Aadhaar (the Hindi word for foundation), was started in 2009 to provide a unique, portable identifier to the country’s residents. Accordingly, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), a now-statutory body, collects limited demographic and biometric information (fingerprints, iris and facial scan) and stores it in a centralized database.
The primary success of Aadhaar has been its high enrolment. As per UIDAI figures, more than 118 crore people residing in India (not necessarily citizens) have Aadhaar (Aadhaar Dashboard, UIDAI, 2017). This was done by taking different measures including:
- Mass awareness campaigns using multiple media like TV, Radio, print, inter-personal communication Further reading: Basic Knowledge of UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) and Aadhaar.
- In urban areas, online pre-enrolment is possible. However, recognising issues of limited internet access and digital literacy, physical centers were set up in rural areas.
- Where individuals lack proof of identity or address (breeder documents required for Aadhaar enrolment), head of family who has own identity documents and proof of relationship, can validate their identity. Similarly, there is a provision for ‘introducer’, an individual already enrolled in Aadhaar, to validate the identity for someone lacking breeder documents (Understanding the Identity Gender Gap, GSMA, 2017).
However, Aadhaar’s manner of implementation and the associated civil society protest against it also provides important insights into aspects to consider before launching an identification program. Some issues to consider include:
- Relaxing the need for breeder documents to get an Aadhaar number implies that the level of assurance is relatively low. This also means that Aadhaar should be used for authentication carefully. Banks in India currently allow Aadhaar to be used as proof of residence (see ICICI Bank information, as an example) even though address proof is not mandatory for Aadhaar to be issued (see GSMA, 2017 and enrolment form for Aadhaar).
- Aadhaar stores the data collected (biometric and demographic) in a centralised database called the Central Identities Data Repository. This was done since a primary objective of Aadhaar was to limit leakages in subsidy transfers by removing ghost beneficiaries. This is because a central database of biometric data allows authorities to ensure there is no duplication. However, as seen above, this entails higher risks of data theft and privacy loss (Bhardwaj, 2017). While use of biometrics can reduce the risk of identity theft even when the ID is not secret, this is not fool-proof as well.
- Aadhaar received statutory backing only in 2016, seven years after it started collecting information. Hence, for the interim years, Aadhaar effectively functioned outside the regulatory purview.
- Aadhaar is used by private companies as well (Rajshekhar, 2016). This can be for identity verification (when applying for a bank account or mobile SIM card for example) or building customer profiles – by (legally) downloading the demographic information on an Aadhaar enrollee. Moreover, companies can also share information among themselves with the Aadhaar number being the way to link data from disparate sources, to create one 360-degree profile of the customer. Note that the Aadhaar Act mandates that an individual’s consent be taken before her demographic information is used for authentication, though enforcement mechanisms are unclear at present.
- While Aadhaar was initially meant to be voluntary, the government of India has been increasingly making it mandatory to receive welfare benefits. In 2017, it was also made mandatory to link PAN cards with Aadhaar. These further raise privacy concerns, since it takes away the choice of individuals to submit their personal and biometric data.
- In 2017, the Supreme Court of India ruled that Right to Privacy was a fundamental right. It is still to decide whether Aadhaar violates this right. See FAQ: What the Right to Privacy Judgement Means for Aadhaar and Mass Surveillance, for further understanding.
6.1.2 South Africa Telecom Policy
White Paper on Telecommunications and the Telecommunications Act of 1996 states the its aim as addressing ‘inequalities of the past’. These inequalities refer to Historically Disadvantaged Individuals (HDI) along the lines of race, gender and disablement. Some of the ways in which the policy addressed gender included the following -
- Participatory legislation: organized labor, women and disabled people’s groups found representation in the consultation process.
- Attempted to increase representation of women in the ICT sector by –
- Mandating that incumbent telecom firms share data on number of employees at each level by race and sex, periodically
- New spectrum license preferentially given to organizations demonstrating ownership and control by women and other HDI
- Also attempted to expand access by mandating that incumbent firms
- adhere to universal access policy
- increase service to underserved areas
- Provide services to priority customers like schools, hospitals, libraries and local authorities
- Price regulation
In implementation however, infrastructural access has not translated into actual uptake for reasons like affordability, social norms, digital literacy (or lack thereof) etc. Hence policy needs to account for more than just network expansion (Gillwald, 1999).
6.1.3 Mahiti Manthana initiative
Sanghas are collectives of marginalized women set up under the Government of India’s Mahila Samakhya program to educate rural women. In Mysore district, a special project called Mahiti Manthana was started looking to provide a resource support structure to sanghas for sustainability. IT for Change collaborated in this project, to use ICT tools to build up Resource Centers (IT for Change, n.d.). This involved a three-pronged strategy to get women acquainted with necessary ICT tools (Gurumurthy and Chami, 2014)
- Community radio strategy: weekly broadcast of local issues as seen/ understood by women
- Community video strategy: stock of videos with information, biographies of sangha women etc.
- Information center strategy: with a telecentre run by a female intermediary (called sakhi or friend), that addresses information needs of the village through constant interactions with the local government. Also acts as the center to impart audio/ video based training to women around gender and governance issues.
Major successes of the program include:
- Helping women ‘learn by doing’- use of non-textual learning resources being critical to address (basic) literacy barriers.
- Aiming at women’s empowerment issues by talking about patriarchy, governance etc. and not reinforcing stereotypical norms for women (see Helping Women Get Online and Gurumurthy and Chami, 2014 for a discussion on Google’s ‘Helping Women Get Online’ initiative).
See more on the Mahila Manthana Scheme.
GirlsGoIT is a joint program by UN Women, eGovernment Center, Novateca and TEKEDU to empower girls and young women with digital, IT and entrepreneurial skills and encourage them to pursue ICT careers. They facilitate STEM workshops and advocate for women and girls in technology. They conduct summer Camps that gives girls opportunities to learn about web development, human rights for internet users, network neutrality, as well as skills such as project management, teamwork entrepreneurial and leadership skills since the goal of the program is to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation in Moldova through the empowerment of women and girls in ICT. See Girls Go IT for more.
6.1.5 Girls in ICT Day
Girls in ICT Day, an ITU initiative, aims to raise awareness among girls and young women about the need for their full and equal access to ICT education and to encourage them to consider ICT careers. See a Toolkit on organizing a Girls in ICT Day.
6.1.6 Mozilla Clubs
Mozilla Clubs is a joint initiative by UN Women and the Mozilla Foundation that supports girls and women to enhance their digital literacy, skills, to collaborate online through digital literacy clubs in Africa. It provides a space for women to learn in a gender bias free environment. Mozilla clubs meet regularly and in person to learn about web design, content creation, coding, privacy, security and how to make use of opportunities for empowerment and leadership. These clubs can be for schools, for small business owners etc. Teaching resources including activity ideas for web literacy, leadership, combatting cyber violence as well as how to design safe and inclusive events for women and girls can be found in Women and Web Literacy.