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Gates and Snowden contrast on Aadhaar

Gates and Snowden contrast on Aadhaar

Microsoft founder Bill Gates told CNBC-TV18 in an exclusive interview that there are many advantages for implementing Aadhaar, the 12-digit unique identification number scheme issued to every individual resident of India by its government.

Gates noted Aadhaar is technology that stops persons from pretending their somebody else, thereby eliminating fake people on government payroll: “Aadhaar prevents you being on that payroll as a ghost worker. It prevents you from collecting things that you shouldn’t collect or accessing a health record you shouldn’t have access to. So the basic Aadhaar mechanism is an identity mechanism and so it is too bad if somebody thinks that because Aadhaar is there, that in and of itself creates a privacy problem.”

Gates further told CNBC-TV18 that privacy issues only revolve around specific applications of Aadhaar. “The privacy issue revolves around its application: If you are using Aadhaar for your taxes and your benefits, who has access to that information? Policies need to be examined concerning who can see the land registry and certainly on things like voting privacy or medical record privacy, everybody agrees that is super important.“ Gates notes that a key question concerning Aadhaar data is the ”data visibility” around that type of information.

His comments are in stark contrast to those recently made by former CIA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden, who alleged in the Times of India that the privacy of Indians is being compromised by the Aadhaar scheme.

During a talk via video conference, Snowden noted that there is major risk that the private data of Indian residents will be abused by the government, private firms and telecom companies. He said during his talk that corporations have “a hundred ways of monitoring and abusing privacy”.

He notes that potential for abuse is so strong that he opposes the scheme, but if the system does stay in place, the Indian government should levy criminal penalties on those seeking to use Aadhaar for non-governmental transactions, if they are not specifically required by law.

Snowden said those using it outside of legally-prescribed purposes “should be sent to jail for forcing people to reveal such vital information. It [the Aadhaar system] has become so vulnerable that if you search a number on the Internet, you will get all information of a person.”

The Aadhaar project aims to provide a single, unique identifier which captures all the demographic and biometric details of every Indian resident. At last count, over 1.1 billion people out of India’s population of 1.27 billion have been registered in the Aadhaar database.

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