Datengarten 45

Aaadhaar: What kind of 'database state' is the Indian government creating?

Sumandro Chattapadhyay
04.07.2014, 20:00 Uhr
Chaos Computer Club Berlin

Dieser Vortrag wird nicht gestreamed! / This talk will not be streamed!

A discussion of the Aadhaar project as a digital identity platform for governance


As part of my larger academic interest in the history of electronic governance and computing by the Government of India since 1960s, I have been studying the making and activities of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). UIDAI was instituted in 2009 to assign unique biometrics- linked identification numbers, branded as Aadhaar numbers, to all the residents of India. The growing literature about this Aadhaar project focus on various topics such as implications for citizenship, for efficiency of governmental services, for formalisation and unification of unorganised banking and welfare-accessing practices. As opposed to socio-legal critiques offered by most researchers and activists in India, I discuss the technological imagination and the materiality of the database system being designed and deployed as part of the Aadhaar project. I argue that it is crucial to develop a close understanding of the specific form of data collection, management, archiving, sharing by the Aadhaar project and the software infrastructure it is building to enable various government and commercial agencies to implement a single identity platform for tracking their interactions with citizens/consumers.

Like all ’new’ technologies, the Aadhaar project involves a continued engagement and negotiations with older technological infrastructures and socio-technical practices. I will argue here that this newness is to be found in the idea of the digital ‘identity platform,’ as opposed to the demographic and biometric data it gathers. In my exploration, I closely study the official reports and technical documents published by UIDAI to understand its techno-infrastructural proposals and their potential consequences in the context of the recent history of electronic governance and national identity card policy in India. My research is also guided by the project’s self-description as an ‘identity platform,’ which needs to be understood within the specific technological paradigm of information production and circulation as captured by the notion of the ‘platform’ as a site for capturing and monetising user behaviour data. In conclusion, I reflect on the potential nature of the database state being conceptualised and realised through the Aadhaar project.

Biographic Note

I am a researcher interested in the history and politics of informatics in India, media and technology studies, and political economy. I am a Research Associate at The Sarai Programme in the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, India, and contribute to the ongoing research project on ‘media and information infrastructures.’ I also periodically work with the Centre for Internet and Society, Bangalore, on topics of open data policy, open access and Internet governance. Previously, I have worked with MOD Institute on issues of affordable housing, urban security and ICTs and urban governance; and have led a data analysis and visualisation team at the Azim Premji University, Bangalore, India. I studied economics in Visva-Bharati, Shantiniketan, and in Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.