The curious case of tweeting an Aadhaar number: trust/mistrust in security practices of public data infrastructures

Monday, 4 March, 2024 - 16:00

Presented by : 

Ranjit
Singh

[ Please register on Zoom in advance of this event. ]

This paper explores data security practices of Aadhaar, India’s biometrics- based national identification number, and the co-constitution of trust and mistrust that underlies its operation as a public data infrastructure. Based on 18-months of multi-sited ethnographic research, I document tensions around whether Aadhaar numbers were designed to be disclosed publicly or kept confidential. I further map identification practices around how residents share their Aadhaar numbers with other government and private organizations to access services. These practices to promote sharing of Aadhaar numbers broke down with growing anxieties over their public disclosure on government websites, lack of audits, and emerging forms of Aadhaar-based frauds. In response to this rising mistrust, an ex-member of Aadhaar’s design team publicly disclosed his number in a tweet that went viral. The paper uses this tweet as a point of departure to: (1) provide an account of infrastructural concerns (grounded in design choices and events) that transformed Aadhaar from a public to a confidential number; and (2) illustrate that this transformation reflects how trust and mistrust co-constitute Aadhaar’s data security practices. I conclude by illustrating how these infrastructural concerns imbricate to produce a spectrum of possibilities where identity numbers are simultaneously public and confidential, trusted and mistrusted.

General seminar arrangements

  • The WISH seminar is hosted on-line every Monday afternoon at 16:00 - 17:00 SA during the teaching semester.
  • A printable version of the seminar schedule for the current year is available here.
  • For the details of the Zoom meetings, please sign up for email notices at https://wiser.wits.ac.za/mail.
  • Participants must read the paper prior to the seminar, which is typically available by the Friday preceding the seminar.
  • The WISH seminar archive is available here