The government on Tuesday defended the Election Law Amendment Bill, dismissed various concerns about it, and highlighted the demand, in the past, by various political parties, including Congress, to link Aadhaar to Voter ID. , even as opposition parties argued the decision would deny voters the right to vote, put critical data at risk of being violated by non-state actors and lead to voter profiling.
The bill proposes to voluntarily link Aadhaar’s data to the electoral rolls and to make the language of the 1950 Law on the Representation of the People (PR Law of 1950) gender neutral, the first provision being particularly controversial, opposition leaders claiming that this will lead to “massive deprivation of the right to vote”. It was adopted by the Rajya Sabha a day after authorizing the Lok Sabha amid fierce protests and demands for division, and will come into effect once it gets the approval of the president.
Government officials claimed that the Election Laws (Amendment) Bill 2021 incorporates various electoral reforms that have been discussed for a long time. âRegistration on the electoral roll is made on the basis of a request from a person eligible for registration on the electoral roll. This bill contains a provision that the new applicant can voluntarily provide an Aadhaar number with the application for identity purposes. No request will be rejected on the grounds that the Aadhaar number has not been provided, âa government official said on condition of anonymity. âLinking Aadhaar with the voter lists will solve one of the major problems in managing electoral databases, which is multiple registration of the same person in different places. “
The official added that the decision will help clean up the electoral rolls and make it easier to register voters where they âusually resideâ.
The official also referred to a press release from the Election Commission of August 27, 2018, which said that “political parties urged the Commission to link Aadhaar figures to voter details for better management of voter lists.” A second official pointed to information, also from 2018, which indicated that representatives of the Congressional Unity in Madhya Pradesh met with the chief electoral commissioner and requested a re-verification of the electoral roll in the state in linking Aadhaar numbers to voter ID cards. This request came months before the state went to the polls.
While the government emphasized the wording of the bill, according to which the link would be voluntary, privacy activists said the exceptions to not providing an Aadhaar number would only be clear when the government would have set the rules under the law.
Potential for data breach
Lok Sabha opposition leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury told HT that when the government cannot prevent the Prime Minister’s account from being hacked, it cannot be expected to protect the data of all citizens, an reference to PM’s Twitter account is temporarily compromised, although it is not clear whether this was caused by a hack or a security breach. âThere are so many problems with the bill in its current form and we wanted it to be examined in more detail by a standing committee. India does not yet have a data protection law, how can such legislation be introduced? Even the Prime Minister’s Twitter account is not secure. How will the government ensure the confidentiality of this critical data? “
He added that the link would open the ecosystem to the possibility of a data breach by an agency or non-state actors, a claim that Biju MP Janata Dal Amar Patnaik endorsed.
âLinking the identification of Aadhaar to the creation or revision of voters lists with the stated purpose of eliminating duplication is good legislative intent and is welcome. Patnaik told HT. âBut the method of achieving this by connecting it to the entire Aadhaar ecosystem system is problematic. The government must first make the system more robust.
If citizens’ data is breached, Patnaik added, they would have no recourse to their right to privacy in the absence of a data privacy law.
No stakeholder consultation
Senior leaders from all opposition parties criticized the government on Tuesday for failing to hold any stakeholder consultations before introducing the bill.
Chowdhury said the government had not held any consultations regarding the contentious provision of the bill.
“Congress has not been summoned by the government for any consultation,” he said.
Patnaik also said that no consultation was held by the government before the draft was presented to the House. He added, however, that during a consultation with the Election Commission, political parties agreed to link Aadhaar numbers to voter ID cards.
âBased on that consultation, when the ECI went ahead, SC canceled it saying that a law had to be presented to Parliament,â he said. âThe problem can be solved by linking the Aadhaar numbers, why the need to link the whole ecosystem? “
Profiling of voters, deprivation of the right to vote
Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi highlighted how the link could lead to voter profiling. âIn 26 minutes, an electoral law was passed in LS to connect Aadhar with voter identification. Aadhar data has address, cell phone numbers and financial details. Can help map political preferences via social media connected to phone number, deprive voters of the right to vote, âshe tweeted.
AIMIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi told HT the decision would have a negative impact on both universal adult voting rights and the secret ballot. “The secret ballot will suffer because of the government’s decision,” he said. âEmpirical studies show that there are 1.5 times more errors in Aadhaar than in the voters list. Moreover, if the government’s argument is based on ending false votes, then they cast doubts on the fairness of elections in the country. Let EC answer it.
Taking the example of Telangana, Owaisi added that the details of Aadhaar were used to systematically remove voters from the voters list.
According to Jagdeep Chokkar of the Association of Democratic Reforms, no consultation has been held with the government on the issue. âIf the government has consulted with stakeholders, let them say with whom,â he said. âThere are so many mistakes with the Aadhaar system itself, how will it correct the voter identification errors? The SC specifically as CE to shut down the link immediately because Aadhaar was for benefits and services. Even in the nation’s capital, often the Aadhaar system does not match my fingerprints, how will the poor use it to vote in rural areas? Rather, this decision creates the potential to deny people in remote areas the right to vote. “