The 12 digit “unique” identification number – Aadhaar – has finally been ruled as “constitutionally valid” by the Supreme Court. The petitions – 31 of them – challenging its constitutional validity on grounds of privacy have been dismissed after a prolonged hearing of 38 days before a five- member bench. Technology will finally give a digital ‘habitation and a name” to every Indian.
Media technology has helped the world to become globalised. Its utility has been questioned severely since its inception. It was believed at the beginning that it increased the ‘digital divide’ - making the rich more rich and the poor more poor. It has come a long way and people have started believing that the media technology has ‘empowered’ the common man. The Supreme Court verdict also confirms the concept of empowerment.
The internet is ‘disruptive’ technology. Even Habermas, the originator of the concept of ‘public space’, did not accept the internet as being able to increase our much needed democratic space. He described it as a ‘dangerous tool’ which could topple a political system. How true his fears have become today: all ruling powers now try to throttle the net, because it has finally empowered the common man. It has created the breathing space for a democracy.
The dilemma of media technology is such that it does not follow a beaten path. The printing press was created to propagate the Bible; but it went beyond its laid out rules and finally toppled the supremacy of the Roman Catholic Church and gave birth to Protestantism. Similarly, the internet was invented by the army and was meant to ‘spy’ on the enemies. But it went much beyond its laid out functions. If the ruling party wants to continue with the same functions – in this case, spying on the common man – then they are mistaken. The disruptiveness of the digital technology will not allow this to happen.
Digital technology has changed our banking system; it has introduced transparency in our government functioning; made railway booking easier and restructured the postal system. Can anyone deny the utility of the digital system today in these spheres? The subsidies which the government continues to provide for the weaker sections of the society will go directly to the individuals with the help of the unique Aadhaar number – cutting across the many intermediaries. In a country like India, steeped in corruption, such a disruptive technology comes as a boon.
The Supreme Court has ruled, and rightly so that the data collected for Aadhaar can never be used by private parties. That rules out the fears of individuals losing their privacy. That makes the difference between the data collected by the social media giants like Facebook and Google and used for marketing, and the data collected by the government for the use of Aadhaar. Any leakages from the government's data bank will be severely dealt with, according to the Supreme Court ruling.
All said and done, will the ruling party not make use of the data to analyses the voters’ behaviour? That’s the dilemma of the digital technology. While it empowers the common man it also opens up other avenues of apprehension.
Media technology is good or bad, depending on how it is used or misused.