Nandan Nilekani, the architect of Aadhaar, has said that India is on a ‘very good wicket’ on privacy in this age of digital technology and expressed confidence that the government's unique-identity number plan would be able to successfully pass the test of privacy.
Aadhaar card scheme, which has enrolled more than 1 billion people, was launched by the previous UPA government, and has been supported by the current government.
Addressing an audience at an event organised by the Center for Global Development on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, Nilekani said, "I think India is on a very good wicket on privacy".
Thanks to Aadhaar many activists went to the Supreme Court and they claimed that it was a privacy violation, said the 62-year-old non-executive chairman of Infosys -- India's second largest software services firm.
That challenge by activists, he said, led to even more existential question in India is privacy a fundamental right at all.
The question went to a nine-judge Supreme Court bench and they gave "what I call one of the best judgements" in the Supreme Court history, he said, responding to a question on privacy and Aadhaar card.
"And they (judges) said, yes privacy is a fundamental right. However, the state can circumscribe that privacy for specific social goals," he said, adding that they identified national security, prevention of crime prevention, protection of revenue and social welfare benefits as the four reasons.
Nilekani said that the judges said that circumscribing of privacy has to be based on three things. It has to be based on a law. It has to be based on the test of proportionality and reasonableness.
"The court laid down an excellent framework. And at the same time they said that technology and digital technology are key enablers for social progress and innovation, the architect of Aadhar card said," he said.
Now that the judges have laid a framework, there would be a second bench of the court, which will test whether Aadhaar meets that framework.
"We're very confident that it will," Nilekani said.
Responding to a question, Nilekani said that from a policy perspective "it has to be clear" that nobody should be denied an entitlement due to lack of access to technology.
A good system would obviously have the ability to save if there's no connectivity or environment does not work, one should give the overriding capability to the service provider.
So, it is important to make sure that technology does not come as a hurdle in providing benefits to people. A combination of well-designed override with fraud analytics can solve these issues.
"As people learn the system, they are going to do that," he said.
According to Nilekani, there are many challenges that require a platform thinking as a public good.
"It's important that we recognise that such a category exists. If a particular service or product is offered through a commercial platform that's great. Nobody's saying no to that but there is a problem that only can be solved with societal platform for the public good. That is unavoidable," he said.
Societal platforms, he said, is not about excluding market participants.
Societal platforms, he argued, creates the level playing field and then market participants can operate on that.
It's entirely possible that the entire digital payments that are provided by a combination of public financial institutions and private banks. But the societal platform provides the rules of the game, he said.
That is the role of society and government to provide the rules of the game.
"That's what this is all about. So think of this as one more way of enforcing the rules of the game," Nilekani said.