A dangerous move

A group of former All India and Central Services officials who have worked with central and state governments during their careers issued the following statement:

. We are releasing this open statement to express our grave misgivings regarding the provision of the recently enacted Election Laws (Amendment) Act 2021 to bind the Election Photo Identity Card (EPIC-Voter ID) issued by the Election Commission of India (ECI) with the Aadhaar card issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), an agency of the Indian government.

The ECI is mandated by Article 324 of the Constitution of India with the oversight, direction and control of elections to parliament, state legislatures and offices of the President and Vice President of India. Accurate voter lists and voter cards issued by the ECI ensure free and fair elections that reflect the will of the Indian people.

The requirement for Aadhaar verification, even voluntary, on the part of a potential or registered voter involves the superimposition of a government-issued identity card for verification of identity and address which could seriously compromising the independence and integrity of the ICE and casting doubts on the fairness of the entire electoral process.

There are six reasons (listed below) why the decision to require Aadhaar verification for voter IDs is flawed, against the law, in bad faith, and likely to be misused by the government. State :

1. The voter card is issued on the basis of citizenship while the Aadhaar card is issued on the basis of identity, without proof of citizenship being required. Article 9 of the Aadhaar Law of 2016 clearly states that Aadhaar cannot be used as proof of address, age, gender, citizenship or relationship. While it is argued that voter IDs can be falsely issued to non-citizens, verification by Aadhaar by no means resolves this thorny issue; in fact, it is highly likely that even non-citizens could be registered as voters if Aadhaar is used as the only evidence.

2. Unlike Aadhaar registrations, which only require production of existing documents, voter IDs are based on physical verification and “home visits” by a block-level officer. The identification of the voter is certified by the electoral registration agent while there is no certification of the Aadhaar by the UIDAI. It is not excluded that with the link between the Aadhaar numbers and the identifiers of the voters, and in the absence of physical verification by the electoral authorities, efforts could be made to manipulate the electoral lists by registering people on electoral lists in constituencies where they do not reside. .

3. Recent legislation which inserted subsections (4), (5) and (6) in section 23 of the Representation of the People Act, 1950 (RPA-1950) and clauses (hhha) and (hhhb ) in section 28 (2) of RPA-1950 clearly shows that the Indian government is concealing when it states that linking the Aadhaar number to the voter ID is voluntary. These new insertions, in effect, require a voter to provide their Aadhaar details or risk being deprived of the right to vote. The new paragraph 6 of article 23 is particularly little revealing in its intentions. It is said “No request for registration on the electoral list will be refused and no registration on the electoral list will be deleted for the inability of an individual to provide or indicate his Aadhaar number. by reason of sufficient cause which may be prescribed; “ (emphasis added). The possible harm that this wording may cause is clearly indicated by subsequent clauses in the amending law which allow the government to prescribe, under its regulatory powers, the process for the indication of Aadhaar numbers by voters. The rules established by the government do not require parliamentary approval. A rule can therefore be easily introduced, making the provision of Aadhaar numbers a prerequisite for voter registration. The ability to remove names from voter lists on a large scale may then become a separate possibility, as many existing voters may not (or may choose not to) provide their Aadhaar contact details to the voter registration officer. It is also likely that the powers of the UIDAI to omit or deactivate Aadhaar numbers under Article 23 (g) of the Aadhaar Law could result in widespread deletions from the electoral rolls.

4. The experience to date of trying to clean the registers of databases from other government programs like MGNREGA and PDS, using the Aadhaar database, has been disheartening: the names of thousands of beneficiaries have been arbitrarily given. removed from systems without inadmissibility.

5. Linking Aadhaar numbers to voter IDs will open the floodgates for illegal profiling and voter targeting, especially in the run-up to elections when the model code of conduct is not in place. It is instructive to learn from the recent experience of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, where software residing in the State Residents Data Center (SRDH) of state governments and maintained by a private company has been used by governments to provide information on duplicate voters to state chief electoral officers, a flagrant violation of electoral laws.

6. It is quite possible that voter IDs linked to Aadhaar cards and therefore cell phones are linked to social media. These social media can be linked to algorithms which in turn are linked to the interests / opinions of the users. Without a strong data protection law and accompanying regulatory mechanisms in place, voter profiling, selective exclusion and targeted campaigns are all possible. The 2016 presidential campaign in the United States shed light on the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Former Supreme Court justice Justice BN Srikrishna, who chaired the expert committee that drafted the data protection bill, categorically condemned the link between voter IDs and Aadhaar as “the situation at hand. more dangerous ”. His graphic warning was that “Instead of having a Cambridge Analytica, you will have a Delhi Analytica, a Mumbai Analytica, a Calcutta Analytica …!”

It has already been shown in point no. 3 in the previous paragraph that the wording of the modifications introduced in RPA-1950 gives ample latitude to obligatorily impose the link of Aadhaar with voter identifiers. Even if one were to presume the good intentions of the government in not introducing delegated legislation to enforce the link, we know how the public was literally forced to link their bank accounts to their Aadhaar numbers, despite the apparent “voluntary nature” of executive directives and specific orders of the Supreme Court. In fact, many ministries and private bodies today routinely request Aadhaar numbers for the provision of services, in flagrant violation of orders of the Supreme Court, which specified the use of an Aadhaar-based identification for public welfare schemes funded by the Consolidated Fund of India. Those who wish to take advantage of these services are required to disclose their Aadhaar numbers. Things have come to a point where Aadhaar numbers are required even for cremation or burial purposes.

It is quite unfortunate that the government of India has, without any effective parliamentary scrutiny or discussion, introduced this crucial legislation which could have a major impact on election results. It is even more regrettable that the ECI has seen fit to promote an approach which has the capacity to restrict its independence and integrity in the conduct of elections. What is needed now is strong judicial intervention to nip this highly dangerous decision in the bud.

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