Petition asks why Aadhar is a must to unlock Modi’s DigiLocker

The Wire
July 4, 2015

New Delhi: Of all the schemes of the previous Manmohan Singh government, the Aadhar UID program is one that Narendra Modi is the most committed to. On July 1, he flagged off a ‘digital locker’ service for the country as part of his Digital India initiative. According to its website, DigiLocker provides each user with 10 MB of storage space on the web to store and share files as well as makes for a hub on which to access various government documents.

The catch? A user can only sign up using an Aadhar UID number. Lawyers say this is a violation of the Supreme Court’s 2013  order prohibiting the government from making Aadhar compulsory for accessing any public service. Upset by the denial of the DigiLocker facility to those those without a UID, Sudhir Yadav has filed a petition in the Supreme Court calling for “exemplary punishment” of those responsible for this. The DigiLocker service comes from the Department of Electronics and Information Technology, under the Ministry of Communications & IT. It offers 10 MB of free storage (with an upgrade to 1 GB hinted at), allows pdf, jpg, jpeg, png, bmpg and gif file formats, and stipulates that no single file can be larger than 1 MB. This paltry storage offering is, however, masked by a bigger concern.

While Modi has frequently used the social media as part of his communication strategy, as well as exhibited some appreciation of technology in his governance, he has stayed away from pushing through legislation on privacy of public data.

In the DigiLocker initiative, there is no clarity about whether the government can access the information stored in the lockers, even as a technical documentaccompanying the release states: “It is important to mandate use of Aadhaar number in all resident documents to strongly assert ownership”. Troublingly, the same document goes on to say, “… some document types may be available to ‘trusted’ requesters without electronic authentication and authorisation of the owner (a simple consent may suffice)”.

“Either the Modi government is kind of slow on the uptake and hasn’t yet understood that the Supreme Court has thrice – on September 23, 2013, March 24, 2014 and March 16 2015 – said that services cannot be made incumbent on the UID, or it is telling the Supreme Court that it does not care what the court says and that it will act as it pleases,” says Usha Ramanathan, an independent researcher who has been investigating the UID project since 2009. “The court had also said that the government must change its forms and circulars to make that clear.”