This is a rhetorical question. But then such are the times in which live in India nowadays that no impossibility should be ruled out, no idea, however ludicrous and far-fetched, should be dismissed. In the last few months we have seen Aadhaar becoming a must for a number of government services. Now, it has become a must to download a few innocuous PDF files from a government website. The recently launched Nakshe website says that to download Open Series Maps created by Survey of India, Indian citizens will require Aadhaar number.
The idea behind the Aadhaar authentication is that it saves the government money. This is why the government says that it should be used to distribute welfare schemes. The argument from the government is that Aadhaar authentication ensures that welfare services reach right people, there is no fakery and no corruption. This is a noble idea, even if it has serious problems in the way it has been implemented. But a PDF file containing a map is not a welfare scheme. Using Aadhaar authentication for it won't save government any money. These are the files that have been created with the money that Indian people have paid the government through taxes. But now they require a Aadhaar number before you can download them.
The Open Series Maps are not even any security risk. More detailed maps are available on Google. Or anyone for whom these maps are important can buy them from a number of international vendors that create and sell precise maps of almost all regions in the world. The Indian government is putting the Open Series Maps behind the Aadhaar just because it can. This is the same reason why it is mandating that degrees will be issued to students only when they have furnished Aadhaar number. The same reason applies on making Aadhaar mandatory for competitive exams, for tax returns, for driving licence (soon), for PAN card and for buying a plane ticket (happening soon).
Aadhaar is mandatory everywhere, or is going to be mandatory for almost everything that you will do, not because it serves some noble purpose. It is going to be mandatory because the government says so. It doesn't matter if it is an insecure system, which leaks data almost every time it is used. It doesn't matter that people are already gaming Aadhaar system. It doesn't matter that even UIDAI, the agency behind Aadhaar, has tacitly acknowledged that there are problems with the way Aadhaar data is collected and has revoked licence of over 1000 Aadhaar operators in the recent days.
What is more worrisome is where Aadhaar is going to used next. If it is now mandatory for downloading a few innocuous PDF files, the government is clearly sending a signal that Indians should expect to see it everywhere tomorrow. The possibilities are endless. Here, consider some. funfacts
- May be government will soon make it mandatory for Indians to use Aadhaar card while connecting to internet. This is easily doable. Just tell the internet service providers to use an Aadhaar-based authentication while providing an active internet connection.
- Have you ever set-up an Android phone? Just the way a Google account is almost mandatory to use an Android phone, may be next an Aadhaar number will be required. In any case, government has made it mandatory to re-verify SIM cards using Aadhaar. The process for that will start soon and then will be completed by February first week. May be just the way the government is asking phone makers to include a panic button in the phone, it will ask all smartphone makers to implement a Aadhaar-based authentication for each phone. it will be easy too, given the fact that phones nowadays have fingerprint scanners so biometric authentication using Aadhaar data will be easy.
- What else? May be an Aadhaar-based authentication for each online shopping you do. Instead of providing an OTP while buying something from Amazon or Flipkart, or instead of using a pre-set PIN or password, may be you will be asked to use Aadhaar number.
As noted earlier, the possibilities of where and how Aadhaar can be used are endless. It was conceived as a way to root out the corruption in India's welfare schemes, but in the last few years it has grown into this huge identity programme that can be used for virtually everything. And for better or worse, it IS going to be used everywhere.