A billion Indians

Written By: - Date published: 8:00 am, August 26th, 2017 - 33 comments
Categories: International, Media, tech industry - Tags:

In a unanimous verdict a rare nine-judge bench of the Indian Supreme Court ruled on August 24th that privacy was part of a fundamental right to life and liberty under the country’s constitution.

The ruling came as a referral from a smaller panel hearing a challenge to India’s biometric identity programme, Aadhaar, which has signed up more than one billion Indians.

Aadhaars’s incorporation of biometric data in citizens’ daily lives involves compulsory use in voter identification, healthcare, social welfare payments, and other public sector functions like passports. But it has bled quickly into online banking where you can’t open an account without one, job seeker authentication, blood donors, and loan applications.

It’s a problem we face as citizens of any networked country now. The scale and complexity of redistributive power needed by the state and by cities over the 20th century has forced us to largely give up the idea of privacy from the public sector.

We have more social benefits to sustain and redistribute. We have more brittle social orders such as cities and utility networks to continue. We have a highly mechanized and interdependent society – and people continue to flock to the most information-hungry parts of it in droves. Stand on top of any mountain overlooking a city at dusk and just wonder at what it takes to sustain this entire thing as an organism: information. Part of the success of the city is because the public realm, as well as the private, can know you well enough to anticipate what you are about to do in the next half an hour – by harvesting bits of data about you. And anticipate next week. And next year.

All of that – the entire brittle artifice of it – needs sustaining with our data. In this new world, personal information will become more powerful than finance.

It’s good that over 150 national constitutions mention the right to privacy in their constitutions in one form or another. But personally I don’t think it’s a strong value, I don’t think we show we want it to be, and I don’t think it needs to be.

Why does our privacy relationship with the state need to be stronger when our privacy relationship with all companies and linked persons is essentially freely given away by us whenever we use Facebook, Baidu, Snapchat, Google, Trademe, cellphones, electricity, emails, toll roads, travel, LinkedIn, Uber, Snapchat, eftpos, Visa and Mastercard, loyalty cards, etc etc? If a Facebook user fell dead in a forest, would they still exist? To get back to Aadhaar for a moment as an example, the Indian Supreme Court ruling is going to impact the workings of a host of global corporations including all those listed above. It’s big.

We willingly throw our privacy into the air when it’s the commercial sphere where it’s largely unregulated, so they can track us better than Minority Report. But the state, who actually keeps the entire society and country going, gets highly regulated. Nope, this isn’t a liberal argument, or a proto-Godwin shift. This is a basic social contract argument.

Since we rely on the state for more of our needs than Facebook, our social contract including that of privacy should be more forgiving, including to those institutions seeking that information to support those needs.

And yet the opposite is the case: the privacy we freely give away to tech companies and to the public gives us far less in return. Mark Zuckerberg has no social contract with me. But the state has one with me.

You may well respond: but the collection of data into enforcement mechanisms greatly curtails free speech. I would respond: our society shows that we are living in the greatest moment of free speech we have ever been in.

Way back in 1993 the purposes of the Privacy Act were farsighted about how the state intrudes into our personal data:

  • An agency may only collect personal information where it is needed to perform a function or activity of the agency.
  • An agency must collect the information directly from the person concerned, unless they agree otherwise, or unless it’s in the public already
  • The person must know why it’s being collected, and it has to be accurate and correctable, and be accessible by the person
  • And it can’t be taken in an unlawful, unfair or intrusive manner

These principles are regulated by the New Zealand Privacy Commissioner.

We – and a billion Indians – have no need to hold the state and the commercial realm to parallel standards of privacy of course. Only the State should have enforcement capacity. Perhaps we need a global standard that is nationally enforced. But perhaps also we and that billion Indians need to accept that because our data is what keeps our modern public realm functioning, the public realm should have as much access to it as possible.

33 comments on “A billion Indians”

  1. DH 1

    Ah, of course we need greater privacy protection from the State.

    The State has the power to control how we live our lives. None of the other examples have literal power (yet), they can only try to exert influence over us.

    • The State has the power to control how we live our lives. None of the other examples have literal power (yet), they can only try to exert influence over us.


      The US government does not represent the interests of the majority of the country’s citizens, but is instead ruled by those of the rich and powerful, a new study from Princeton and Northwestern Universities has concluded.

      I think you’ll find that many of the restrictions on data gathering that are placed upon the state are a direct result of lobbying from the corporations because they don’t want the state knowing what they’re doing. Allows them to get away with crimes such as tax avoidance.

      • DH 1.1.1

        I was thinking of big data as an example Draco, IMO people should be seriously concerned about that.

        This video reveals more than was perhaps intended;

        At 1:30 they give an example of how they’d want to use it. While they talk about it all being anonymous data their own video says it isn’t.

        ‘Sam’ in the video could be any of us. Would you like to be looking over a desk at some bureaucrat poring over your medical history and everything else personal recorded throughout your life?

        • Draco T Bastard

          I was thinking of big data as an example Draco, IMO people should be seriously concerned about that.

          If it’s in the hands of the private sector then I agree with you. If it’s in the hands of the government then I don’t.

          The problem comes down to access and the reasons for the access. These can be controlled for government held data – it can’t be for private company held data.

          • DH

            Just try watching the video Draco, it’s not a long one.

            Then put yourself in the place of Sam and analyse your feelings while some voyeur behind a desk delves into your private life.

            • Draco T Bastard

              The voyeur shouldn’t have access.

              The only way to get access to that data at all should be through a court warrant. Attempts to access it without such should have every single alarm screaming and a full analysis of that persons access to the system throughout his entire employment period.

              There is some risk. The idea is to try to mitigate it. Not throw everything out just because someone may try to access it illegally.

              If we went with your logic we’d be banning all cars because someone may die. Instead we accept that risk because we realise that having cars is better than not having cars.

              Same applies to government data. It really is better for the government to have access to it. The government uses that data collated into anonymous information to make decisions.

              The only time anyone should get access to the personalised data is when there’s evidence of a crime having been committed.

              • DH

                That video was from the Govt agency working on big data Draco. The message there is that it’s already happening. There won’t be any court warrants or opt-ins, our right to privacy is being stripped away. It’s also not anonymous, the information they show about ‘Sam’ can only be pulled from his personal data.

                It’s an interesting study for all it’s connotations, none of which bode well. They focus, for instance, on how much money an individual costs the state over their life. One might ask why that’s relevant. It’s mildly interesting from a general statistics perspective but why would it have any relevance to the approach the State might take with ‘Sam’ when he comes to their attention? (keeping in mind here that ‘Sam’ could be any of us)

                • The message there is that it’s already happening.

                  Which means to say that we need better processes and protections – not that it shouldn’t be done.

                  They focus, for instance, on how much money an individual costs the state over their life. One might ask why that’s relevant.

                  You’ll find insurance works the same way. Takes the aggregated information to determine ongoing costs/fees per person.

                  Still, it’d be better to focus on resources used per individual rather than money. We do, after all, need to ensure either that we have the resources available or that we don’t have too many people for the resources that are available.

                  (keeping in mind here that ‘Sam’ could be any of us)

                  And, in fact, it would be any of us. The information viewed would be the average of all individuals not the information of specific individuals (or, at least, that’s how it should be).

                  • DH

                    “And, in fact, it would be any of us. The information viewed would be the average of all individuals not the information of specific individuals (or, at least, that’s how it should be).”

                    You still haven’t watched the video have you Draco.

                    • Yes, I watched it. Wondered why you were so overly concerned. ‘Sam’ would be the aggregated individual not an actual individual.

                    • DH

                      Then you’re not very observant Draco. Sam can’t be an aggregated individual because they discuss his personal history. The data they’ve collected on Sam can only be unique, you can’t aggregate that kind of data. Surely you can see that.

              • eco Maori/kiwi

                This scenario could be true.
                In a world were National did its job that governments are supposed to do. Well in my interpretation of governments and provided all the Citizens
                of New Zealand the basic living standards . Our jails have the lowest occupation in O.E.C.D National had taken GLOBAL warming seriously were have 90% of trucks are off the road and on rail ect.
                And all state employees are psychologically tested before being hired
                and tested for other thing using hair follicle test every 3 months.
                I am quite sure that in any organization the Leader of that organization sets the standard . So If the leader behaves unethically and has never admitted to any of this bad behavior everyone else in that organization
                Will behave the same as there leader

                • Eco maori

                  Well not everyone will behave like the leader but some people will.The people reading my post will get my point of view

                • One Anonymous Bloke

                  all state employees are psychologically tested

                  First they’ll have to design a verifiable and reliable psychological test.

    • Eco maori 1.2

      I am not posting on our data issues a again as these boys that are perusing me will spin any thing that I say or do or to stop me from holding them accountable FOR THERE ACTIONS

      • Eco maori 1.2.1

        Now it’s obvious to me that the boys in blue have convicted some of mister M friends that I’m threat to someone as the intimidation has stepped up today and the boys in blue are once again showing there presence the first rule in the art of war is diplomacy not intimidation !!!!!!!!

        • Ad

          Stick with it EcoMaori we need fresh voices here not the old stale ones who say the same thing over and over again.

          • Eco maori

            Thanks Ad for now anyway in a New Zealand court lies an gossip don’t stack up as creditable evidence if lies and gossip did qualifier as evidence I would not be able to write this post I would be in jail.

            Now I have a duty to everyone in New Zealand to alert them to the realities of big data and what’s going on in our beautiful country I have to do this because this reality is being covered up
            And our grandchildren are going to have a shit future if this problem is not out in the public and no one knows about it it will ruin our country thanks to every one reading this eco maori

  2. eco Maori/kiwi 2

    Gemmon In New Zealand the Government agency’s have 3 super Data storage computes. One data storage computer the Government can not even get assess selves who can well I think you will figure who can. The second computer the Government can assess to the data and it works fine . The third computer the Government has assess to the data BUT THEY DONT NO WHO IS ASSESSING THE DATA ON THIS COMPUTER THIS IS ALL THE DATA IN New Zealand .
    This fact leavers the door open to deceit and breaches our privacy laws.

    The Privacy Commissioner has order the people whom manage these computers to
    clean this shit up twice because the computers systems breach our privacy rights.
    Our Privacy Commissioner needs to be given more power to force these people who run these computers to correct the computer systems.
    MY reason four championing this issue is that if corruption in the use of this data is detected at the moment no one can be held accountable for there actions.
    These computer systems leave the door wide open for corruption and deceit and breaches to New Zealand Privacy law.

    Now all the people whom live in this glass bubble in New Zealand they think we don”t
    mind that the Government agency’s have assess to all our data we have nothing to hide.

    Now lets say in 20 years one of your grandchildren has a group of friends .
    Well you no how these group of friends are.There are girls and boys in this group they are all intelligent well educated they have been friends since primary school.
    There is a girl and your grandson and a another boy both have a big crush on this
    girl. The girl chooses your grandson as her boy friend as the other boy is a bit strange . These friends all get a university education your grandson marry s the girl.
    The other boy and all there friends attend the wedding your grandson gets a job as a architecture for a big company .The other boy get a job in a government agency he has a real high I Q he climbs the ranks in his state job real fast.
    While your grandson is getting depressed as no one will use his designs his career has stalled he starts drinking to much he gets caught drink drive all the time and ends up in jail while he is in jail his wife leaves him for his so he thought best friend.
    Your grandson says fuck I have the worst luck in the world.
    But in reality His best mate is a narcissist and he has being using all the power he has with with in the Government to FUCK UP YOUR GRANDSON LIFE .
    And because we did not give the Privacy Commissioner the power to force the people to fix the flaws in our Goverment data systems your grandson life is fucked
    And his narcissists mate gets his wife and nobody even knows this has happend

    Now do you want to leave behind a system that can be used like this because at the moment it can be used like this

    • But in reality His best mate is a narcissist and he has being using all the power he has with with in the Government to FUCK UP YOUR GRANDSON LIFE .

      Yeah, I think you’re talking out your arse. Such constant access to the data would be easily detectable.

      • eco Maori/kiwi 2.1.1

        Draco T Bastard why don;t you use Wikipedia and find out what they think of our privacy rights and human rights watch out your glass bubble mite break every thing
        I have said on the data in NZ is true you could find the info if you google for it

  3. AsleepWhileWalking 3

    I love commenting on posts I cant actually see . This has turned into a great game of intuition and search. And it makes for easy content creation.

    So….a month or so ago I was listening to Dave Janda interview Paul Rosenberg, founder of Cryptohippy (great tool for those who work in govt and want to vent online or for anyone really).

    Rosenberg said that people think that hacking is what they need to worry about but actually the real vulnerability is in data. Why go to the trouble of hacking when you can just buy data on everyone? I have training in this area and know exactly what he means….and people have no idea.

    Indians…I assume this refers to some kind of stupid govt outsourcing to India or anywhere NZ law may not apply. I look forward to the eventual reveal of the content in your post – you tease!

    • Ad 3.1

      Read the post.
      It’s an Indian Supreme Court decision.

      • He did say that he can’t actually see the post.

        • Grey Area

          Neither can I. Houston, we have a problem. And we seem to have had it for several days. I thought it was just my phone. There have been several posts recently where I can see replies

          but not the original post.

          [It might be a wordpress problem. Are you both looking at the post from your phones? MS]

        • eco Maori/kiwi

          I Not wasting my time on provening this fact to you there are heaps of articles
          about the government breaching our Privacy rights. Stay in your glass bubble with all the others who deny this reality.
          And yes I get that most computer systems can trace the people whom log on to them but not one of those computers…………

  4. One Anonymous Bloke 4

    Before anything like this could happen in New Zealand, first the Bill of Rights would have to gain “fundamental” (in the language of the OP) status.

    As it is, human rights are not universal in New Zealand, but are subject to a variety of arbitrary restrictions. For example, as soon as you apply for a benefit your right to privacy is seriously eroded, as is your right to be free from discrimination.

    Rights are upheld only when they’re easy to uphold. As soon as it becomes difficult Parliament gives up.

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