The Aadhaar card is an electronic system for managing the identification details of the population of India. The current case against Aadhaar in the Indian Supreme Court is principally concerned with issues of privacy and data management; the main argument in the court is that the card is unconstitutional, and creates the mechansims for a ‘surveillance state’. From the point of view of social administration, it is a greater concern that people have to have a card before they can receive benefits and services. That issue was being flagged more than a year ago, with people being denied access to rice rations because of problems in the system. A recent report in the Washington Post adds many more examples – access to schools, food or pensions.
One of the advantages claimed for the Aadhaar card was that it was going to reduce welfare fraud. It has had the opposite effect: people who supply the services may be able to pocket the resources that people have not been able to access. This looks like a classic case, of imagining that the arguments for a particular IT process are universal, and disrearding the conditions where the system has to operate. There’s a further problem, too: that even if the process seems straightforward in its own right, mistakes are very difficult to correct. This system is supposed to deal with the largest population in the world of people who can’t read or write.