Alphons Kannanthanam: India minister’s ‘naked’ visa claim criticised

An Indian minister has sparked a social media storm with his comments on the country’s controversial biometric identity scheme.

Alphons Kannanthanam said Indians had no problem “getting naked” for a US visa, but object to the Aadhaar scheme over privacy concerns.

It is not clear what he meant exactly but he may be referring to airport strip searches.

Since Aadhar’s inception, critics have been worried about its data safety.

In January, an Indian journalist said she was able to access citizens’ personal details on the Aadhaar website after paying an agent 500 rupees ($8; £6). The government called it a data breach at the time.

“But when the government of India, which is your government, asks you your name and your address, nothing more, there’s a massive revolution in the country saying it’s an intrusion into the privacy of the individual.”

He added that the biometric data collected under the scheme was safe with the government.

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    The comment by the minister comes a week after the Indian Supreme Court extended its deadline on ruling whether Aadhaar needs to be mandatorily linked to avail various services, including welfare schemes, bank accounts and phone numbers.

    Mr Kannanthanam added that he had to fill out a 10-page form to apply for a US visa.

    “Ten pages of data which you have never even confessed to your wife or husband ever, that is passed on to the white man. We have no problem,” he said.

    However, many on social media were quick to point out the differences between the two scenarios he put forward:

    Skip Twitter post by @MangoBwoy

    Is applying for US visa voluntarily mandatory for every Indian citizen? Do you guys understand consent, privacy and things like that?

    — শেখর (@MangoBwoy) March 25, 2018


    End of Twitter post by @MangoBwoy

    Skip Twitter post by @mehraan_1989

    But 1.6 billion people doesn't apply for US Visa. Weird argument to defend privacy theft #databreach

    — Mehraan Laigroo (@mehraan_1989) March 25, 2018


    End of Twitter post by @mehraan_1989

    Skip Twitter post by @ankur2smart

    Not everyone goes to US and those who do, do it by choice. How do you guys even manage to be such high profile minister.

    — Ankur Goel (@ankur2smart) March 25, 2018


    End of Twitter post by @ankur2smart

    Skip Twitter post by @Retributions

    This going naked for a US visa is not only factually incorrect but plainly disingenuous: countries treat citizens/non-citizens differently. US may ask for all sort of biometrics for a visa but doesn’t ask any for a social security number. Can find better defense of #aadhaar

    — Rohit Pradhan (@Retributions) March 25, 2018


    End of Twitter post by @Retributions

    Skip Twitter post by @chetan_cbe

    @alphonstourism you should realize that us visa is voluntary. Can you assure me that #Aadhaar is voluntary too?
    And no I don't have a us visa but I was forced to get an #Aadhaar

    — chetan shah (@chetan_cbe) March 25, 2018


    End of Twitter post by @chetan_cbe

    Skip Twitter post by @bombaywallah

    Naked? For a US visa? Things have certainly changed

    — Sidharth Bhatia (@bombaywallah) March 25, 2018


    End of Twitter post by @bombaywallah

    India’s biometric database is the world’s largest. The government has collected fingerprints and iris scans from more than a billion residents – or nearly 90% of the population – and stored them in a high security data centre.

    Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that citizens have a fundamental right to privacy in a landmark judgment. The ruling, experts said, had significant implications for the government’s vast biometric ID scheme.