India Set to Link Voter's List to Biometric Aadhar IDs amid Privacy Fears

India’s lower house of parliament Monday approved legislation seeking to link electoral rolls with a nationwide digital identity database to stop fraudulent voting despite protests from the opposition and civil society groups, who allege the move violates citizens’ privacy.

The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill was introduced and approved within hours in the Lok Sabha via a voice vote amid angry protests by opposition lawmakers. The legislation allows linking voter profiles to the national digital ID, Aadhaar uses biometrics and a unique number to track individuals.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which has a substantial majority in the house, says the changes to the existing electoral law are meant to curb the problem of one person holding multiple voters’ cards in different places. The opposition says linking Aadhaar details to voting rights could compromise the secrecy of the ballot and interfere with an independent electoral process.

“It’s an infringement of the fundamental right to privacy,” 

Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, a leader of the main opposition Congress party, said in the Lok Sabha. 

“You can’t bulldoze with this kind of legislative document.”

More than a dozen civil society organizations have voiced concerns with the bill, calling it an unnecessary move, which could exclude some of India’s most marginalized groups and undermine voters’ trust in the electoral system.

“If biometric authentication is made a requirement, it will almost certainly lead to exclusion,” 

of poor people from welfare schemes similar to what has happened before in rural job guarantee programs, said Maansi Verma, chair of the research group Article 21 Trust and a lawyer working in the area of digital privacy. 

“It is going to affect a very fundamental right — the right to vote. It strikes at the very root of the world’s largest democracy.”

The government has dismissed these arguments as baseless. Law Minister Kiren Rijiju told parliament Monday the bill aims to strengthen the electoral system by weeding out fake voting.

The Modi government has been attempting to link Aadhar, one of the world’s biggest biometric databases to everything from bank accounts and tax filings to Covid-19 vaccinations. Critics of the move cite past instances of massive data leaks and the growth of a black market for personal information while opposing the plan.

The bill, which has to be approved by the upper house and the president before it becomes law, comes amid growing concerns over privacy and government surveillance in a country of nearly 1.4 billion. India currently has poor data protection mechanisms.

A bill on data privacy that seeks to protect users’ privacy and enforce strict controls on how companies such as Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Inc. collect, process and store data is pending before parliament. The parliamentary panel that scrutinized the legislation has recommended treating social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook as publishers and setting up a regulatory body to oversee them.