DigiLocker or a tool of surveillance?

:: M.Y.Siddiqui ::

Ministry of Human Resource Development has decided to make DigiLocker a National Academic Depository (NAD) wherein all degrees, diploma and certificates from all recognized universities and academies of excellence will be stored in digital format as ready reckoner for instant accessibility by users. DigiLocker provides critical identity, educational, transport, financial and municipal documents in digital format to citizens through a digital wallet.

App based DigiLocker system platform, set up by the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, under the DigiLocker Rules, 2016 as amended in 2017, in terms of the Information Technology Act, 2000, intends to enable people to store all their utility documents in digitized format for consumption of such documents by public and private agencies while delivering services to the citizens. DigiLocker Rules provide legal sanctity to all such documents as stored in in this platform. While the DigiLocker system is expanding rapidly, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has taken up with the Ministries/Departments of the Government of India, State Governments and Union Territory Administrations to bring regulatory changes for acceptance of digital documents. But cyber law experts and well meaning people view it as yet another attempt by the NDA Union Government as a surveillance measure after the Aadhar and Arogya Setu App linkages to various benefits, which stood diluted as incursive to fundamental rights to privacy and personal dignity following judgments of the Supreme Court.

DigiLocker is a platform for issuance or verification of documents and certificates in a digital way helping to eliminate use of physical documents. It aims at providing a digital wallet to every citizen so that all the documents therein can be made available electronically at one place that can be accessed anywhere at any time. As on date, DigiLocker has more than 373 crore issued documents available, over 360 crore registered users, 154 issuers and 45 requesters registered. More than 30 crore certificates from CBSE/ ICSE and 21 State Education Boards. It has important departments and documents of the Union of India on board, such as UIDAI (Aadhar), driving licences, registration certificates (RCs), LPG subscription voucher, PAN verification record, e-District certificates of around 20 States and and National Skill Certificates.

Ministry of Human Resource Development has decided to make DigiLocker a National Academic Depository (NAD) wherein all degrees, diploma and certificates from all recognized universities and academies of excellence will be stored in digital format as ready reckoner for instant accessibility by users. DigiLocker provides critical identity, educational, transport, financial and municipal documents in digital format to citizens through a digital wallet. Massive exercises in consultation with issuers helping digitize their documents and finally delivering these digital documents to the citizens has resulted in avaibility of over 374 crore  authentic digital documents. Next step seeks to make these documents consumed by public and private agencies, Average of 30,000 citizens are signing up on the platform daily, while paper based services are still prevalent.

Acceptance of digital documents for services delivery is still a far cry requiring massive transformations across sectors with changes in the corresponding laws and rules of different regulatory domains. Reasons impeding the proliferation of the DigiLocker system ar lack of central digitization mandate, lack of provisions in regulatory frameworks for accepting digital documents, government department’s low tendency for consumption of digital documents for delivery of services and lack of awareness among government departments and citizens. DigiLocker has already been legally sanctified. Accordingly, all documents stored in it would have force of law.

Ministry of Electronics and IT’s initiatives have brought regulatory changes for acceptance of digital documents. As a result, Ministry of Finance in Department of Revenue has amended the Prevention of Money-laundering (Maintenance of Records) Rules, 2005 to accept digital KYC documents. Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has effected amendment in Rule 139 of Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989. Several States and Union Territories have also issued notifications for acceptance of driving licence and Registration Certificates in digital format. Ministry of Railways has accepted digital Aadhar and driving licence as proof of identity for train journey. Ministry of Civil Aviation has notified Bureau of Civil Aviation Security to accept identity proof via DigiLocker for airport entry. Besides, TRAI, IRDAI, SEBI and ECI (Election Commission) have been advised to adopt DigiLocker based digital document transaction system to help create digital ecosystem, while Ministry of Electronics and IT is creating public awareness for expanding further the uses of DigiLocker.

Cyber experts, however, have raised alarms that DigiLocker is going to be a massive state surveillance measure after the dilution of the Aadhar system following the Supreme Court judgments in both the Aadhar and privacy cases. During the pandemic induced lockdown, Aogya Setu App was made mandatory for travel by public/private transport, entry in hotels/restaurants, super markets and malls as yet another device for state surveillance. In this backdrop of Hitlerian blitzkrieg of authoritarian fascist regime at the Centre, DigiLocker is going to be a mega covert instrument of state surveillance for use by enforcement agencies over citizens at individual/ group/ organisations/ bodies/vulnerable sections levels. Already, the current authoritarian anti-people Union Government has converted election-centric democratic governance into a surveillance state by a notification issued in December 2018 authorising ten law enforcement agencies to surveil the people.!

About the Author

M Y Siddiqui

Mr M Y Siddiqui is the former Director (PR&S) at Government of India, as Spokesman of various Ministries (New Delhi). After his retirement he is now a well known columnist and critic. He writes on government plans & implementation and issues of deprived segments of India.

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