He added that the Indian government should ensure criminal penalty for those who misuse Aadhaar.


American whistleblower Edward Snowden has equated the Indian government’s Aadhaar programme to a “a mass surveillance system” and said the scheme would “create systemisation of society”.

If the government was serious about implementing the scheme for public good, it should punish those using Aadhaar for anything other than public services, he said last weekend, while speaking to a group of journalists and journalism students via video conferencing at the fifth edition of “Talk Journalism” in Jaipur.

“In today’s time, a mass surveillance system would look like Aadhaar,” the whistleblower, who has criticised Aadhaar in the past, said. “What it does is that it creates systemisation of society and that is something that is not stated in the scheme of things of the UIDAI [Unique Identification Authority of India].”

Snowden said the government should take feedback to improve the UIDAI system. “What one sees in India is that if one finds a loophole in the system, they are criticised,” he said.

According to Snowden, no government would actually tell its citizens that they don’t have a right to privacy. Instead, they would say that “they are bringing in a new programme that will safeguard your benefits, protect you”, he said.

The former United States National Security Agency contractor added that today’s society has a privacy problem because “it helps those who violate it”. “We need to use technology to safeguard us, need better encryption systems,” he said. “We need to have strong legal systems in place to deal with privacy issues.” He added that it was a myth that youngsters are no longer concerned about privacy.

In January, Snowden said the journalist who exposed a possible breach of data in Aadhaar deserved “an award, not an investigation”. He was referring to a tweet by journalist Rahul Kanwal, who had criticised the UIDAI’s decision to file a complaint against a reporter of The Tribune who wrote about loopholes in the Aadhaar system.

In another critique on Aadhaar earlier, Snowden said history had shown that no matter what the laws are, the result is always abuse. On that occasion as well, he was commenting on the report published by The Tribune.

Snowden, who left the United States in 2013 after leaking details of a secret government programme on global surveillance, said that he would like to return home. “But I will do that when the country is free and telling truth is not a crime,” he said. The whistleblower faces espionage and theft charges in the US that can earn him a sentence of up to 30 years in prison. Later in 2013, he was granted asylum in Russia for three years and still lives there in an undisclosed location.