Bogus voters must be eliminated but for that the Pandora’s box of cyber fraud must not be opened
The Government needs to review its decision on electronic linking of documents. It is not a matter of mere individual privacy that is threatened but leakage of critical data can threaten national security as well. The linking of Aadhaar with different other digital documents like Voter ID and PAN card is fraught with risks and can result in cyber frauds. Rushing through The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021, was possibly not needed. The Lok Sabha should have considered the aspects pertaining to national and voter security. The Government, the opposition and the civil society need to discuss the provisions of this significant bill in light of possibilities of wide and clandestine misuse of, for instance, data on how one votes. Nefarious forces know how to abuse a system for their benefit. The push to link Aadhaar with voter IDs is not new. Neither is the criticism. The Election Commission had started linking the two in 2015. It had already completed the process for around 30 crore IDs when the initiative was stayed by the Supreme Court as part of a case about the constitutionality of Aadhaar. Aadhaar may have emerged virtually as a citizen’s identity document, but allowing it to be linked to all electronic functions is not good. In an age of increasing cyber fraud, such bills should be scrutinized by parliamentary committees before their passage. Citizens and political parties alike are concerned about duplication of voters. That does not require an Aadhaar link to rectify.
The EC has its procedures, it has been implementing regularly. Linking to Aadhaar may appear to make the job of officials easy, but in reality, it makes them lethargic and dull their interest to probe deep into questionable cases. The bill says the Aadhaar linkage is voluntary but that is a euphemism for pressurizing voters and a coercive method. Even Aadhaar enrolment was originally voluntary, but today cyber fraud cases exploit the Aadhaar and PAN details with impunity. Many individuals in the Delhi NCR region are reported to have lost a crore each or more to such frauds. Having Aadhaar as an independent instrument is fine but when linked digitally, it becomes a weapon for fraudsters. The other issue about the bill is breach of privacy which the Supreme Court has ruled is a basic right. If a voter’s Aadhaar is linked voter ID, it can record how a person votes. Though the EC can say it is secret document, there is nothing secret in a digitized world. The leakage of the secret data can have a more deleterious effect than bogus voting. It can provide nation’s detractors a potential weapon to target people who may not vote as per their desire. Such voters and even leaders can be intimidated. Hypothetically, even a political party can be targeted. The innocuous aspects of the present law must be purged before it can be part of the Statute book. The law-makers have to seriously discuss all aspects to avoid any possibility of misuse or abuse. As of now, it seems that potential of intimidation of voters is quite high. It would be also useful to study the new bill in the light of Ashwani Upadhyay’s PIL in the Delhi High Court seeking to put in place Aadhaar-based e-voting system. He wants to simplify the system. But in a vast country like India, one does not yet know how beneficial it is likely to be. Let us take all necessary precautions so that a good law does not become its own victim. Bogus voters must be eliminated but for that the Pandora’s box of cyber fraud must not be opened.
(The writer is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal.)