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Indian government developing family digital ID, health app sparks consent concerns


India’s federal government is in the preliminary stages of developing a ‘Universal Family ID,’ similar to India’s current biometric Aadhaar system, in order to track beneficiaries of flagship social benefits schemes in the country, reports The Print.

Under the proposed system, each family will be registered as a unit via a national digital platform, which, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeiTY) says, will make governmental welfare schemes more effective by removing gaps in the system created by a lack of individual identification. Each member of a family will receive a unique digital ID code.

Other states around the country have been looking into developing similar initiatives, for example, Haryana state launched a (reportedly) mandatory family digital ID program in summer 2019, called Parivar Pehchan Patra. Similarly, each family’s data is stored on a digital database, and produces a unique eight-digit code. However, privacy concerns about data usage have been arising since the scheme began collecting information including birth and death certificates.

“Family ID will link existing, independent schemes like scholarships, subsidies and pensions, so as to ensure consistency and reliability and at the same time enabling automatic selection of beneficiaries of various schemes, subsidies and pensions,” according to the Haryana state government website.

Other states are developing similar initiatives, according to the report.

A ministerial workshop was held in April discuss integration of the proposed system at the federal level, with a follow-up planned covering the existing applications and to further share ideas and best practices, as well as how to accurately identify beneficiaries.

CoWin app lacking informed consent

India’s vaccination app, CoWin, has reportedly been enforcing facial and fingerprint biometric and OTP verification for persons booking vaccination slots, without collecting their consent, in order to issue a digital health ID, says India’s National Herald.

The aim of this procedure is to create a digital ecosystem for a citizen’s health details to be put online.

Though booking a slot linked to an individual’s Aadhaar ID has not previously been mandatory, under new enforcement, the individual’s biometric authentication or biographic identity verification details are used to create a 14-digit Health ID. India does not currently have a data privacy law which protects sensitive data, nor does CoWin have an appropriate privacy policy, according to the Herald.

In January India’s government stated an upcoming privacy policy would prohibit CoWin from being used in any adverse ways.

“The health ID is only being issued when people are sharing their Aadhaar details for vaccination. Sharing of Aadhaar details is being taken as an authorization to issue unique health IDs to people without an actual informed consent,” says Srinivas Kodali, a digital rights researcher.

It is not yet clear whether creating a digital health ID using individuals’ details will improve the handling of the virus within the country.

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