UN Sustainable Development Goal 16.9
calls for the provision of legal identity for all, including free birth registrations, by 2030. On Sept. 15
, the eve of the proposed International Identity Day
, Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) CEO Saurabh Garg stated that the South Asian country has achieved the UN goal. UIDAI is the custodian of Aadhar
, the world’s largest biometric ID system.
However, Privacy International
, a global network of civil society organizations, is concerned that technology-driven ID systems such as Aadhar — adopted by a growing number of countries — expose users to the risks of “exclusion and surveillance.” They say that such systems worsen the “insecurity and vulnerability” of the most marginalized communities, reports Al Jazeera
Problems with Aadhaar have led to people being unable to access vital food security programs and reproductive health care services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions of poor children who do not have Aadhar could lose food rations
and cooked meals from welfare centers funded by the national government. They risk exclusion from school or benefits programs simply because they do not have the digital ID card, reports
the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Aadhar has been repeatedly criticized for data leaks, which violate citizens’ right to privacy. Last June, a security researcher said that an Indian government website was exposing the Aadhaar numbers of many farmers, reports TechCrunch
. The publication has reported several security lapses
of Aadhaar numbers.
Civil society organizations and independent researchers and experts have collected much evidence establishing that digital ID systems “regularly have a harmful impact on human rights,” says Access Now, a non-profit organization focused on digital rights. Researchers at NYU Law School highlighted these findings in a recent report
on how the World Bank and its Identification for Development Initiative fund a development agenda around digital ID.
In an open letter
published earlier this month, Privacy International, Access Now, and other civil society organizations called on the World Bank to cease supporting unchecked digital ID systems that enable surveillance, exclusion, and discrimination.