Saturday, October 19, 2013

Biometric e-Shakti initiative of Bihar’s Rural Development Department is illegal & illegitimate

Biometric identification of Biharis like prisoners should be stopped 

Biometric data collection faces legal challenge in Supreme Court on October 22, 2013 

Lawyers, students, citizens should boycott biometric identification

October 19, 2013: The 48 page Report of Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) on Finance submitted to both the Houses of Parliament in December 2011 reveals that biometric e-Shakti initiative of Bihar’s Rural Development Department is illegal & illegitimate. It is turning Biharis into guinea pigs for biometric technology companies. In the name of ‘Financial Inclusion’, what is unfolding is surveillance of transactions, mobility and every aspect of life. The biometric data collection faces legal challenge in Supreme Court on October 22, 2013 in 12 digit biometric Aadhaar number case. 

The e-Shakti project was launched under National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme Bihar on February 24, 2009 in Paliganj Block of Patna. More than 5 years and 7 months have passed since the project was launched. It is noteworthy that e-Shakti project was launched within a month of the creation of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) which was brought into its controversial existence on January 28, 2009 by a notification of the Planning Commission. While presenting the Union Budget 2009-10, the then Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee had announced the setting up of UIDAI to “establish an online data base with identity and biometric details of Indian residence and provide enrolment and verification services across the country” in paragraph no. 64 of his speech. It is this notification meant for biometric data collection which faces robust legal challenge in the Supreme Court in the Justice Puttaswamy Vs Union of India case. The case will be heard On October 22, 2013.   

Bihar Government must be persuaded to abandon biometric data collection the way it has been done in UK, USA, France, China and Australia before it is compelled by the Court to do so. There is a compelling logic to reject those parties which implicitly or explicitly support tracking, profiling, databasing and mortgaging of citizens’ rights and their sovereignty under the dictates of their donors and non-state actors.     

Under the e-Shakti project, a Biometric Smart Card which contains particulars of the individuals as textual and biometric data (photograph and fingerprints) in electronic form which is meant to establish identity of the individual. The project has been started the in Patna districts of Bihar as pilot project and proposes to cover approximately 331 Gram Panchayats of 23 blocks. It has disclosed “After successful completion of the pilot phase, the project would cover entire state of Bihar in phased manner.”

The attached report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee reads (in the section on Observations/Recommendations): “The collection of biometric information and its linkage with personal information without amendment to the Citizenship Act 1955 as well as the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules 2003, appears to be beyond the scope of subordinate legislation, which needs to be examined in detail by Parliament.”

This initiative is going to do almost exactly the same thing which the predecessors of Adolf Hitler did, else how is it that Germany always had the lists of Jewish names even prior to the arrival of the Nazis? The Nazis got these lists with the help of IBM which was in the 'census' business that included racial census that entailed not only count the Jews but also identifying them. At the US Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, there is an exhibit of an IBM Hollerith D-11 card sorting machine that was responsible for organising the census of 1933 that first identified the Jews. IBM has not disputed its involvement in it.
Another promoter of biometric identification, Nandan Nilekani in his book Imagining India describes the ‘Dividends of an autocracy versus a Democracy’ and contends that “ In terms of implementing policies that are good for you, whether you like it or not, autocratic regimes are better than democracies” at page no. 50. Why is Bihar being taken in that non-democratcic route through such identification.

Nilekani has admitted that “biometrics as a tool of surveillance”. But the gullible seem to believe even what is unbelievable-it is for delivery of identity proof and social entitlements. Although Indians are accustomed to advertising and falsehoods purveyed by them but when it comes to advertising by biometric technology companies uninformed citizens are willing to trust even the most untrustworthy of claims.

In 1906, Mahatma Gandhi had encountered the proposal of biometric passes when a Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance of the Transvaal Government in South Africa in August 22 issue of the Government Gazette that required all Indians and Chinese in the Transvaal region of South Africa, eight years and older, to report to the Registrar of Asiatics and obtain, upon the submission of a complete set of fingerprints, a certificate which would then have to be produced upon demand. Fingerprints were then demanded only from criminals, and the subjection of women to such a requirement had no other objective but the humiliation of Indians.

Gandhi understood well that the Ordinance effectively criminalized the entire community and must be challenged. At a meeting held in Johannesburg, 3000 Indians took an oath not to submit to a degrading and discriminatory piece of legislation. This gave birth to Satyagraha. Gandhi later wrote that the ordinance illustrated hatred towards Indians which, if passed, “would spell absolute ruin for the Indians in South Africa.” 

How is Biometric Smart Card different from the ‘register of Asiatics’ opposed by Mahatma Gandhi? If Biharis forget the lesson of this resistance movement it would “spell absolute ruin for the Indians” of the present and future generations.

A historic eight-year-long resistance campaign against biometric identification happened from August 1906 to January 1914 in the British colony of Natal, and Boer Republic of Transvaal, South Africa. In August 1906, the Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance was signed into law in the Transvaal. It was a humiliating and discriminating law forcing Indians in the Transvaal to register with the ‘registrar of Asiatics,’ submit to physical examinations, provide fingerprints, and carry a registration certificate at all times. Otherwise, Indians and other ‘Asiatics,’ as they were called, could be fined, imprisoned, or deported. A delegation of Indians sailed to London to meet with British Secretary of State Lord Elgin. In 1912, Gopal Krishna Gokhale visited South Africa and expressed his support for the struggle against biometric idnetification. In early 1914, an agreement was reached with the protestors and the Black Act seeking biometric identification was abolished. 

Historians rightly say that all history is contemporary history. It has been noted that “there is no mention of capturing biometrics in the Citizenship Act or Citizenship Rules 2009. In the absence of any provision in the Citizenship Act, 1955, or rules for capturing biometrics, it is difficult to appreciate how the capture of biometrics is a statutory requirement. Photography and biometrics is only mentioned in the Manual of Instructions for filling up the NPR household schedule and even in that there is no mention of capturing the Iris”.

This has to be seen in the national context as to whether a Prime Minister’s Office which has been promoting biometric data collection purportedly to make delivery of social welfare programs leak proof itself leak proof. Given a choice between leakage or theft of citizens database of sensitive personal information and leakage of public distribution system and delivery social welfare services what would be be chosen and which can be plugged more easily. Recently, database of Greece has been stolen as per Reuters and the database of Pakistan and Egypt has been handed over to US as per the diplomatic cables leaked by Wikileaks.

Under the influence of biometric technology companies, Bihar Rural Development Department is creating a situation where if you do not have the Biometric Smart Card you may not get the right to have rights.

The project in questions is being implemented by a consortium consisting of Smaarftech Technologies Pvt Ltd. Partners in the e-Shakti project include Bihar’s Rural Development Department is the principal force behind the e-Shakti project, Bihar State Electronics Development Corporation Ltd (BELTRON), a Govt. of Bihar undertaking which is engaged in business related to Electronics and Computer technologies and services, Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Limited (IL&FS), a infrastructure development and finance company. Beltron and IL&FS have together formed a joint venture company, Bihar e-Governance Services and Technology (BeST), which is monitoring the e- Shakti project which is being implemented by the service provider consortium. Smaarftech Technologies Private Limited, an SPV of Glodyne Technoserve Limited implementing, managing & maintaining the NREGS-Bihar (e-Shakti Project) over a period of five years for Department of Rural Development, Bihar. Smaarftech Technologies Private limited is a subsidiary of Glodyne Technoserve Limited. Glodyne Technoserve Limited is a leading IT Services company, having a pan India and US presence which has been partnering with various e-governance initiatives by providing its competencies in the IT Project Management Space.

All claims of benefits from biometric identification are highly suspect. How can the recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance that questioned Government’s right to collect biometric data be ignored in Bihar. The collection of sensitive biometric information collector is an assault on democratic rights of citizens. It is high time Bihar Government desisted from doing so the way Barack Obama and 25 States of USA opposed the REAL ID Act, 2005 and UK, Australia, China, France and European Court of Human Rights rejected indiscriminate collection of biometric data.

It is the political duty of opposition parties in Bihar to ensure that the enactment of Privacy Bill, 2011 precedes initiatives Biometric Smart Card else the very purpose of the proposed legislation for protection of privacy is defeated. Before the creation of Data Protection Authority of India (DPAI) as envisaged under Section 49 of the Privacy Bill and Central Electronic Services Delivery Commission (CESDC) under Section 8 of the Electronic Delivery of Services Bill, 2011 with proven impeccable judicial competence, the implementation of all biometric data collection related programs must be stopped both in private as well as in the government.

Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL) demands a white paper on the legality of biometric data collection and work undertaken under the project.  CFCL is involved in the research and advocacy against surveillance technologies since 2010. It has appeared before the Parliamentary Committee that questioned the biometric identification of Indians without any legal mandate.

In the face of this assault on citizens’ rights and the emergence of a regime that is making legislatures subservient to database and data mining companies, the urgent intervention of the progressive political parties and informed citizens should not be postponed anymore.

For Details: Gopal Krishna, Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL), Mb: 09818089660, 08227816731, E-mail:

1 comment:

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