Finance Minister Arun Jaitley reiterated the privacy credentials of the Aadhaar programme and said that the government was open to suggestions from the civil society and stakeholders to further strengthen the unique identification programme’s infrastructure. Speaking at the launch of a book on the biometric system on Saturday, Jaitley said that when the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014, its apprehensions regarding Aadhaar carried on from its days in Opposition. “When this government was formed, odds were against Aadhaar. However, within a few weeks, a briefing by Nandan Nilekani (former chairman of Unique Identification Authority of India, UIDAI) changed a lot of things. He made a convincing argument,” Jaitley said. “And now the Opposition is against the UIDAI programme.
It looks like where you stand (on any issue) depends on where you sit (in Lok Sabha).” Jaitley said the Aadhaar Act, which gave legal backing to the programme in 2016, had substantial provisions to ensure privacy. He said that Aadhaar had undergone an evolution over the past few years and will keep changing as technology evolves to strengthen its framework. “Obviously, you have to build adequate firewalls but, at the same time, the larger public interest will always have to prevail over personal interests. I’m quite certain the last word on this has not been said yet and, therefore, we would always remain open for any further improvements to strengthen this,” he said. The book, titled Aadhaar: Biometric History of India’s 12-Digit Revolution, has been authored by former journalist Shankkar Aiyar. Before Jaitley spoke, there was a panel discussion consisting of Biju Janata Dal Member of Parliament Baijayant Jay Panda, Principal Economic Advisor Sanjeev Sanyal, TRAI Chairman Ram Sevak Sharma, senior economist Shamika Ravi, and others. The panelists accepted that the Aadhaar programme needed to undergo improvements but was essentially a safe and necessary framework to provide essential government benefits, as well as avoid duplication of identification. They said that linking Aadhaar with a bank account or a mobile number does not mean UIDAI will come into possession of financial or personal details of an individual.