Quick Take

Why another omnibus national ID card?

| Updated on October 01, 2019

Representative image

While a national ID for all may have its uses, the proposal can compromise individual privacy

Prima facie, home minister Amit Shah’s proposal for a national identity card that can be used across platforms for multiple purposes can solve the problem of providing an acceptable identity proof for various transactions. However, the proposal to link this national card to several other identification documents that residents hold such as the unique ID (Aadhaar), permanent account number (PAN) issued by the tax department, electoral photo identity cards issued by the Election Commission, driving license, passport and so on is worrying.

It is worrying because data security can be breached and that has been amply illustrated in the instance of Aadhaar. Personal information of individuals has been leaked at various levels, and particularly by intermediaries. Such consolidation of personal information of citizens as proposed by Shah also makes people of this country vulnerable to identity theft, financial frauds and surveillance by the State.

However, a more fundamental question is why the government should feel the need to issue yet another identification document, when the unique ID project, or Aadhaar, was meant to serve as an ID for various purposes. Linking Aadhaar to PAN has been made mandatory; Aadhaar is also being used for transfer of benefits under various government schemes.

Also read: PAN-Aadhaar linking date extended to December 31

The issue appears to be in part an attempt to overcome the fetters placed by the Supreme Court on the use of Aadhaar by various service providers for identity verification. The context of the controversy in Assam over the National Register of Citizens is too important to be set aside.

The idea to issue such a national card is not new. It has roots in a report of a group of ministers of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 2001 on reforming the national security system. The group chaired by Vajpayee, and created after the Kargil war, had recommended compulsory registration of all residents in India, to facilitate the preparation of a national register of citizens and curb illegal migration. It had said that all Indian citizens should be given a multi-purpose national identity card (MPNIC) and non-citizens should be issued identity cards of a different colour and design. As is the case now, at that point too, the GoM had proposed using the Census exercise to collect information on residents and issue such cards, which initially was to be introduced in the border districts. While the NDA government could not implement that proposal, P Chidambaram as the home minister in the Manmohan Singh government (UPA2) did get the Registrar General of India to collect data for a National Population Registry during Census 2011 enumeration, even as the Aadhaar enrolment process was still in its infancy.

Shah’s proposal for a national ID card looks set to consolidate past attempts to create a National Registry of Citizens at an all India level, without giving it that label explicitly. It is not advisable.



Published on October 01, 2019

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