National News Analysis

22 May 2024, 8:17 AM

Sitaram Yechury’s Letter to ECI on Voter ID-Aadhaar Linking

The Election Commission of India has re-started the process of linking Aadhaar with Voter ID. It is publicly acknowledged that this process of linking Aadhaar with Voter ID was already carried out in 2015, part of National Electoral Rolls Purification – Authentication Programme until the Supreme Court stopped this process. 

As part of this exercise several Chief Electoral Officers across the country have obtained the Aadhaar data of voters from several other databases like NPR, PDS and State Resident Data Hubs(SRDH). These electoral offices linked Aadhaar with Voter ID of 31 crore voters without informing the individual voters and instead using algorithms to automatically link them based on already existing data. This process has resulted in voter deletions across the country and in particular in the state of Telangana, where the NERP-AP exercise of Aadhaar with Voter ID was originally developed. This process has resulted in voter deletions that have affected several genuine voters across the Telangana state during the 2018 assembly elections. Further there have been data breaches of Voter IDs linked to Aadhaar in states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

With all these previous electoral mis-practices with regard to Aadhaar, the lack of consultations with political parties before the start of this process is concerning. India currently does not have a data protection or privacy law and neither does the Election Commission of India have a privacy policy with regards to maintenance of Aadhaar data of voters. The stated purpose of the Aadhaar voter ID linking is primarily to remove duplicate voters, but with concerns of duplicate Aadhaar raised by CAG in its report on UIDAI, this is a hasty exercise. The lack of all due procedures from Election Commission of India and a hasty process to link Aadhaar of every voter will lead to incidents that have previously occurred like the deletion of genuine voters.

The lack of data security, voter deletions and subjecting the data with the election commission data to various state surveillance databases is violative of the Representation of People’s Act. It is the duty of the Election Commission of India to investigate these serious lapses in voter deletions and data breaches that occurred. The Election Commission of India is mandated to protect the constitutional rights of the voters. Until the Election Commission produces an investigation report into these incidents, and comes out with a clear checks and balances this linking exercise must be kept under abeyance.

The Election Commission must delete all the Aadhaar data collected before the amendments to the Representation of People’s Act in 2021 allowing this linking procedure. As the officials have carried the previous linking without due information to the voters, we demand that every voter whose Aadhaar was already linked with Voter ID be notified. As this entire linking exercise is voluntary, the voters should be allowed to exercise their right to de-link their Aadhaar. The entire technical process, privacy policies, including code and manuals for linking and delinking of Aadhaar Voter ID needs to be published and shared with all political parties and public before this exercise starts.

With the lack of a data protection law, we oppose any potential sharing of all Voter-IDs linked with Aadhaar to be shared with the Ministry of Home Affairs for either for the purpose of building the NATGRID database, the National Population Registry, the National Registry of Citizens and any new and upcoming databases of birth and death registries. We oppose usage of this data collected only for electoral purposes to be used for other purposes and demand a purpose limitation for this data. The Election Commission of India must ensure the need for privacy practices.
  
The purpose of this data collection and usage has to be limited only for de-duplication of voters and that too cannot be mandatory as per the Supreme Court judgement in Puttaswamy Vs Union of India (2018). In this regard, the Commission needs to instruct all Chief Electoral Officers, District Electoral Officers, Electoral Registration Officers, Assistant Electoral Registration Officers of all the data practices and privacy practices that need to be followed by its officials. Any violations of these practices must be strictly dealt by the EC.

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