India’s parliament is set to pass legislation that gives federal agencies access to the world’s biggest biometric database in the interests of national security, raising fears the privacy of a billion people could be compromised. The move comes as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cracks down on student protests and pushes a Hindu nationalist agenda in state elections, steps that some say erode India’s traditions of tolerance and free speech.

It could also usher in surveillance far more intrusive than the U.S. telephone and Internet spying revealed by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden in 2013, some privacy advocates said. The Aadhaar database scheme, started seven years ago, was set up to streamline payment of benefits and cut down on massive wastage and fraud, and already nearly a billion people have registered their finger prints and iris signatures. READ MORE