Developments in Indian digital ID: health accounts launch, resistance to voter link grows
India has launched its national digital health identity scheme which will create a health account for each of its 1.3 billion citizens, reports Bloomberg. Civil rights groups have come together to contest another digital identity project in India – the Election Commission’s renewed attempt to use the Aadhaar biometric identity database to clean up the voter ID registry. Fears are growing over what many see as an emerging surveillance state as the country building the largest public health infrastructure in the world is still waiting for its data protection law, including that for the overall National Digital Health Mission (NDHM).
The ‘Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission’ was launched on Monday by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to provide universal health coverage, and by increasing efficiencies with digital ID to achieve this at a lower cost. The system involves giving every citizen a unique health identification number which links their health records and allows access by the individuals – via a mobile app – as well as for the health facilities registries and health professional registry with one click.
The app, NDHM Health Records is available on Android and is so far polarizing opinion.
“Today is a very important day. The drive to strengthen the health facilities of the country, in the last seven years, is entering a new phase today. This is not an ordinary phase. This is an extraordinary phase,” PM Modi said at the launch, as quoted by the Hindustan Times.
The approach, also known as the Pradhan Mantri Digital Health Mission, has been piloted in six regions and now goes nationwide. But previous freedom of information requests have found that authorities have been using the COVID vaccination management system to issue a further 110 million health IDs to those obtaining vaccinations, many allegedly without their consent or based on incomplete information.
The nationwide rollout of the healthcare digital ID system is being likened to the launch of Aadhaar, India’s national digital ID system. It is not clear how the systems will work together. The India Times is running the story “How to get India’s Digital Health ID Card: New Aadhaar for your Medical Data?” with instructions stating that an individual can register with an Aadhaar card or mobile number. Uploading a photo is optional and with Aadhaar the user can go through KYC.
The India Times reports that 1.56 million people are already registered in the pilot areas and have received the 14-digit health ID number and a Personal Health Records email address. Users decide who can access their medical records and for how long.
“With effective and reliable data, medical treatment will be better and cost will be reduced,” said Modi, quoted by Bloomberg.
Civil rights groups and prominent individuals call on Election Commission to withdraw proposals
Twenty-three organizations and more than 500 prominent individuals have signed a statement urging India’s Election Commission not to go ahead with the “dangerous” proposals to use the Aadhaar biometric digital identity database to clean up the voter ID register as it will create mass disenfranchisement and actually increase voter fraud, reports The Wire.
The signatories include electoral reform group Association for Democratic Reforms, the Internet Freedom Foundation and Rethink Aadhaar.
The letter states that the proposal would violate the judgement of the Supreme Court of India which limited the use of Aadhaar authentication solely for welfare. It notes that Aadhaar is not proof of the right to vote; that the Supreme Court blocked a previous attempt at linking the two and at least 5.5 million blocked from voting in the 2018 Telangana Assembly election; linking would increase not decrease voter fraud by diluting the sanctity of the Voter ID database given the much higher rate of errors in the Aadhaar database; biometric authentication must not become a requirement for voting and that linking the two databases would be an attack on the right to privacy.
Meanwhile, reports have emerged of hacking attacks of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) by TAG-28, a hacker group believed to be supported by the Chinese government.