Is Govt’s ‘Vahan’ responsible for torched vehicles of Muslims in Delhi?

Hyderabad: How easy is it for people to know who owns a vehicle in Delhi? Quite easy, thanks to the government of India. Now, in the wake of the communal violence in Delhi, rioters have possibly managed to exploit this data for their communal pursuits.

While Delhi’s communal riots have gained the attention of the High Court in the national capital, tech analysts have found out possible ways in which rioters could have identified the owners of vehicles.

In what seems to be an analysis of ‘Vahan’, the national vehicle registration portal, a Twitter user named ‘Chai Wala’ had pointed out how a vehicle was conveniently burnt by rioters, after they got to know that the vehicle was registered under a Muslim name. The Twitter user had said, “Wow! What fantastic use of technology. Using an app, rioters identified vehicles belonging to the Muslims and then burnt them down.” Attached with the tweet was a picture of the torched car, and a cropped image taken from ‘Vahan’ registration portal, which showed that the vehicle belonged to a Muslim man.

‘Vahan’s Vehicle data can be used to target minorities’

The Twitter user further highlighted how this is linked to the government’s move to link Aadhar with all other personal data of citizens. “Force everyone to link all data, sell data to private companies, let terrorists get access to private data in the palm of their hands, attack and murder minorities, commit genocide,” said the handle.

Several data researchers believe that making this data public is illegal. Srinivas Kodali, an independent data researcher based in Hyderabad said, “The Vahan data is not required to be in public domain. There is no public use for this data while the ministry already sells it at a price. Personal data being publicly available is against the fundamental right to privacy of citizens. This data can be used to harm individuals and target minorities. The ministry must immediately stop publishing this data.”

Following this, the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) has appealed to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways saying, “It has come to our notice there is a potential risk that a vehicle registration database called “Vahan” being allegedly misused for targeted violence against religious minorities in Delhi. We have written to the Government asking them to respect people’s privacy and take necessary action.”

Govt provided ‘Vahan’ data to private entities

In what seems to be a case of data capitalisation by the state, the government revealed that it has provided access of Vahan and Sarathi database to 32 Government entities and 87 private entities.

Interestingly, organisations which want this data “can obtain the data with an amount of Rs. 3 Crore for the FY 2019-20. Educational institutions can obtain the data only for research purposes and for internal use only and are provided with the bulk data one time on payment of an amount of Rs. 5 lakh only for the FY 2019-20.”

According to the data provided in response to a question in the Rajya Sabha in July 2019, the Centralized National Registry for transport, maintained through National Informatics Centre (NIC) has acquired approximately 25 crore vehicle registration records and approximately 15 crore driving licence records.

Amritha Mohan

Amritha Mohan is a reporter at the NewsMeter. Shortly after completing her Master's in Communication at the University of Hyderabad, she began teaching courses on media and culture as a guest lecturer at the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, North-Eastern Hill University (NEHU), Shillong. Amritha has previously interned with news organisations such as Greater Kashmir and Newslaundry. A lover of travel and photography, she spends most of her time planning road trips to the North-East. Nothing makes her happier than a green turf and a team to play football with. She primarily reports on education, tech, human-interesting and critical features.

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