'Surveillance Tactic': Move to Enact J&K Personal Database Law Draws Fierce Criticism

According to an official document, each family will be provided with a unique alpha-numeric code called 'JK Family ID' to improve the delivery of government services. However, the opposition in the UT is not convinced.

Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir administration’s move to bring in a legislation for creating a personal database of all the families in the Union territory has invited a strong backlash with the opposition raising concerns over the safety of personal data.

The policy was unveiled by J&K’s lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha on November 27 at the 25th National Conference on e-Governance at Shri Mata Vaishno Devi University in Jammu’s Katra town. The unveiling programme was also attended by Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar.

Prerna Suri, commissioner secretary of J&K’s IT department, the nodal agency for preparing the database, told PTI news agency that the procedure for data collection would be “at par with Haryana’s ‘Parivaar Pehchaan Patra’. She said the database would remove the hassles for beneficiaries who have to submit documents every time they wish to avail various government schemes and subsidies.

In September last year, Haryana enacted The Parivar Pehchan Act 2021, under which Haryana Parivar Pehchan Authority, headed by the chief minister, has been set up for collecting details of the residents of the state. Along with basic details such as ‘name’ and ‘residential address’, the Act calls upon the authority to collect details about the ‘engagement’, ‘caste’, ‘annual income’, ‘educational qualification’ and ‘bank details’ of the residents.

The Act states that the data will be verified through existing data and field surveys followed by allocating a unique alphanumeric ID to each family which will then be used by people for availing benefits of various social welfare programmes, subsidies and schemes of the government.

According to Digital J&K Vision Document, the authority in J&K would “identify each and every family in J&K” and “collect the basic data of the family, provided with the consent of the family, in a digital format” to prepare a unique ID for every family.

“Each family will be provided with a unique alpha-numeric code called JK Family ID. The data available in the family database would be used to determine eligibility through automatic selection of beneficiaries for receiving social benefits,” the document states.

Fierce criticism 

However, the opposition has termed the decision as a “waste of resources” and a “surveillance tactic” which will “deepen the suspicion” against the Union government in Jammu and Kashmir. Given the major breach of data servers of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, and the University of Kashmir, there are concerns over the safety of personal data.

The text of the draft Data Protection Bill, circulated by the ministry and being considered by the committee, is also not publicly available. Credit: Reuters/Pawel Kopczynski

Representative image. Photo: Reuters/Pawel Kopczynski

Speaking to The Wire, former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said that the decision to set up a new personal database reflects the “paranoia” in the government. “Following the events of 2019, people of Kashmir are being viewed with deep suspicion. This move will tighten the iron grip on their lives and it will also widen the trust deficit between New Delhi and J&K,” she said.

The policy document notes that all the applicable laws and regulations covering data protection will be extended to cover the J&K database and an “information security policy” and “appropriate cyber security framework” will be formulated to “thwart risks and protect sensitive and critical data”.

Risks involved 

However, J&K’s senior superintendent of police (security), M.Y. Kichloo, admitted that the risk of “vulnerabilities and possibilities of cyber attacks will remain” when it comes to storage of data in a digital format.

“We will face the same problems in Jammu and Kashmir which are faced across the country viz- a-viz data. Whenever a database is prepared by the government, an IT audit is conducted by experts,” he told PTI.

Referring to the recent breach of the AIIMS and the Kashmir University servers, Tanvir Sadiq, chief spokesperson of the National Conference said that the decision “will essentially put records of every citizen of J&K at risk”. “The administration has its priorities messed up. Instead of focusing on the delivery of existing schemes and helping people through this difficult time, they are creating more work for themselves and more difficulties for people,” he said.

Senior leader of Peoples Conference, Nizamuddin Bhat, said that the decision will cause more inconvenience instead of making life easier for people. “We have every reason to doubt the bonafides of this administration which has been doing a lot of things in the name of security and making life comfortable for people. The administration is compounding these doubts by rolling out policy decisions which will yield nothing in the long run,” Bhat said.

Chief spokesperson of J&K Congress, Ravinder Sharma, said that the administration should “explain the necessity of introducing a policy of Haryana” into Jammu and Kashmir. “Citizens across the country already have a unique ID in the form of Aadhaar. We are not against digitisation but what is the guarantee that the data won’t be compromised,” Sharma told The Wire, adding that the administration should “reconsider” the decision.

“Why is the government interested in knowing all the details, including personal details, about the citizens of J&K only? Let the administration first satisfy the people about the benefits and explain the contours of the new policy before implementing it,” Sharma said.

Suri, the commissioner secretary of J&K’s IT department, didn’t respond to repeated calls from The Wire on the necessity of having another database about the citizens of J&K. The officer read a list of questions sent to her over WhatsApp but she didn’t respond. The story will be updated if and when her response is received.

Echoing Sharma, Sadiq, the National Conference leader, said that the administration should focus on “becoming responsive” to public demands.

“Why should there be another ‘unique ID’ for people in J&K? Isn’t Aadhar enough? The administration would be well advised to improve the delivery of existing schemes rather than getting tempted by cheap praise from the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] which simply betrays the political nature of their administrative decisions,” Sadiq told The Wire.