ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Democratic Accountability in Digital India

As the government increasingly seeks to replace manual systems with digital, there are increasing concerns about accountability. The democratic content of the various digital initiatives is examined by subjecting these to the tests of public interest and popular sovereignty.

The government has taken upon itself to turn India into a digital republic. Without a digital ID, the Unique Identity (UID) issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), one’s ability to access government and private services, one’s entitlements like pensions, and one’s rights like education, travel and living in one’s own home are being increasingly denied. Even with the UID, our access to these and more is subject to digital apps that need to authenticate our biometrics or our access to a mobile that was linked to the UID at the time of enrolment. If apps fail because there is no access to internet, power, or because one’s biometrics have changed, as all biometrics do, we are now denied every service, entitlement or right till we get ourselves a fresh UID. Until the Supreme Court read down the Aadhaar Act on 26 September 2018, if one’s UID was stolen and used by someone in possession of one’s biometrics or mobile phone to take over one’s services, entitlements and rights, we would have no recourse as Section 47 of the Aadhaar Act prohibits the courts from taking cognisance unless the UIDAI files a complaint. In any case, the UIDAI does not run the delivery of the service, entitlements, rights, apps, the authentication, or even a redressal mechanism itself, but simply licenses it out these functions to private parties.

Digital payments is the next frontier. Not convinced that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and its digital payment systems —the National Electronic Fund Transfer (NEFT) or Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS)—are sufficient or even appropriate to facilitate digital money transfers, the government has been pushing apps built with the Aadhaar Enabled Payment System (AePS) and the Universal Payments Interface (UPI) by a private company, the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI). These apps, based on the “open” programming interface (API) called India Stack and developed by “volunteers,” from former UIDAI employees who designed the UID, and financial technology companies anonymise money transfers and destroy the trace of money from transfer order to transferee. This loss of trace is similar to what bankers call money laundering. Payment wallets, like Paytm, also allow unregulated generation of digital money and enable untraceable payments.

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Updated On : 26th Nov, 2018
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