There is a view that the the recent deliberations on the Aadhaar case in the Supreme Court of India boils down to two broad issues - privacy and national security. It further makes a point that if the learned Judges are of the view that privacy is of paramount importance then the judgement will be in favour of Aadhaar and if they are of the view that National Security has an overriding concern then the judgement will be against Aadhaar. I will be making three-to-four submissions here.
First, Aadhaar can seriously compromise national security. This is so because all the potential defence and intelligence operatives (particularly, those who are to be hired for sensitive operations in the future) are likely to have their biometrics compromised.
To wit, covert operations by these potential operatives are likely to be undermined. It is already being talked in hushed tones (not necessarily because of Aadhaar alone) that the entire security establishment is under close watch by our friends and foes. The fear that Aadhaar will compromise our national security is not unfounded.
Second, the articulation in favour of Aadhaar for facilitating national security is actually an argument in favour of state power. In particular, the arguments are that Aadhaar will facilitate surveillance and guard against wrong doings (an euphemism for corruption) through transparency and accountability. Doing away with wrongs is laudable, but to take a position that Aadhaar will help in this endeavour is to belittle the ingenuity of financial moguls/wizards. In fact, more often than not, they operate within the realms of law (what may be morally inappropriate need not be legally wrong). Neither the short arm, nor the long arm of law will have anything to do with them.
The only time that the financial ingenuity become a botheration is when the market goes into a tizzy. Hear again, in the name of the economy it is the moguls that are to be bailed out. It is another matter that Aadhaar may create a perception that it is guarding against the moguls misdemeanour because each and every individual does experience it first hand that each and every step of theirs is under close watch and scrutiny. It is not for them to comprehend that the closed gates are for the ant and not for the elephant.
Third, the clamour for state power (along with concerns for national security) is nothing specific to India. It is global. Furthermore, it questions the core of democracy by weakening the importance of separation of powers. It is beyond Arrow's impossibility. It may draw similarities from Kalecki's intermediate regimes (see KN Raj's take on intermediate regimes), but is also beyond that. It takes a form where the power of money (or market: note that the term market is not to provide space for exchange of goods and services through large number of players, but, rather one that talks of power through market share, and hence, implicitly does away with the large number of smaller players - small is no more beautiful) becomes pervasive.
Under such a scenario, the four pillars of democracy - the executive, the legislature and the judiciary as also a free press - could become subservient to money power. A possible outcome is that one of the pillars of democracy, while retaining its subservience to money power, gets an upper-hand over the other pillars. The global happenings indicate that it facilitates a supremacy of the executive over the other wings - a takeover by/for/of the executive. The over-empowering role of money calls for an emerging need for political economy and/or political theory to address these concerns.
As an aside, a fourth point is that the debate between privacy and security should not be seen in binary terms. No, I am not referring to the umpteen positions that came out in the deliberations in the Supreme Court and are undoubtedly important and could also impact the judgment. But, sticking to the two broad concerns there can also be the possibility of a middle-path between privacy and national security (nay, state power).
However, there can be pitfalls in the middle-path. There could be a judgment that supports the perception that allows the state to be vigilant against wrong-doers and at the same time gives space for privacy concerns for all those who can take recourse to the long-arm of law. Such a middle path could also lead to a tilt towards state power that gives supremacy to the state power through the executive. Only time will tell.
Earlier blog posts on Aadhaar
Neither for you, nor for me
Right to Privacy, Aadhaar and Democracy (also re-posted at LSE blog)
Aadhaar Interim Order Calls for Some Clarification
If a Lie is told Three Times
Aadhaar, Radiagate and Cablegate
[The views expressed are that of the author and not that of the institutions/organisations that the author is associated with. Comments are welcome.]