Gates is the man who built Microsoft Windows, among the world’s most vulnerable operating systems.
As concerns about Aadhaar grow with every passing day, leaving even fair-minded citizens wondering where we are heading with privacy and security in such a populous country, software giant Bill Gates has tried to use his “brand” to endorse Aadhaar. Unfortunately he seems to have failed to check on the committed values that India’s national ID was supposed to deliver.
His statement, “Aadhaar in itself doesn’t pose any privacy issue because it is just a bio ID verification scheme,” cannot be written off as ignorance or lack of research. There is a need to see Gates not as a celebrity, but as a businessman who owns a large corporation and is always in the race to lead business. Gates is more concerned about the benefits his organisations like Microsoft or Gates Foundation can reap. It is in his interest to help the World Bank, via the foundation, to replicate national biometric authentication systems in other developing countries, to further promote his “philanthro-capitalism”.
Microsoft became the first global company to adopt Aadhaar as authentication for its services such as Skype-Lite, LinkedIn, and Project Sangam, among others. Aadhaar as an authenticator of Microsoft’s services will allow the latter to tap into the rapidly growing Internet users’ database in a largely mobile-first country, who might lack email IDs, which are essential identifiers as of now.
As we dig deeper, the situation gets even more intriguing because Microsoft is the system integrator to develop the Indian government’s Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) platform Swayam (Study Webs of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Minds). IT NPOs have criticised the awarding of the contract given to the US software major, as it is in “direct contrast” with government policy on open source software.
In addition, the government has begun talks with Google and Apple to allow Aadhaar-based authentication for users of their smartphones, which are increasingly enabling fingerprint authentication at a cheaper price. Here, Microsoft is leading efforts for fingerprint/biometrics-based authentication standardised by W3C and making it available on all browsers soon. Fingerprints and IRIS have already been attached to Aadhaar numbers, face recognition will be enabled from July and voice recognition may also soon be attached to Aadhaar data repositories.
The Gates Foundation is recognised as a philanthro-capitalist foundation because it has advocated applying Microsoft strategies to its philanthropic activities. The foundation, known for its ideological commitment to neo-liberal economic policies and corporate globalisation, is now focusing on funding the World Bank to replicate Aadhaar-style surveillance systems in other developing countries to take surveillance capitalism a step forward. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Gates should praise his friend Nandan Nilekani, co-founder and former chairman of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), for helping corporates like Microsoft to monetise the data of Indian citizens.
Should a tech giant like Microsoft have access to the government database, it will be the winner among its competitors in a developing country like India, because it has data and data is the new oil. All this at the cost of citizens’ personal information that they voluntarily and, sometimes under the pressure of circumstances, handed over to the government.
Would Gates be willing to giving his retinal scan, fingerprints, and address to the government and private agencies, some of which will be made publicly available? The ID has become something similar to a bell for cats, considering the pressure to use it for every mobile connection, tax returns, government schemes, bank accounts, purchases and even to use mobile wallets. A project such as this, which would help corporations like Microsoft use surveillance capitalism to grow their businesses, is already being countered on social media.
How often was UIDAI questioned even when cyber security organisations kept throwing up challenges on the availability of Aaadhar data? The debate about privacy concerns is becoming meaningless because as we know, state and Central governments continue to build profound relations with conglomerates to reap immediate benefits, rather than promote the larger good.
Entities like Gates Foundation invest and nurture institutions which promote their neo-liberal policies to gain increased control over the market and reduce the state’s role in it. They build friendly relationships with the state and sell surveillance to governments in exchange for business-friendly regulatory policies. They would go to the extent of killing Constitutional institutions (Parliaments, judiciary), buy media, harass protesters (Twitter trolling is nothing), hijack elections, and undermine democracy.
Gates is the man who built Microsoft Windows, among the world’s most vulnerable operating systems. Given the several reports of Aadhaar data leaks, Gates endorsing Aadhaar is similar to international institutions like World Bank saying India’s economy is on track, though the public endures the effects of inflation.
In his book Hit Refresh, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella pointed out that India’s Aadhaar identity system rivals the growth of other platform innovations like Windows, android or Facebook. It is apparent that Microsoft is applying Facebook’s strategy of partnerships and alliances with contenders to stifle competition.
While businesses are important for a country’s economy, Gates is trying to paint Aadhaar with a broad brush, ignoring underlying privacy concerns. Such information can be used to deny products, services or information, or help construct a data profile.
The fight against Aadhaar is not just about the right to privacy and data protection.
It’s about saving the democratic fabric of our country by not allowing greedy corporations and philanthro-capitalists hijacking information to create unaccountable private structures replacing existing Constitutional bodies.
Now, the world is aware of the dire consequences of having data and misusing it as Cambridge Analytica shuts shop. A knife is only as good as the one who wields it, and so is the case with data.
(With Inputs from Ranjit Raj of Swecha, an affiliate of Free Software Movement of India)