they may have in digital form. These institutional weaknesses would also have to be addressed," he added.
Virmani worked on India’s unique ID project in its early days, much before the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government brought in Infosys Ltd co-founder Nandan Nilekani to roll out Aadhaar. In 2006-07, pilot for a unique ID card for those below the poverty line had begun under Virmani’s watch. It went through various hoops and eventually found fruition in UPA-II, when former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh inducted Nilekani.
Cyber-intrusions have increased dramatically over the last decade, exposing sensitive personal and business information, disrupting critical operations, and imposing high costs on the economy, NITI Aayog said in a recent presentation. “Nation states, non-state actors, and individuals are at a peer level, all capable of waging attacks," the official policy think tank had warned.
In 2001, in a report on national security, a group of ministers led by the then deputy prime minister and home minister L.K. Advani had floated the idea of a multi-purpose national identity card (MPNIC).
The plan did not take off, but the BJP included it in its manifesto in 2004 when it categorically stated that an effort will be made to put an end to infiltration from Bangladesh. It had also proposed a 3-D—detect, delete and deport—formula. The party had also included the idea of an NPR in its manifesto for the 2009 elections.
“A national ID will provide convenience to citizens, but before rolling out any proposal, we must ensure that the system is robust and well guarded against cyber threats," said Rakshit Tandon, a cybersecurity expert.