Legal research and activist who led a crusade against Aadhaar Card initiative passed by the NDA government, Usha Ramanathan has been honored with a title ‘Human Rights Hero’ by international rights group Access Now. Since the scheme emerged in 2009, Ramanathan has raised concerns over security and privacy risks associated with it. She has also spoken against the feature of linking it to various other welfare schemes.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet will present the award to Ramanathan and four other winners at Access Now’s annual event RightsCon, to be held in Tunis, the capital city of Tunisia, North Africa from June 11 to June 14. RightsCon is a conference held to focus on human rights and technology.
“Dr. Ramanathan is one of the leading critics of Aadhaar who has, since 2009, tirelessly challenged the controversial Aadhaar digital identity program in India, objecting to both the privacy and the security risks,” Access Now said while announcing the award, Scroll.in reported.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet will present the award to Ramanathan and four other winners at Access Now’s annual event RightsCon.
“In September 2018, the Supreme Court in India ruled Aadhaar could not be mandatory for several purposes, and it could not be required by private companies. Afterward, Dr. Ramanathan worked to explain the ramifications of the judgment and its disappointing limitations. She continues to speak out against the Aadhaar program.”
The statement added, “While we give our award to Dr. Ramanathan, we also want to recognize the entire community that has protested and litigated against Aadhaar.”
Apart from Ramanathan, Bahraini activist and digital security consultant Mohammed Al-Maskati, Australian human rights lawyer, broadcaster and writer Lizzie O’Shea, Tanzanian digital security trainer Zaituni Njovu and Venezuelan lawyer, writer and human rights activist Marianne Díaz Hernández have also been named ‘heroes’.
The past winners from India include the nine-judge Constitution bench of India’s Supreme Court that recognized privacy as a fundamental right in 2017. Justice Rohinton Nariman has also been identified by Access Now separately “for specifically citing to the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance in his opinion”.
Describing the award, Access Now says, “In celebration of…the work of people around the globe to protect human rights in the digital age, every year Access Now names “heroes” and “villains” who have either protected the principles of freedom online or worked to undermine them,” The Wire reported.
Last year in September, while the Supreme Court upheld the validity of Aadhaar card, it restricted its scope, making it a non-requirement for private companies. Ramanathan has been a strong advocate of how the whole program needs to be revamped to eradicate the risks it poses in the name of security, privacy and exclusionary risks of the biometric identity scheme.