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'Real-Time' Governance in AP: How Data Collection Is Raising Privacy Concerns

Personal information collected from every household by village volunteers has reportedly been susceptible to leaks.

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In Andhra Pradesh, statements from actor-turned-politician Pawan Kalyan have put a deep spotlight on village volunteers, who are being accused of collecting personal information from every household.

Andhra Pradesh has developed a system of village volunteers similar to banking correspondents or Common Service Centre agents, who provide digital government services. Unlike Common Service Centres or Aadhaar Kendras, where one has to go to apply for Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT), these volunteers go door to door to collect personal data and provide ration and pension. 

While this system has been promoted as a welfare system, the volunteers, essentially, are part of the last-mile governance setup, and also function as local tax collectors and provide support for several other governance activities.

But primarily, they are an integral part of a type of governance called "real-time governance."

'Real-Time' Governance in AP: How Data Collection Is Raising Privacy Concerns

  1. 1. Is Refusing To Provide Personal Data an Option?

    Real-time governance, as a system, has evolved and been experimented with in both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh since 2014. Promoted by ex-UIDAI Chairman and bureaucrat J Satyanarayana, real-time governance involves real-time collection of information to facilitate a predictive form of governance.

    In this setup, the government creates 360-degree profiles of every resident with an Aadhaar and provides them with everything they are entitled to – from subsidies to solving their broken electricity metres. 

    The volunteers go door to door to collect information from every household, which helps the government know the expenditure of each household. At the same time, the state can track how much money each household is generating through taxation. At the income level, this happens nationally, and at the state level, they are tracking local taxes.

    But the very same information is also used by political parties for electioneering.

    Every volunteer is equipped with a smartphone and a biometric reader to do Aadhaar-based eKYC of residents. There are 2.5 lakh volunteers, with each volunteer being assigned about 50-70 households belonging to a cluster of villages to collect data.

    These volunteers then map every household and the members of the household. Even if there is migration of one member of the family from the household, it is updated within a month by the volunteers. They are the point of contact for each household to apply for government welfare schemes. 

    Personal information collected from every household by village volunteers has reportedly been susceptible to leaks.

    App used by village volunteer to search for families and beneficiaries.

    (Photo: Srinivas Kodali)

    Expand
  2. 2. Is This a Form of Census or Statistical Survey?

    The volunteers do eKYC of each member of the house and collect basic details for applying to any welfare scheme.

    This information is compared with the government's existing 360-degree profile Aadhaar database, where a six-step validation algorithm is in place to figure out whether the family member owns dry land of more than 10 acres or wet land less than 3 acres, they have a house that is more than 1500 sq ft, their electricity bills are more than Rs 2,000, they own a four- wheeler, they are government employees, and their income tax status.

    Any wrong information provided will automatically be cross-checked with information from other government databases using Aadhaar, and government schemes are rejected if they are considered to be some form of property holder. 

    Beyond this basic welfare data collection, the government is using 50-odd mobile applications where volunteers of different kinds – Anganwadi workers, ASHA volunteers, education assistants, animal husbandry assistants, agriculture assistants, and other existing government staff – are required to collect real-time information.

    This week, the village volunteers are going door to door to collect details of people affected by any form of viral fever and those who will be treated by an ASHA worker. Their health data will be collected in their apps.

    They are also tasked with collecting Gross Enrolment Ratios in schools this month.

    During COVID-19, they went going door to door collecting data on the number of people who have smartphones and mandatorily forcing them to install the Aarogya Setu application. Most have no option but to submit this information, otherwise which they lose access to government benefits. 

    The Government of India and various state governments collect information annually through official economic surveys or statistical surveys. Post the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh and the formation of Telangana in 2014, both states carried out statewide surveys which they called a "voluntary exercise."

    These surveys allowed both states to create State Resident Data Hubs with 360-degree profile databases. These were called "voluntary exercises" as neither of the states had any form of legislation to collect this information using Aadhaar, with it being under litigation in the Supreme Court. 

    Every government needs statistics to improve the livelihoods of the people they govern. But statisticians go to great lengths to ensure the privacy of the people whose information is being sought.

    In fact, the Census Act of 1948 has specific provisions not to publish personal details of individuals. With the capacity for real-time governance and to collect information from every household at a micro level, Andhra Pradesh volunteers are being employed to collect personal data that may not be in proportionate with the needs of governance.

    Plus, the information that is collected as part of these surveys is not entirely published, thus, creating information asymmetry. 

    Personal information collected from every household by village volunteers has reportedly been susceptible to leaks.

    The Smart Pulse Survey of Andhra Pradesh with households geotagged for each cluster.

    (Photo: Srinivas Kodali)

    Expand
  3. 3. Is the Data Secure? Is My Privacy Being Invaded?

    Several databases of Andhra Pradesh collecting information have always been leaky and have even published Aadhaar numbers of individuals. A 2017 report this writer co-authored showed how a large scale of Aadhaar information was publicly available from Andhra Pradesh.

    All the data collected by the Real-Time Governance Society was reported to be leaked. During the 2019 elections, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) members were caught with DBT data used in the governance as part of their electoral campaigning.

    The YSR Congress Party has effectively institutionalised this setup by hiring politically inclined party members as village volunteers within the government. All the data collected by volunteers is now officially being shared with the MLAs of the YSR Congress as part of their door-to-door outreach programs. 

    Are There Laws Protecting This Data? 

    At present, there are no legislations for protecting the privacy of individuals in India, and the Data Protection Law is yet to be tabled in Parliament. Even though there is the Information Technology Act, it is inadequate to govern new forms of data infrastructures that have come up.

    In 2017, the Andhra Pradesh government passed the 'The Andhra Pradesh Core Digital Data Authority (Effective Delivery of e-Services) Act, 2017' to allow the collection of personal data of every individual in the state. But this law has not been subjected to the proportionality test that has evolved as part of the fundamental right to privacy judgment in Puttaswamy Vs Union of India.

    A serious challenge to this scale of personal data collection has not been done apart from the case against Aadhaar, where the Supreme Court allowed Aadhaar data collection for welfare delivery.  

    Expand
  4. 4. What Are the Consequences of This Setup?

    What is happening in Andhra Pradesh is a new form of governance that is being recommended as 'model governance' across the country. This is already being adopted by southern states and will increasingly be spread across India.

    Beyond the issue of governance, this model of data collection is also being recommended to replace the census with a more real-time form of census, instead of carrying out a census every 10 years. This allows the government to track migration, household, and welfare of households. 

    While this looks great from a governance setup, the lack of safeguards around this data allows it to be used and abused by political actors for electioneering. The Election Commission of India (ECI) has already failed with the issue of this information being used in the 2019 elections to target voters and delete them.

    The lack of data protection laws allows political parties in power to abuse this information with no serious consequences. 

    But the real danger is in this information being used by the police. All this information is being shared with police departments and intelligence departments to keep track of opposition, activists, and anyone who will question authority. This scale of surveillance that is being used for governance poses a direct threat to democracy and democratic participation. 

    (Srinivas Kodali is an independent researcher working on data, governance, and the internet. He tweets @digitaldutta. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

Real-time governance, as a system, has evolved and been experimented with in both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh since 2014. Promoted by ex-UIDAI Chairman and bureaucrat J Satyanarayana, real-time governance involves real-time collection of information to facilitate a predictive form of governance.

In this setup, the government creates 360-degree profiles of every resident with an Aadhaar and provides them with everything they are entitled to – from subsidies to solving their broken electricity metres. 

The volunteers go door to door to collect information from every household, which helps the government know the expenditure of each household. At the same time, the state can track how much money each household is generating through taxation. At the income level, this happens nationally, and at the state level, they are tracking local taxes.

But the very same information is also used by political parties for electioneering.

Is Refusing To Provide Personal Data an Option?

Every volunteer is equipped with a smartphone and a biometric reader to do Aadhaar-based eKYC of residents. There are 2.5 lakh volunteers, with each volunteer being assigned about 50-70 households belonging to a cluster of villages to collect data.

These volunteers then map every household and the members of the household. Even if there is migration of one member of the family from the household, it is updated within a month by the volunteers. They are the point of contact for each household to apply for government welfare schemes. 

Personal information collected from every household by village volunteers has reportedly been susceptible to leaks.

App used by village volunteer to search for families and beneficiaries.

(Photo: Srinivas Kodali)

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

The volunteers do eKYC of each member of the house and collect basic details for applying to any welfare scheme.

This information is compared with the government's existing 360-degree profile Aadhaar database, where a six-step validation algorithm is in place to figure out whether the family member owns dry land of more than 10 acres or wet land less than 3 acres, they have a house that is more than 1500 sq ft, their electricity bills are more than Rs 2,000, they own a four- wheeler, they are government employees, and their income tax status.

Any wrong information provided will automatically be cross-checked with information from other government databases using Aadhaar, and government schemes are rejected if they are considered to be some form of property holder. 

Beyond this basic welfare data collection, the government is using 50-odd mobile applications where volunteers of different kinds – Anganwadi workers, ASHA volunteers, education assistants, animal husbandry assistants, agriculture assistants, and other existing government staff – are required to collect real-time information.

This week, the village volunteers are going door to door to collect details of people affected by any form of viral fever and those who will be treated by an ASHA worker. Their health data will be collected in their apps.

They are also tasked with collecting Gross Enrolment Ratios in schools this month.

During COVID-19, they went going door to door collecting data on the number of people who have smartphones and mandatorily forcing them to install the Aarogya Setu application. Most have no option but to submit this information, otherwise which they lose access to government benefits. 

Is This a Form of Census or Statistical Survey?

The Government of India and various state governments collect information annually through official economic surveys or statistical surveys. Post the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh and the formation of Telangana in 2014, both states carried out statewide surveys which they called a "voluntary exercise."

These surveys allowed both states to create State Resident Data Hubs with 360-degree profile databases. These were called "voluntary exercises" as neither of the states had any form of legislation to collect this information using Aadhaar, with it being under litigation in the Supreme Court. 

Every government needs statistics to improve the livelihoods of the people they govern. But statisticians go to great lengths to ensure the privacy of the people whose information is being sought.

In fact, the Census Act of 1948 has specific provisions not to publish personal details of individuals. With the capacity for real-time governance and to collect information from every household at a micro level, Andhra Pradesh volunteers are being employed to collect personal data that may not be in proportionate with the needs of governance.

Plus, the information that is collected as part of these surveys is not entirely published, thus, creating information asymmetry. 

Personal information collected from every household by village volunteers has reportedly been susceptible to leaks.

The Smart Pulse Survey of Andhra Pradesh with households geotagged for each cluster.

(Photo: Srinivas Kodali)

0

Is the Data Secure? Is My Privacy Being Invaded?

Several databases of Andhra Pradesh collecting information have always been leaky and have even published Aadhaar numbers of individuals. A 2017 report this writer co-authored showed how a large scale of Aadhaar information was publicly available from Andhra Pradesh.

All the data collected by the Real-Time Governance Society was reported to be leaked. During the 2019 elections, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) members were caught with DBT data used in the governance as part of their electoral campaigning.

The YSR Congress Party has effectively institutionalised this setup by hiring politically inclined party members as village volunteers within the government. All the data collected by volunteers is now officially being shared with the MLAs of the YSR Congress as part of their door-to-door outreach programs. 

Are There Laws Protecting This Data? 

At present, there are no legislations for protecting the privacy of individuals in India, and the Data Protection Law is yet to be tabled in Parliament. Even though there is the Information Technology Act, it is inadequate to govern new forms of data infrastructures that have come up.

In 2017, the Andhra Pradesh government passed the 'The Andhra Pradesh Core Digital Data Authority (Effective Delivery of e-Services) Act, 2017' to allow the collection of personal data of every individual in the state. But this law has not been subjected to the proportionality test that has evolved as part of the fundamental right to privacy judgment in Puttaswamy Vs Union of India.

A serious challenge to this scale of personal data collection has not been done apart from the case against Aadhaar, where the Supreme Court allowed Aadhaar data collection for welfare delivery.  

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

What Are the Consequences of This Setup?

What is happening in Andhra Pradesh is a new form of governance that is being recommended as 'model governance' across the country. This is already being adopted by southern states and will increasingly be spread across India.

Beyond the issue of governance, this model of data collection is also being recommended to replace the census with a more real-time form of census, instead of carrying out a census every 10 years. This allows the government to track migration, household, and welfare of households. 

While this looks great from a governance setup, the lack of safeguards around this data allows it to be used and abused by political actors for electioneering. The Election Commission of India (ECI) has already failed with the issue of this information being used in the 2019 elections to target voters and delete them.

The lack of data protection laws allows political parties in power to abuse this information with no serious consequences. 

But the real danger is in this information being used by the police. All this information is being shared with police departments and intelligence departments to keep track of opposition, activists, and anyone who will question authority. This scale of surveillance that is being used for governance poses a direct threat to democracy and democratic participation. 

(Srinivas Kodali is an independent researcher working on data, governance, and the internet. He tweets @digitaldutta. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Privacy   Elections   Andhra Pradesh 

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