A Failure to “Do No Harm” -- India’s Aadhaar biometric ID program and its inability to protect privacy in relation to measures in Europe and the U.S.

Article English OPEN
Dixon, Pam (2017)
  • Publisher: Springer Berlin Heidelberg
  • Journal: Health and Technology, volume 7, issue 4, pages 539-567 (issn: 2190-7188, eissn: 2190-7196)
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.1007/s12553-017-0202-6, pmc: PMC5741784
  • Subject: Biometrics | ID card | Identity | Privacy | Aadhaar | Original Paper | India | Consent | Digital identity | GDPR

It is important that digital biometric identity systems be used by governments with a Do no Harm mandate, and the establishment of regulatory, enforcement and restorative frameworks ensuring data protection and privacy needs to transpire prior to the implementation of technological programs and services. However, when, and where large government bureaucracies are involved, the proper planning and execution of public service programs very often result in ungainly outcomes, and are often qualitatively not guaranteeable. Several important factors, such as the strength of the political and legal systems, may affect such cases as the implementation of a national digital identity system. Digital identity policy development, as well as technical deployment of biometric technologies and enrollment processes, may all differ markedly, and could depend in some part at least, on the overall economic development of the country in question, or political jurisdiction, among other factors. This article focuses on the Republic of India’s national digital biometric identity system, the Aadhaar, for its development, data protection and privacy policies, and impact. Two additional political jurisdictions, the European Union, and the United States are also situationally analyzed as they may be germane to data protection and privacy policies originated to safeguard biometric identities. Since biometrics are foundational elements in modern digital identity systems, expression of data protection policies that orient and direct how biometrics are to be utilized as unique identifiers are the focus of this analysis. As more of the world’s economies create and elaborate capacities, capabilities and functionalities within their respective digital ambits, it is not enough to simply install suitable digital identity technologies; much, much more - is durably required. For example, both vigorous and descriptive means of data protection should be well situated within any jurisdictionally relevant deployment area, prior to in-field deployment of digital identity technologies. Toxic mixes of knowledge insufficiencies, institutional naïveté, political tomfoolery, cloddish logical constructs, and bureaucratic expediency must never overrun fundamental protections for human autonomy, civil liberties, data protection, and privacy.
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