The idea of linking Aadhaar with social media, which is now under judicial scrutiny, is riddled with conceptual, legal and practical problems. On the one hand, it seeks to expand the scope of Aadhaar to uncharted and slippery areas and, on the other, it gives unnecessary and even dangerous powers to the government, private and corporate agencies. A division bench of the Madras high court is hearing two petitions demanding the interlinking of the Aadhaar database and social media profiles for authentication of identity. There are similar petitions before two other high courts. Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter have approached the Supreme Court to adjudicate on the matter so that there are no varying or contradictory judgments from different courts. The Supreme Court has allowed the hearing on the matter to continue in the Madras high court but restrained it from pronouncing an order. The case in that court has been adjourned after the Supreme Court order.
The most important issue pertaining to the matter is that any linkage of Aadhaar with social media accounts would violate the Supreme Court judgment which had limited the use of Aadhaar to some areas like the government’s welfare schemes and subsidies. The court had disfavoured its use even for purposes like opening of bank accounts. Social media accounts managed by private entities would certainly be outside the court’s prescription. More importantly, the proposal would go against the landmark 2017 judgment of the Supreme Court making privacy a fundamental right of the citizen. The linkage would enable the government or the social media companies to access the personal data of users through their Aadhaar numbers. Social media companies already have in their possession a lot of data about their users, and there are charges, and even proven cases, of their misuse. They should not be given access to more sensitive data. It is even more dangerous to give governments access to such data. It can hurt free speech and expression and produce a surveillance state.
There are practical difficulties also in such a linkage. Social media services are offered by global companies and it may not be possible to relate the user’s profile to a geographically and nationally specific identity document. There will also be complications when Indians create accounts from foreign locations. End-to-end encryption that the social media companies promise has no meaning if personal data, messages and postings can be accessed through the Aadhaar route. The purported aim of the proposal is to counter fake news, child pornography, terrorist activists, etc. It is unlikely that Aadhaar will be of help in this, and it is certain that the risks and dangers far outweigh the claimed benefits.