Pic New Eara. Acrylic on Paper. By Girijaa Upadhyay
ow is one to ‘read’ the judgement on the validity of the Aadhaar Act passed by a majority of 4-1 on September 26 2018? Most of the popular English –language national media reflected ideological or leastways discursive divides on a judicial intervention that endorsed the validity of the unique identification project involving biometric scanning but hemmed its sweep within limits that drew approbation from the urban middle class. Viewing Aadhaar purely in instrumentalist/utilitarian terms the majority justices confined the validity of Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial And Other Subsidies , Benefits and Services) Act to beneficiaries of welfare schemes underwritten by government funds. The learned justices struck down its application to a slew of services that fall within the private sector thereby striking a blow for individual privacy. So it seemed to the urban middle classes that have often expressed drawing-room discomfort at the creeping shadow of the State into their aspirational lives and privileged privacies. More often than not, the lengthening shadows have been explained away, if a tad nervously, as a necessary price to pay in the fight against “terrorism, “a trade-off ‘that is borne with shrugs of shoulders. But the majority judgement has certainly relieved the self-aware middle class go-getter relieved by drawing a thick line between ‘Them’ and ‘Us’; the justices did strike down Section 57 thereby barring private entities from recourse to Aadhaar as precondition to access to their services that have become so indispensable in the self-definition of the good life.
In the bargain and in a subliminal way, the judgement sdrew a distinction between those that need to be identified in the right way to draw the benefits from state funded subsidies that are funded in the last instance by those who don’t.
The majority of the justices knew what we have always felt which is why we endorse their judgment; that the poor and needy, the state-welfare dependents are different from us; which means in effect, they are less than us. And being of an inferior category, they need the Aadhaar identification system so the State makes sure that public money, ‘our money!’ reaches the right beneficiaries. Like the majority judges we have bought the State-sponsored justification for Aadhaar based on the empirically unsound and self-reflexive notion that welfare schemes have been hemorrhaging simply because we did not have a proper identification system. Till Nilekani came along.
So the poor have to pay for their entitlement; and pay they must by trading in their privacy rights. The argument was made by Pratap Bhanu Mehta who cast his liberal vote for the majority judgement that checks “the mindless application of Aadhaar.” (‘Verdict as First Word’ Indian Express September 28,2018). He accuses the justices of being “…cavalier in [their] acceptance of the state’s empirical contentions” about the safety of the Aadhaar, that it cannot be used for surveillance and that its error rates are insignificant. But he accepts their indefensible justification for its retention as a welfare-benefits identifying procedure.
Justice DV Chandrachud’s dissent note, Mehta intones, portrays an “impressive grasp” of the empirical, ethical and constitutional issues. But he questions the dissenting justice’s philosophical principles on which it is based: “the importance of choice and the value of plurality.” In the context of the Aadhaar scheme, Mehta finds both the choice and multiple-identity arguments problematic because they may allow Aadhaar to slip in through the backdoor. If, Mehta imagines, a user has the choice to choose between the ration card, driving licence and Aadhaar number as the form of identification, chances are that Aadhaar could slip in anyways. Choice leaves he door for Aadhaar just as it does for others.
Choice then is a is a double edged weapon a more enlightened State could use to achieve its purpose; by the same token it does not empower the user/individual as much as votaries of choice would imagine. .
Mehta makes a couple o questionable assumptions when he places Aadhaar on the menu of choices before the user or potential user of a particular service whose vendor be it the bank or government is seeking verification of identity. The first is an empirical one: vendors, be they the government or private service providers will leave the choice of identification to the user; or to frame it differently, that they would consider Aadhaar a perfect substitute for any other form of identification, say a driver’s licence, ration card or marriage certtifcate or a copy of the electricity bill.
That is of course not so The government/vendor considers the Aadhaar as the most authentic, efficient and the cheapest mode of identification based as it is on biometric information. As early as January this year a clutch of private companies under the banner of the Digital Lenders Association of India (DLAI) petitioned the Supreme Court ahead of the crucial hearing on the validity of the Aadhaar seeking continuity for the citizen identity programme. The caucus included startups, and early- investment firms such as Khosla Labs. The joint appeal, according to The Economic Times (January 07, 2018) “lists the advantages offered by Aadhaar to the digital companies, particularly the e-KYC feature which allows real-time verification of customers.”
That wasn’t all: “In addition, a group of 50 companies consisting of fintech firms, lending companies, verification agencies — mostly agencies which use Aadhaar electronic KYC and authentication services — have formed a group called ‘Coalition for Aadhaar’ and view the petition as the first step in a long term strategy aimed at promoting the cause of the unique identity project.” And why not? There were over 300 companies using Aadhaar and authentication services, the report also added.
Quite apart from the empirical evidence that clearly positions the Aadhaar as the favoured option for service providers government and private, there is thr techno-social issue of what the Aadhaar represents. Unlike the ration card, an “indexical mode of identification the Aadhaar is part of a “digital infrastructure” that constitutes the platform to a data networked society with all its ontological implications for the overall relationship between the individual and the State and increasingly between the individual and organized economic power be it in banks or private services.
Small wonder that despite the Supreme Court having struck down the use of Aadhaar for non-welfare schemes and services not funded out of public money, private sector entities and banks haven’t let up on efforts to pull the Aadhaar back into service as the unique identification protocol. Some two weeks after the judgement, the Times of India (October 16 2018) reported that banks had asked the Reserve Bank of India to permit them to continue using the Aadhaar card as ‘official valid document’ Some veiled threats accompanied the request with the Indian Banks Association hinting darkly that microfinance schemes might be “impacted if credit checks based on the unique ID number are removed.” In another report nine days later the daily found leading telecom firms using Aadhaar based e-KYC to issue mobile SIM cards.
The Aadhaar as Chandrachud warned is not just an item on the menu of options before a user but the only gateway to any and every service on offer, be it a welfare scheme out of the consolidated fund of India or banking services and communication connectivities.
The Aadhaar option is not an option in the sense that it constitutes an item of choice exercised freely; it does not represent any aspect of human agency and it is inimical to and at variance with the rights of choice and plurality. As part of the networked society it subsumes all other options unto itself; that is why all data bases segue into the Aadhaar as the final depository of uetworked data.
The choice and plurality of identities arguments raised by Justice Chandrchud and other constitutional experts who assert the necessity of safeguarding them cannot incorporate within them the “option” of Aadhar for another reason. Its epistemological core demands a trade-off that is not an option but foisted upon the subject as a necessity. It is not just the fact that the technology, used in the service of say, national security, or in this case, welfare distribution to the poor demands the parsing of rights and privacy. The Aadhaar, as part of the data networked society itself constitutes an intrusion into the individual’s most sacred privacy and rights.
The trade-off argument favoured by the votaries of networked societies and governments especially after 9/11 and the birth of the “terrorism” narrative has been internalised within in civil societies around the world as as an essential condition of modern existence. It is this essentializing that enables Mehta to assert that the “voluntary surrender of privacy and the quest for security in our culture is very strong.”
This is the old trade-off argument dressed up in an ideologically neutered language of causality. At this point, the argument’s liberal votaries slide down the slippery slopes towards neo-liberalism. Liberty and freedom for the individual presumes the absence of restraint by the most monopolistic organization, and for F.A. Hayek that was principally the State.
By that token then if the state intervenes, or, as it happens you depend on doles and welfare benefits from the state, and, expect it to protect you from “terrorism” with security and surveillance apparatus you are going to have to forsake some of those personal freedoms.
Inspired by Amartya Sen, Chandrachud points out that the issue is not so much one of personal liberties aat stake here, the freedom to be “let alone” as much as one of empowerment; the state has to work with a deeper meaning of liberty, one that incorporates the idea of freedom from inequalities that thwart human sustainability. Liberty means the creation of human agency where none existed.
In the context of Aadhaar is it a vain and futile hope? To expect the State, author of the largest biometric drive in the world to empower the disenfranchised knocking on their door for sustenance? It probably is. Perhaps that is why Chandrachud calls on the judiciary to nudge the executive to do the right thing by the poor now that the apex court has thrown the dispossessed to the defining certitudes of “data governance.”
The dissenting judge underlines this concern by pointing us to the heart of the Aadhaar case when he says that it is about the relationship between technology and power. His opening remarks set the tone: “Technology confronts the future of freedom itself.” Sounding an Orwellian tocsin he sketches an apocalyptic vision of that power, a naked power over the most vulnerable:
: “Every conceivable facility can be brought under the rubric of Section 7. From delivery to deliverance, almost every aspect of the cycle of life would be governed by the logic of Aadhaar.”
“The Verdict as First Word”. Mehta meant that to be an invitation to a debate. But the Aadhaar and its votaries read it differently. The verdict is just the beginning of a return to the future where the ubiquity of the Aadhaar shall become a way of life. Its logic demands that; Chandrchud understood that. So do its champions whose application of Aadhaar has been struck down.
The verdict is not the last word. And evidence of the Aadhaar’s come-back, through the backdoor or as is more likely, through the front with bells on, is slowly filtering in. Its gradual creep into the interstices of our lives is almost pre-ordained.
And it is entirely possible that the urban middle class will live with it and all other forms of intrusions on privacy having been made to believe that its security and well-being, (a condition that is being drawn into an apodictic relationship with the loss of privacy) as empowerment) demands the deadliest affirmations of state-security systems (of which biometric identification protocols are a part).
We, the affluent and self-aware classes will abide by an intrusive state under the influence of a zero sum game; the more that the unique identification number becomes universal the less its ability to hurt me so long as I keep my nose clean and trained on the fragrances of the charmed life and its plenitudes.
But for the poor seeking the generosity of the state, be it food, education work and wage, the entry into the portal of State munificence shall prove to be at the very least intimidating at worst, a terror-filled excursion.
Unlike the ration card that the needy used to just hand over at the ration shop for subsidised grains, the process involving the Aadhaar conscripts the individual into an act of state-sponsored, now juridically-endorsed, terror.
For the poor to repeat every time some welfare is sought the authentication and verification process that the biometric protocol demands is to be terrified or ‘extremely frightened’, one of the meanings of the word, ‘terror’ in the OED, as Rustom Bharucha reminds us in his book “Terror and Performance” The other meaning is th state or quality of being terrible, or causing intense fear or dread.’
Terror, Bharucha says, can be felt, embodied, experienced but “it can also be inflicted and imposed…” State sponsored terror need not be visualized as Orwell did as the boot stamped on the human face forever, or as Stalin’s gulags. It can come in multiple forms: as a discourse by which the burden of the proof of ‘innocence’ rests on the weak and vulnerable, as the terror of having to prove your identity as a member of the dispossessed through repeated processes of authentication and verification of biometric-driven identity markers that can prove treacherously fickle in identifying you as such; the terror of deprivation of the bare necessities of life because you have not been identified as the one you say you are even though you look it; feel the dispossession, the grinding poverty, reek of it; but the authentication machine fails you because your fingerprints don’t match with what the data has stored; you are not the subject stored in the data base and thus are disabled.
There is no higher appeal than your fingers and the calloused hands have let you down; your poverty lets you down Starvation follows and death remains the only redemption, the most efficient deliverance from this terrifying delivery system.
The Supreme Court majority ruling on Aadhaar hinges on an issue that shall continue to haunt us as India embraces the digital society and its deadly certitudes: the relationship between technology and power or more pertinently, the relationship between the new technology, the State as the wielder of power and the citizen as (willing or unwilling) subject of that power.
The issue is more pertinent in our times because the new technology expresses itself as the great enabler and its affiliate, biometrics as the greatest identifier. Both create in Justice Chandrachud’s words, “unforeseen challenges for governance in a digital age.” Not the least because this technology “reshapes the dialogue between the citizen and the state.” Specifically it throws into sharp relief the implications of the new technologies on the nature of individual identity, privacy and the immense potential the networked society and in particular biometrics offers the state to redefine both through an increase in its intrusive powers.
The relationship between the individual and the State has always been a fraught one with every hegemonic power keen to keep tabs on citizens and subjects. Spies did the work of ratting on restive citizens with obvious limitations on the capacity to monitor the extent and nature of hostile responses to state power. With the advent of new technologies such as the camera and telegraphy, the relationship between the individual and state power significantly altered.
Surveillance became easier, more efficient in terms of costs and benefits than two-legged spies who could fall asleep on the job experience a change of heart and join the restive ranks or simply just walk away from the tiresome assignment of following another human being going about the most routine functions of a banal life. The camera could capture visual images of anti-state activity in cafes, bars schools or bedrooms: without consent of the subject or even knowledge.
The camera and photography ushered in the age of intrusive surveillance in a way that “indexical data”, evident in passports, and other forms of paper identification (or even spies like Razumov in Conrad’s Under Western Eyes) could not. As Anton Alterman noted:
“A clear pictorial representation is integrally related to one’s bodily self-esteem, and performs the identifying function of indexical data in a way that leads more directly and reliably to our person.…”
In Orwell’s 1984, Big Brother watches Winston Smith and the citizens of Oceania through telescreens. But Julia and he have their private moments in a clearing in the woods outside the city, in the “golden country” of his recurring dream, beyond the reach of the prying screen. They are betrayed by a human they thought sympathetic and a print of St. Clement’s Church that hid the malevolent eye of the telescreen that echoes their words, “We are dead.”
The telescreen is a metaphor for the cudgel that keeps Oceania’s citizens under control. Its prying eye is everywhere (well almost) and sabotages the individual’s privacy and person, stripping the citizen of her self-respect and ownership of her body. As Orwell wrote, “Oceanians are used to living in a constant state of surveillance—either through technology or police patrol.”
In the digital world of data networks and biometrics, body scans push the intrusive nature of representation to its logical conclusion. Biometric scans pick up biological traits that are unique to an individual and identify that individual. You can disassociate yourself from a photographic image by superficial alterations; you can’t do that with biometric images without serious physical damage or through the ageing process. The identification then is irreversible. It is also more efficient as an identifier than a photographic image not the least because matching the image to the person or a sample of persons can be frustrating to say the least. Biometric comparisons on the other hand are computer processed and the images are data representations. And if fingerprints get rubbed off on account of old age or too much physical work, they can fail to authenticate extant data representations..
Irreversible, reliable, efficient, these are the virtues of the identification system known as Aadhaar that swayed the majority judgement into a sweeping endorsement of its benefits; in it the majority judgement glimpsed a “techno-utopian” promise of a unique identification process that presaged and preordained rapid development. The Aadhaar number, for the majority judgement, is the most unique simply because of its practical possibilities and delivery potential.
For critics of biometrics identifiers, the problems start precisely at this point of their irreversibility, efficiency and reliability.
“The loss of control that this entails, and the degree to which the body is objectified by the process, suggest that biometric identification alienates a part of the embodied self.” (Alterman)
From the viewpoint of the individual/citizen, biometric identifiers work to objectify her personhood. They alienate the body from its subjectivity and send it off into the public realm regardless of the consensual aspect of the biometric operation.
The rise of digital technologies and network societies alters notions of selfhood and the individual emerges simultaneously as part of a data set and as a “quantified self” as Nishant Shah, cited by Chandrachud puts it. The “embodied self” gives way in an age of biometrics to Shah’s “quantified self” an individual stripped of those non-contingent biological selves with sensations and emotions underlying a moral quest. In the digital age we live in, the quantified self is “contingent upon big data harvesting mechanisms that embed the individual not only as willing subjects to technologies of measurement and computing…” but also as participants in quantification processes, turning into agents of technology regimes that work on the body.” (Shah)
The quantified self comes into being “through predictive and self-correcting algorithms that develop correlations, curations and connections between disparate individuated transactions to produce a new understanding of the individual.” These algorithms and big data mining protocols as Shah points out present customizable templates of aan individual “where everything can be contextually mapped but alienated from the actual phenomenon, reduced to machine logic and network logistics.” (ibid)
Thus the Aadhaar number creates a parallel trope of poverty inhabited by quantified selves; the embodied self in the real world of subjectivities and sensations, the biological world has to match the machine’s quantified self (that perhaps carries a picture of a dog) to authenticate and verify the real. In this digital world, the real exists in the virtual.
As a result of the growth of network technologies and even more so in developing societies, the individual is dislocated from the centrality of discourse on identity, rights, subjectivity and governance. That benefits State power, strips the individual of agency but who cares? The urban middle class that consumes digital voraciously doesn’t care and as for the poor, well, who cares for them?
What happens to identity in the face of database governance that developing societies are increasingly being seduced by?
The markers that define the future of the relationship between the individual and the State lose meaning; they dissolve into the quantified self. The discourse on identity and identification, on privacy and individual autonomy becomes meaningless, loses existential significance—“…empty of signifiers yet full of micro-meanings”(Shah, 24)
With the emergence of the quantified self and what Shah calls the “data subject”, the individual is no longer at the centre of the discourse on individuality, identity, subjectivity and her relationship with state power. What we are witnessing is the loss of control over the self and the collapse of constitutionally mediated distance or autonomy from the hegemonic power of the state. And history offers no precedents for this loss.
The first victim among the individual’s historically-given signifiers as the quantified self takes shape is the distinction between identity and identification, Chandrachud reminds us of this distinction forcefully:
“Identification is a matter of proof- of establishing that a person is actually, the individual who claims a right or entitlement. In their daily interactions, individuals have to distinguish themselves from others, whether it be in the course of employment, travel, civil union, location, community perspectives, revenue obligations or access to benefits”(para180)
Identity on the other hand constitutes a right: “Identity includes the right to determine the forms through which identity is expressed and the right not to be identified”(para 185).
Identity therefore includes the right to remain anonymous.
Commenting on the Aadhaar judgement soon after it was announced, P. Chidambaram offered some strenuous but disingenuous arguments to convince the reader that the UPA government’s intentions had been noble since it had maintained the distinction between identity and identification. He emphasised the need for an individual—“if the need arose…” to “identify herself” (emphasis in original) making the identification procedure to be voluntary and restricted to the appropriate identification of beneficiaries. A “benign instrument to help people access subsidies…” he termed it. (Indian Express Sept 30 2018)
Turns out it wasn’t all that benign to start with. Shah finds that in the narratives of the Aadhaar there is a shift from identification to identity and he traces this to Nandan Nilekani, “the political architect and supervisor of the project who repatedly said that the Aadhaar was in the business of granting identities.”. Presented as a purposeless identification system its purpose spread across government and private services and the “very act of querying and validation tool a metonymic significance of negotiation an identity.”(Shah,30)
Was this conflation just a “semantic slip of the keyboard”, a confusion of terms. Shah doesn’t think so; the conflation signals the attempt to construct the quantified self within a “techno-social framework [in which] the machine function of identification is wedded to the human expression of identity.” The shift is critical because now the attempt is underway to define the identity of a person ontologically “through the logic and logistics of networked computation that form the Aadhaar project.”
“Identity, which has historically been seen as an inalienable personal right, embedded in the very biological makeup and socio-political inheritances of an individual, suddenly gets explained through the systems and processes of identification which are no longer interested in the individual’s relational and affective states but in identifying the individual as an ‘actor’ in a network society.”(Shah 31)
Which means that in the slippage between the two stuff happens. A dog face can appear as face of the ‘actor’ as was once reported. The individual is no longer a human subject but a “simulation of the data sets that belong to the network.”(35-6)
What does this mean for privacy? Plenty, as Chandrachud too pointed out. In the first instance it constitutes a transgression on the human subject’s right to multiple identities: “The Constitution recognizes a multitude of identities, based on the liberties which it recognizes as an inseparable part of our beings. To be human is to have a multitude of identities and be guaranteed the right to express it in various forms”
One could give the benefit of the doubt to the majority justices for recognizing this right to a multitude of identities—a right they reserve for the users of private services not funded out by public money. The judgement presumes that those who do not depend on welfare schemes have got their identity-identification thingy pretty well worked out, that their privacy needs to be protected. In this sense the judgement privileges, well, privilege, with the arsenal to retain their autonomy. That in reality it does not happen is quite another matter. The learned justices have done the right thing by the individual by ring-fencing her against the alleged intrusions of Aadhaar, intrusions that they do not deign to investigate beyond a passing nod at the petitioners’ arguments on the way to the responents’ cavalier enial of any intrusions where they rest their case.
But the poor are different; by that token they are less, than us. And they are less because they are in need; and those in need of the State’s largesse as means to entitlement have to pay the price of forfeiture. The learned justices too have travelled down the slippery slopes towards the neo-liberal argument that you cannot have it both ways; if you want freedom and privacy, opt for the market not he state to shape your destinies.
By a twist of fate that leads to tragic ironies, the neo-liberal argument about a trade-off lands the poor smack in the intricate webs woven by private sector entities peddling services in the name of ‘development,’ entities for whom the poor represent in the words of market-guru Prahlad Kakkar the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ segment of a market witing to flower. Harken Nandan Milekani, the author of the discourse on the unique identification project: “We are approaching an era where everybody has a digital ID number, a device to communicate with and a bank account. This is fundamental digital infrastructure.”
That sounds ominous, the first step to a dystopian world of vapid and useless consumerism and surveillance. How else would the private sector selling stuff nobody wants but everyone will desire ‘read’ Nilekani’s prophetic words than as an infrastructure for the ‘transport’ of their services? How would the State ‘read’ the creation of the ‘digital infrastructure other than the most effective means to keep aa tab on its citizens?
In that digital infrastructure the interests of State power and private profit meld. The majority judgement unpacks the two sets of interests but the ‘Coalition for Aadhaar’ lobbyists will not sit by and let the opportunity to exploit the potential of a number pass them by. Data collection and storage is big business and Big brother cannot have it all.
This is not a conspiracy theory born of overheated minds. Writing in The Baffler (Issue no 40) Yasha Levine who dissects the true role of the private freedom (“we protect your rights”) advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) traces its origins and rationale for existence to the protection of the digital monopolies such as FB, Google and their cosy relationship with State power.
One of EFF’s top honchos in the mid-80s, Jerry Berman helped draft the Electronics Communication Privacy Act that gave the US federal government power to snatch data from cell phone calls, emails and othr digital communications without a warrant. It is now regularly used to collect data from Google, FB Twitter and the like.
He also collaborated with the FBI to draft the Communications law Enforcement Assistance Act or CALEA.
This “required that telecommunications companies install specialized equipment and design their digital facilities in a way that made it easy to wiretap. The legislation gave law enforcement agencies the same level of access to new digital networks that they enjoyed in the era of the landline.”
A storm erupted among the EFF’s followers of internet privacy and freedom from government. The EFF would not do it again, Levine writes and instead sacked Berman and positioned itself as th bastion of freedom from government intervention for a privatized and deregulated industry.
But the deed had been done and precedents set; a lobbyist for private digital companies that would become monopoly storehouses of private citizen-data had added muscle to State hegemony over the individual.
“The project creates the architecture for pervasive surveillance and unless the project is stopped, it will lead to an Orwellian State where every move of the citizen is constantly tracked and recorded by the State.”(Petitioner’s argument. para 62)
The majority judgement considered the Aadhaar a major step towards a “techno-utopian” future. Its impatience with the petitioners’ criticisms was evident in the brusqueness of its response:
““When it is serving much larger purpose by reaching hundreds of millions of deserving persons, it cannot be crucified on the unproven plea of exclusion of some”
But the evidence from around the world overwhelmingly points to the immense potential that data networked societies and the storage of biometric information offers State power the opportunity to prove George Orwell right, to establish the metonymic qualities of his masterpiece, 1984. But Orwell was far too preoccupied with the horrors of Fascism and Soviet-type repression to consider other possibilities that even democratically elected state formations might have at their command to keep their subjects from becoming restive or nettlesome. For Orwell the vision of the future was a boot stamped forever on a human face. He thought Big Brother would ban books prohibit free thought and police every citizen’s bedroom through telescreens, representations of the big eye of Big Brother.
But we live in an age where books don\t matte as much as Facebook; the most dangerous thought you can have is to not want to buy the latest model of the I-Phone. In one of her paintings, Barbara Kruger has the slogan, “I shop, therefore I am.” In an age of global digitalized capitalism that drives you to mindless consumerism who would care that the data networked society and its instruments of algorithm-driven protocols is slowly stripping humans of agency, of their hard-earned potency to transform their condition and assert their freedom from oppressive political power?
That question preoccupied Aldous Huxley whose Brave New World was inspired not by a vision of a boot-stamped human face but by one of endless pleasure. Orwell’s thought police matter less than thoughtlessness. Reality fades into the Spectacle that as Guy Debord would point out acquires the nature of a trope defining social relations. In “Brave New World” there are no “thought crimes” that Big Brother in Orwell’s 1984 could monitor and punish because in his dystopic vision the subject will not think. There will be no need to re-orient memory by re-writing history because history is bunk and memory itself would have been erased by the madness of endless self- gratification.
But perhps we are moving into a post-Huxleyan and post-Orwellian dystopia, one in which human agency is not crushed as Orwell thought or erased as Huxley felt but replaced.
Aadhar represents a step though a massive one considering its scale and ambition to cover a billion people, in this direction. The networked society and attempts to create the “quantified self”” that “comes into being through predictive and self-correcting algorithms that develop correlations, curations and connections between disparate individuated transactions to produce a new understanding of the individual” (Shah,24)
That quantified self represents an ontological break with the subject that was so far a non-contingent flesh and blood entity with sensations and emotions, an “embodied person”in the words of Natalie Dandekar whom Anton Alterman refers to. This self is embodied with “personal rights centered on the body as an integral part of the self, including rights to freedom of movement, self-respect, bodily integrity, and privacy.” (Alterman, 144)
The quantified self does not possess those qualities of the embodied person and does not need to negotiate with the State (or the machine) the alienation of privacy and other personal rights. This self is the product of the State (or the private digital monopolies that store and curate personal data). Bereft of subjectivity, this self portends the onset of a telos of a post-human society, a future whose outcome is not predicated on and driven by human agency, free will or what have you but by data-driven algorithms .
Aadhaar, its spokespersons repeatedly said was in the business of granting identities. Sure; and that is the first step on the road to digital fundamentalism.
Data-networked society votaries embrace an epistemology that says this: forget the humanist tradition of the post-Enlightenment. Sure there was Beethoven but there was also Buchenwald; great literature and horrendous genocides; the Rights of Man and suppression of women, contradictions and paradoxes that render any reference to the humanist tradition as a trope for human liberation fraught with terrible anxieties.
The telos of human-led progress has been overworked and should be laid to rest. The end of history is near.
Aadhaar is the first step towards the bravest new world.
Welcome to digital fundamentalism.
Notes --Rustom Bharucha: Terror and Performance. Routledge. London and New York. 2014 --Nandan Nilekani’s quote about digital infrastructure accessed https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/business/data-infrastructre-underway-to-empower-people-nandan-nilekani-2534419.htmlThe quote --Anton Alterman: “ A Piece of Yourself.” Ehtical Issues in Biometric Identification.Ethics and Information Technology. 5. . pp139-150. 2003 http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.455.4226&rep=rep1&type=pdf--Nishant Shah: Identity &Identification: The Individual in the Time of Networked Governance. http://www.sociolegalreview.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Identity-and-Identification-the-Individual-in-the-Time-of-Networked-Governance.pdf--Yasha Levine: All EFF’D UP! The Baffler Issue no.40