Dissent on Aadhaar: Big Data Meets Big Brother

Sponsored by Humanities Center, Center for South Asia


Monday, February 11, 2019
4:30 pm – 6:00 pm
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A Book Talk by Reetika Khera (Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and 2017–18 FSI-Humanities Center International Visitor)

What are the perils, as well as promises, when governments use biometrics and big data? For individuals? For democracy?

Aadhaar, India’s unique identity system, was introduced in 2009 with the stated purpose of creating a more inclusive and efficient welfare system. Hundreds of millions of Indians were enrolled into the biometric database, with successive governments creating pressure by making it compulsory for social benefits. Even after the Supreme Court verdict in 2018, it remains a must-have for welfare.

Reetika Khera dives deep into Aadhaar in her new edited volume, Dissent on Aadhaar: Big Data Meets Big Brother. The essays in Khera's book argue that the project was never really about welfare and that it opens the doors to immense opportunities for government surveillance and commercial data-mining. Focussing on Aadhaar, but drawing lessons from ID projects from other parts of the world also, the book alerts readers to the dangers lurking in such expansive digital ID projects. With contributions from economists, lawyers, technologists, journalists, and civil liberties campaigners, the book is for everyone concerned about a healthy democracy in India and beyond. 

About the Speaker
Reetika Khera is an associate professor (economics and public systems group) at IIM, Ahmedabad. She did her Ph.D at the Delhi School of Economics, her post-doctoral work at Princeton, and taught at IIT Delhi before joining IIM-A. She has received fellowships from the Institute for Economic Growth, King’s College London, Princeton University, and Stanford University.

Khera’s research has shaped several policy debates around India’s public services. For over fifteen years, she has conducted field studies on India’s public services—child-care centers, school meals, public health services, etc.—with a view to understanding the impact of government programs, contrasts across states, and change over time. She has published widely across disciplinary genres, including in the Journal of Development Studies, Food Policy, Population and Development Review, and World Development, and is regular contributor to Economic and Political Weekly.

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