The height of the anti-Aadhaar movement, the government was at pains to explain that Aadhaar did not infringe on anyone’s privacy in any way. By way of example, if a bank account was linked with Aadhaar, all details of bank transactions remained only with the bank—as they did in the pre-Aadhaar days—and did not ever get reflected in the Aadhaar database. Similarly, while a phone number could be linked to Aadhaar, all call details remain with the mobile phone provider; income tax details remain with the taxman, etc. While that may have won the day for Aadhaar, if the proposal to link Aadhaar with social media accounts fructifies, it will bring back the privacy debate and, this time around, it will be difficult to argue that Aadhaar is not a breach of privacy. For, with each social media firm having a list of Aadhaar numbers, it will be very easy to create a profile of people based on their Aadhaar numbers and, more important, even the smallest criticism of the government will be traced back to the person; that’s a chilling thought, especially in a country that prides itself on being a democracy. Can you think of an Arab Spring or a Hong Kong-type protest in a country where the government can track even your social media posts?
The government, it is true, doesn’t want to have the detail of everyone’s Aadhaar-linked-social-media accounts. It only wants them in certain cases. If, say, a video is circulated on WhatsApp that causes tension in Kashmir, the government wants to be able to track down the user; the assumption here is that the phone number used for WhatsApp was probably procured using a fake ID. If not, the government, in any case, can find out the name of the sender; this assumes WhatsApp will tell the government who sent the initial video, and that is the subject of another discussion. But, the short point is that since the numbers of those fomenting trouble by using social media as a force multiplier—the message can never go viral as fast as on social media—is a tiny fraction of the overall population, the greater good lies in not stifling free comment.
In which case, how is the government to trace those trying to create trouble using social media? It will have to be done the old way, with the government asking Twitter/Facebook to block accounts that are seen to be putting out false news/propaganda. In the case of a WhatsApp, assuming the platform doesn’t divulge where a message came from, it will have to track messages from phone to phone; it will also be a good idea to tighten norms to ensure only genuine documents are used to buy mobile phones. Good intelligence operations should be able to track when fake news is being peddled on a large scale, and the government should have its own version of HoaxSlayer—staffed with smart people using the best of AI and other tools—to be able to call out fake news; the same social media that works for troublemakers then needs to be used by the government as a force multiplier. The dangers of linking social media accounts to Aadhaar far outweigh the possible gains; hopefully, both the government and the courts that will be ruling on this will realise that.