Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Aadhaar is Niraadhaar (baseless) in Jharkhand too

Note:Biometric profiling of people of Jharkhand and residents of India has been done since the colonial days of Birsa Munda and Tilka Manjhi. Because Jharkhand is mineral rich, the focus of illegal and illegitimate Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI)former Director General R S Sharma who has joined as Chief Secretary of the State but continues to act as if he is still UIDAI's employee. In an interview to Frontline Sharma had admitted biometric of up to 15 % of the population cannot be captured. He has misled the Supreme Court about its success in the state. The MoU that Jharkahd Govt signed with UIDAI must be unsigned and aadhaar must be scrapped in public interest.  The articles by Anumeha Yadav, R. Ramakumar,  Aakash Mehrotra, Jean Drez, Bharat Bhatti and Reetika Khera in The Hindu has exposed both the UIDAI and RS Sharma's misplaced claims. These claims made in the full page interviews of R S Sharma and numerous advertisements of the Jharkhand Government was published on two consecutive days in Prabhat Khabar. Instead of wasting public money on advertisements of aadhaar, Sharma should give his considered response to these articles.  

Gopal Krishna 
Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL)

Like 75-year-old Mano Devi, many villagers of Latehar in Jharkand have been running from pillar to post to get Aadhar card 

At 11 am, Mano Devi reached the Garu block centre, Latehar, in a basket slung from a bamboo stick, carried by two youths from village Doram, 25 km away. The young men, Bhojendra Singh and Mithu Singh, went straight to the pragya kendra (IT centre) but Mano Devi was disappointed. The centre remained closed all day.

“My widow pension will be stopped if I do not have an Aadhaar card,” the 75-year-old Khairwar adivasi told Garu reporter Ranjit Kumar before starting the four-hour journey to her village at 3.30 p.m. She has already made three trips to Garu since December last to enrol in Aadhaar, she said.

Over 5.4 lakh Aadhaar cards, catering to 74 per cent of the district population, have been generated in Latehar. “Seeding” of beneficiaries account details and Aadhaar is at two per cent of the population, the lowest in Jharkhand. With over 92 per cent of people living in villages and large swathes of forests, officials and villagers wonder if their access to schemes will not be disrupted in the switch to Aadhaar. “Garu has only one bank branch, and the Mahudanr block, which has no electricity, has two branches. Over 60 per cent of the district has no mobile connectivity. We already pointed this out to officials at the head office in Ranchi,” said a district official.

Although the Supreme Court said in its interim order on September 23, 2013, that Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory to access government schemes, there is confusion on the ground as beneficiaries believe and say they have been instructed by officials to get their Aadhaar cards or Enrolment IDs, if they wish to continue accessing public schemes.

In Latehar, beneficiaries say they have paid from Rs 20 to Rs 50 to enrol in Aadhaar, as demanded by enrolment agencies. “When we reported this to the district officials, they said the agencies were making quick money for services that should be free. We tried informing the villagers, but there is a great rush to enrol since everyone fears being left out,” said Ignacia Gidh, a panchayat representative from Mahuadanr.

Latehar’s District Commissioner Mukesh Kumar said he had received complaints and has called for a meeting on March 15 to look into the issue. “As there is no electricity and mobile connectivity in many parts, we are exploring the options of offline kiosk banking,” he added.

Nearly three years after the government began experimenting with Aadhaar-based payments in Jharkhand, it has not been able to start disbursing payments to beneficiaries at their doorstep

Jharkhand was one of five pilot States chosen for an Aadhaar-enabled payment system (AEPS). Beginning with Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) payments in select blocks in four districts in 2012, AEPS added pension and scholarship schemes and the Janani Suraksha Yojana scheme in the second phase and extended to three more districts in 2013.

Nearly three years after the government began experimenting with Aadhaar-based payments in Jharkhand, it has still not been able to start disbursing payments to beneficiaries at their doorstep as envisioned. The push towards getting beneficiaries enrolled in Aadhaar continues in Jharkhand, but in several instances, this is done with the threat of exclusion from existing benefits.

A beneficiary’s Aadhaar is “seeded” in the government’s database. Banks carry out the same procedure for their account holders. Banks then report the fact of the Aadhaar having been seeded to the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) for “mapping” in its database. After all three steps have been completed, a beneficiary can electronically receive the subsidy through an Aadhaar payment bridge system. Then, a banking correspondent, whether appointed by a bank or a post office, acts as an automated teller machine (ATM) for the village or household by making the payment after scanning the fingerprints of beneficiaries. Used in conjunction with a hand-held device/micro-ATM, this biometric system functions as the personal identification number (PIN) of a beneficiary.

In Jharkhand, there have been concerted enrolment drives since 2011, but the beneficiaries of various schemes with Aadhaar and Aadhaar-mapped accounts constitute less than 20 per cent. The numbers are still too low to shift to AEPS, say officials.

In Ramgarh district, for instance, a model district as far as Aadhar penetration is concerned, and where Aadhaar pilots were launched in 2012, enrolment is over 82 per cent of the nine-lakh strong population. But the number of Aadhaar-mapped accounts is 37,938, i.e., less than four per cent. Examining the numbers for individual schemes, in MGNREGA for example — the scheme in which the State government first started linking beneficiary details with Aadhaar — of 1.91 lakh workers in Ramgarh, only 21,110 have Aadhaar-mapped accounts, i.e., 11 per cent. The corresponding numbers are lower in Ranchi and Hazaribagh — also pilot districts — at over seven per cent and five per cent respectively.

“Even after beneficiaries enrolled, they had to be physically located to collect their data, which took time. Banks neither deployed staff to seed data at their end, nor did they forward mapping requests to NPCI,” says N.N. Sinha, Prinicipal Secretary, Information Technology.

Slow switch to post offices

The Bank of India, which has a sizeable network of branches in Jharkhand and was the first to migrate to an Aadhaar-based platform, has been unable to rid the processes of glitches. For instance, none of the banking correspondents it employed during pilots in Ranchi in the Tarup, Tigra and Purio panchayats in 2012 has been paid wages for over a year now. Under the original plan, the correspondents were to earn two per cent of all transactions as commission. Ranchi’s lead district manager S. Ghosal explains this by saying that “technical errors” were behind transactions not being reflected in the bank’s Management Information System (MIS). As a result, invoices could not be prepared.

Further, the two crucial elements of last-mile delivery — “a dense, interoperable network of banking correspondents,” and biometric devices such as micro-ATMs or tablets with fingerprint scanners — are still not in place. The State Chief Secretary, R.S. Sharma, previously the director-general, Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), identified poor cooperation from banks as being the main limiting factor. “For banks, this is simply not a priority. They did not hire banking correspondents or purchase micro-ATMs even after being granted a Rs.15,000 subsidy from the government. Banks were not interested at all.”

Taking cognisance of the tardy response from banks, and recognising that over two-thirds of beneficiaries in schemes such as MGNREGA and pension plans hold post office accounts, the government now plans to start AEPS in post offices. On October 2, 2013, the Union Minister for Rural Development, Jairam Ramesh, inaugurated Aadhaar-enabled payments by micro-ATM in Lali panchayat on the outskirts of Ranchi.

But since then — when three MGNREGA workers were paid at the function — only 15 workers have been paid using the micro-ATM. “The machine stopped working in mid-October. For six weeks, there was no replacement. Sometimes there is no ‘line’ (power failures), and at other times, no connectivity,” says the officer at the post office, Jairam Mahto, while taking the micro-ATM out of a cupboard in his office. Of 540 “active” MGNREGA workers, seeding was done for 190; the figure was much lower for mapping. The government now plans to purchase 2,800 hand-held devices worth Rs.4.8 crore for post offices.

In Ranchi, senior officials say that while they still prefer the Aadhaar route because it allows “interoperability” — the linking of different UID-enabled databases — they are now coming around to acknowledging that a majority of beneficiaries still do not have Aadhaar-seeded and mapped accounts. Instead of biometrics, the government now plans to start payments in post offices based on a system of “one time password” verification sent to the mobile phones of beneficiaries registered on the databases of schemes.

Disruptions for beneficiaries

There is another factor. The government may be beginning to search for alternatives to a biometrics-based, universal database it had set out to create. However, in the rush to enrol and map accounts, beneficiaries already face the prospect of being left out.

In its interim order on September 23, 2013, the Supreme Court said that Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory to access government schemes, but investigation reveals another story. In the implementation of individual schemes, Aadhaar has de facto been made mandatory. In MGNREGA, for instance, when district officials found it difficult to locate workers enrolled in the job scheme, they decided to focus on “active” workers — those who had worked in the scheme in the last or current year. Who was a genuine beneficiary or not was to be determined after holding gram sabhas, but in Ranchi and adjoining Khunti district this was seldom done.

“While seeding and freezing details, we could not find workers in remote areas such as Lapung. This lowered the percentage of seeding. There was a lot of pressure. In some instances, the staff resorted to removing workers from the MIS. I have received reports that workers in some villages resisted being deleted from lists when they found this out later,” says a district project officer in Ranchi. Records show that 2,211 workers’ cards were permanently deleted and 11,234 workers “tagged as deleted” — i.e. the cards have been temporarily marked as deleted but could be used if the worker applied afresh for work. Even those who reapply for work will have to submit their Aadhaar numbers or the EID, a provisional number given at the time of enrolment in Aadhaar, or face the threat of being excluded from the job scheme.

If among all districts in the State, Khunti has the highest ratio of 78 per cent of “active” MGNREGA workers, and whose details are seeded with Aadhaar, beneficiaries have one person to thank for this — Mr. Mukesh Kumar. Under his eagle eye and guidance, senior officials set up a district control room for Aadhaar, went to panchayats to seed data manually and hired local private computer centres to digitise the data when banks were reluctant to undertake this job. “I organised training sessions, met with panchayat representatives and explained that this is pavitra karya orsacred work since there is no ulterior motive,” says Mr. Kumar, who was the district collector till early February.

There have been instances of coercion too. A letter by Mr. Kumar, as the Khunti Deputy Commissioner and dated January 25, 2014 to all block development officers (BDOs), says they would face showcause notices if Aadhaar seeding targets were not met. The same day, letters by the Deputy Development Commissioner and Nodal Officer, Aadhaar, stopped salary payments to all BDOs, panchayat sewaks and rozgar sewaks till further orders as they had “failed to achieve 100 per cent seeding.”

A few workers in Khunti say that unlike other workers, they have not received payments since January under the electronic-Fund Management System, which is a transfer system, for work done last year. When a local activist and MGNREGA member asked if this was because the beneficiaries did not have an Aadhaar or EID yet, they faced harassment from officials. While block officials admit that delays may be because of seeding errors, workers say that they have still not got their wages.

In Belahati in Khunti, villagers say they have submitted photocopies of their Aadhaar documents a number of times, spending up to Rs.100 on photocopies alone as it is mandatory now. It is the same situation in other districts. “Aadhaar has been made compulsory. The DC has said this in every meeting,” says Mr. Ravi Kumar, rozgar sewak in the Jabra panchayat of Chatra district. “Every official asks us for Aadhaar. It is necessary whether it is for bank or post office payments,” says Mr. Jagai Lakda, a tribal farmer in Lali panchayat in Ranchi.

A circular by the Ministry of Rural Development on February 12, 2014, that MGNREGA workers shall not be deprived of a work opportunity if they do not have Aadhaar may be too little to address the uncertainty and disruptions on the ground.

Keywords: Aadhaar-enabled payment system, aadhar system in Jharkhand, Janani Suraksha Yojana

R.S. Sharma's response (“UIDAI clarifies on Aadhaar,” Op-Ed Page, Sept.15) to my article titled “Aadhaar: On a platform of myths” (Edit Page, July 18) demands comprehensive rebuttal. In my article, I had raised three arguments related to Aadhaar. In these three respects, I characterised the arguments of the government as “myths”. Mr. Sharma tries to refute my arguments and calls them “half-truths”. This response is to challenge Mr. Sharma to point out where exactly are the half-truths in my article.

My first argument was on the compulsoriness of Aadhaar, sought to be thrust through its linkages with the Home Ministry's National Population Register (NPR). I stand by it. The NPR is a part of the larger Multi-purpose National Identity Card (MNIC) project, begun after the Kargil war to cleanse India of “illegal immigration”. Registration in the NPR is compulsory. The information about individuals that is compulsorily required in the NPR includes a “National Identity Number”. It is the UIDAI's mandate to provide de-duplicated ID numbers to the NPR; and the ID number that would appear in the NPR will be the Aadhaar number. To quote Home Minister P. Chidambaram: “The MNIC has to be issued to every citizen, for which the Government has decided to set up a UID authority.”

However, there is no mention of the collection of biometrics of individuals in Citizenship Rules 2003, which empowers the NPR. The collection of biometrics was stealthily made part of the NPR sometime after 2003. This stealth measure allowed the UIDAI to piggyback on NPR, thus allowing for quick enrolment. Mr. Sharma's effort is to hide this link, by stating that Registrar-General of India is just one of UIDAI's many Registrars. But are not the RGI and the UIDAI arms of the same government? Or, is it that the UIDAI considers control of “illegal immigration” as a “developmental initiative”?

Secondly, at four places in his response, Mr. Sharma states that Aadhaar is not comparable with identity initiatives in the West. At no place, however, does he state what the specific problem in such a comparison is. Mr. Sharma cherry-picks from the U.S. federal statute to make his overstretched claim that the Social Security Number (SSN) is necessitated by law in the U.S. Yet, he neatly overlooks my arguments based on the U.S. President's “Strategic Plan” in 2007, which aimed to reduce/eliminate the use of SSN to identify individuals. How can Mr. Sharma claim that the SSN has “evolved” into a “de-facto identifier” in the U.S., when its own President is trying to reduce/eliminate its use?

Thirdly, Mr. Sharma' position that biometric technology has “limitations” and will be used only “as appropriate and as required” represents an enormous climb-down from the UIDAI's earlier claims that biometric errors are insignificant. It is plausible that this climb-down is inspired by the enormous difficulties faced by the UIDAI in de-duplication and the rising costs therein.

There is much to write about errors of biometrics, but it would suffice here to state that the UIDAI's Biometric Standards Committee had listed the limitations of this technology in its 2009 report. While noting the possibility of high error rates in using fingerprints under normal conditions, this report had shied away from providing any estimates of error in the use of IRIS images, owing to the “absence of empirical Indian data”. It suggested the use of IRIS images only “if they [the UIDAI] feel it is required”.

However, this cautionary note did not prevent the UIDAI from plunging into IRIS data collection, even as no cost-benefit analysis for the overall project is anywhere in sight. Will anyone in the government stand up and be accountable for these spending decisions?
(R. Ramakumar is with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai) 

UIDAI clarifies on Aadhaar
R S Sharma

In his article “Aadhaar: on a platform of myths” (Edit Page, July 18), R. Ramakumar points to the failure of the U.K. National I.D. card project, the non-mandatory nature of the Social Security Number (S.S.N.) of the United States, and the possible failures of the biometric identification system to strengthen his case against Aadhaar. By doing so, he questions the motive of the project and the intentions of the government.

At the onset, it is important to state that while myths are dangerous, half truths are even more damaging. The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has consistently allayed misplaced fears by articulating facts. For the benefit of the readers of The Hindu, we wish to clarify the contours of the Aadhaar project.

Firstly, the need for the intervention has to be understood. Millions of residents in India, especially the marginalised, lack nationally valid and reliable proof of identification. Aadhaar — backed by biometric de-duplication — is a secure and robust identification infrastructure that covers two shortcomings in the existing identity databases: fraud and duplication. Importantly, mandating Aadhaar in other databases for improvements in service delivery is the prerogative of the departments concerned. Moreover, UIDAI has consistently held that while it will not mandate Aadhaar, service providers could do the same while ensuring that there have been adequate opportunities for residents to enrol for Aadhaar.

It has to be further clarified that there are no penal consequences if a person does not choose to get an Aadhaar number. The Registrar General of India (RGI) is one of the important registrars of the UIDAI (which follows a multi-registrar approach) having the responsibility of preparing the National Population Register (NPR) under the Citizenship Rules 2003. The UIDAI will issue Aadhaar numbers to residents who enrol for Aadhaar through the RGI.

Secondly, viewing the Aadhaar exercise through the U.K./U.S. prisms is unfair since both those highly developed nations face problems that are dissimilar to those faced by India. Resultantly, the solutions also may need to be different.

The S.S.N. scheme in the U.S. was originally established for the sole purpose of administering the Federal government's social security pension scheme. However, it has evolved from a single-purpose to a multi-purpose identifier and acts as the de-facto identifier for taxation purposes, to open bank accounts, to receive benefits from the state and for private services.
Though the S.S.N. is not mandatory for U.S. residents, it is a requirement for all employed residents and some other categories of individuals. 

Service providers (government and private) are allowed to mandate S.S.N. in order to deliver services. Though U.S. privacy law does state that services cannot be denied if an individual does not reveal their S.S.N., it is important to note that the same law also requires that S.S.N. be disclosed if mandated by federal statute. Further, the law only requires that the individual be informed if it is mandatory or voluntary to disclose and under what authority the S.S.N. is being sought and how it will be used. While comparisons between India and the U.S. are not warranted, the fact remains that identifiers are an essential and integral need of an efficient public service delivery system. In India, just as the resident has the option to get an Aadhaar, a service provider may choose to use Aadhaar as an identification framework for delivering their services.

The U.K. also has de-facto identifiers in the form of National Insurance and National Health Service (N.H.S.) numbers. The comparison of the introduction of a mandatory I.D. card in the U.K. in the context of security with a developmental initiative of the Government of India of Aadhaar is misleading and incorrect. Further, equating views on the impact of the U.K. I.D. card project to the Indian scenario is unjustified. 

Understanding biometrics
Finally, the manner in which biometrics are being used in the Aadhaar project and the difference between a 1:N (during the time of enrolment) and a 1:1 check for authentication needs to be understood. At the time of enrolment, the resident's biometric data is compared to all other data sets in the UIDAI's CIDR (Central Identities Data Repository) to ensure uniqueness. During authentication, the resident's data is compared to the data linked to her/his Aadhaar number thereby significantly reducing scope for errors. The UIDAI recognises that no single technology is perfect but a combination of technologies can help reduce the possibility of inaccuracy. Therefore, in addition to collecting fingerprints, UIDAI also captures iris scans and a photograph. The Authority is aware of the technological limitations and is therefore using technology as appropriate and as required for the purpose of developing the identity infrastructure for India. Furthermore, since services cannot be denied in cases where residents may not have adequate and/or imperfect biometric attributes, the Authority has put in place an exception handling mechanism which ensures that the technology is reasonably supplemented so that it does not become an impediment between entitlements and beneficiaries.

The Government of India spends a sizeable proportion of the taxpayers' money on hundreds of welfare schemes for the benefit of millions of people. To that effect, it recognises the importance of establishing an effective identification infrastructure for its residents and is committed to creating the same in a cost effective and secure manner. In fact, deliberations with regards to creating such an infrastructure have been taking place within policy circles since 2006. Therefore, to allege that such a critical project has been undertaken without due diligence is in fact a myth. The UIDAI has engaged in a series of consultations with multiple stakeholders and continues to do so as it implements the Aadhaar project,

State-of-the-art technologies used in online railway reservation by the Indian Railways and the telecom revolution have convincingly demonstrated that India is capable of using high-end technology in the service of the common man and that we don't always need to follow the progression of developed nations to solve our unique problems.

The Aadhaar project has a pro-poor, inclusive agenda which is an enabler for better delivery of services and enhanced transparency in governance. Comparing it to other I.D. projects in the western world without understanding its context is over-simplistic and needs to be countered.
(R.S. Sharma is Director-General and Mission Director, UIDAI.)

Aadhaar: on a platform of myths
R Ramakumar 

The Aadhaar project, just as its failed counterpart in the U.K., stands on a platform of myths. India needs a mass campaign to expose these myths.

Two countries. Two pet projects of the respective Prime Ministers. Unmistakable parallels in the discourse. “The case for ID cards is a case not about liberty, but about the modern world,” wrote Tony Blair in November 2006, as he was mobilising support for his Identity Cards Bill, 2004. “Aadhaar…is symbolic of the new and modern India,” said Manmohan Singh in September 2010, as he distributed the first Aadhaar number in Nandurbar. “What we are trying to do with identity cards is make use of the modern technology,” said Mr. Blair. “Aadhaar project would use today's latest and modern technology,” said Dr. Singh. The similarities are endless.

Mr. Blair's celebrated push for identity cards ended in a political disaster for Labour. The British people resisted the project for over five years. Finally, the Cameron government scrapped the Identity Cards Act in 2010, thus abolishing identity cards and plans for a National Identity Register. On the other hand, India is enthusiastically pushing the Aadhaar, or unique identity (UID), project. The UID project has been integrated with the Home Ministry's National Population Register (NPR). The “National Identification Authority of India Bill” has been tabled in Parliament. Globally, observers of identity policies are watching if India learns anything from the “modern” world.

The experience with identity cards in the United Kingdom tells us that Mr. Blair's marketing of the scheme was from a platform of myths. First, he stated that enrolment for cards would be “voluntary”. Second, he argued that the card would reduce leakages from the National Health System and other entitlement programmes; David Blunkett even called it not an “identity card,” but an “entitlement card.” Third, Mr. Blair argued that the card would protect citizens from “terrorism” and “identity fraud.” For this, the biometric technology was projected as infallible.
All these claims were questioned by scholarly and public opinion. A meticulous report from the London School of Economics examined each claim and rejected them (see “High-cost, High-risk,” Frontline, August 14, 2009). This report argued that the government was making the card compulsory across such a wide range of schemes that it would, de facto, become compulsory. It also argued that the card would not end identity fraud in entitlement schemes. The reason: biometrics was not a reliable method of de-duplication.

The Indian discourse around Aadhaar is remarkably similar. Almost identical arguments are forwarded in support of the project to provide a population of over one billion people with UID numbers. I argue that Aadhaar, just as its failed counterpart in the U.K., is promoted from a platform of myths. Here, there is space for three big myths only.
Myth 1: Aadhaar number is not mandatory.
This is wrong; Aadhaar has stealthily been made mandatory. Aadhaar is explicitly linked to the preparation of the NPR. The Census of India website notes that “data collected in the NPR will be subjected to de-duplication by the UIDAI [Unique Identification Authority of India]. After de-duplication, the UIDAI will issue a UID Number. This UID Number will be part of the NPR and the NPR Cards will bear this UID Number.”

The NPR is the creation of an amendment in 2003 to the Citizenship Act of 1955. As per Rule 3(3) in the Citizenship Rules of 2003, information on every citizen in the National Register of Indian Citizens should compulsorily have his/her “National Identity Number.” Again, Rule 7(3) states that “it shall be the responsibility of every Citizen to register once with the Local Registrar of Citizen Registration and to provide correct individual particulars.” Still further, Rule 17 states that “any violation of provisions of rules 5, 7, 8, 10, 11 and 14 shall be punishable with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees.”
The conclusion is simple: Aadhaar has been made compulsory, even before passing the Bill concerned in Parliament. Under the project's guise, the State is coercing individuals to part with personal information; this coercion comes with a threat of punishment.
Myth 2: Aadhaar is just like the social security number (SSN) in the United States.
There is a world of difference between the SSN and Aadhaar. The SSN was introduced in the U.S. in 1936 to facilitate provision of social security benefits. A defining feature of SSN is that it is circumscribed by the Privacy Act of 1974. This Act states that “it shall be unlawful for any…government agency to deny to any individual any right, benefit, or privilege provided by law because of such individual's refusal to disclose his social security account number.” Further, federal agencies have to provide notice to, and obtain consent from, individuals before disclosing their SSNs to third parties. 

The SSN was never conceived as an identity document. However, in the 2000s, SSN began to be used widely for proving one's identity at different delivery/access points. As a result, SSNs of individuals were exposed to a wide array of private players, which identity thieves used to access bank accounts, credit accounts, utilities records and other sources of personal information. In 2006, the Government Accountability Office noted that “over a 1-year period, nearly 10 million people — or 4.6 per cent of the adult U.S. population — discovered that they were victims of some form of identity theft, translating into estimated losses exceeding $50 billion.” 

Following public outcry, the President appointed a Task Force on Identity Theft in 2007. Acting on its report, the President notified a plan: “Combating Identity Theft: A Strategic Plan.” This plan directed all government offices to “eliminate unnecessary uses of SSNs” and reduction and, where possible, elimination of the need to use SSN to identify individuals. It's quite the contrary in India. According to Nandan Nilekani, Aadhaar number would become “ubiquitous”; he has even advised people to “tattoo it somewhere,” lest they forget it!

Myth 3: Identity theft can be eliminated using biometrics.

There is consensus among scientists and legal experts regarding the limitations of biometrics in proving identity. First, no accurate information exists on whether the errors of matching fingerprints are negligible or non-existent. A small percentage of users would always be either falsely matched or not matched at all against the database.

Second, errors of matching would stand significantly amplified in countries like India. A report from 4G Identity Solutions, contracted by UIDAI for supply of biometric devices, notes that:

“It is estimated that approximately five per cent of any population has unreadable fingerprints, either due to scars or aging or illegible prints. In the Indian environment, experience has shown that the failure to enrol is as high as 15 per cent due to the prevalence of a huge population dependent on manual labour.”

A 15 per cent failure rate would mean the exclusion of over 200 million people. If fingerprint readers are installed at Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) work sites and ration shops, and employment or purchases made contingent on correct authentication, about 200 million persons would remain permanently excluded from accessing such schemes.

The report of the UIDAI's “Biometrics Standards Committee” actually accepts these concerns as real. Its report notes that “fingerprint quality, the most important variable for determining de-duplication accuracy, has not been studied in depth in the Indian context.” However, this critical limitation of the technology has not prevented the government from leaping into the dark with this project, one whose cost would exceed Rs.50,000 crore. 

It is said that the greatest enemy of truth is not the lie, but the myth. A democratic government should not undertake a project of the magnitude of Aadhaar from a platform of myths. The lesson from the U.K. experience is that myths perpetrated by governments can be exposed through consistent public campaigns. India direly needs a mass campaign that would expose the myths behind the Aadhaar project. 

(R. Ramakumar is Associate Professor with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.)
 UID: doubts, concerns and confusions
Aakash Mehrotra
Interesting isn't, when you have people asking for your identity or rather say you are supposed to present your proof of existence. Doesn't it sound like breaching into someone's personal life? A 12-digit number will decide whether you remain a person or an unperson. Oh, I am not hinting at a sci-fi movie, but a biometric reality. Let me welcome you to the ‘Biometric Prison Planet.'

Before I get into the aadhar of ‘Aadhar', I would like to present a fact that this whole idea has faced heat all around the world. But Aadhar is not just another ID card; it is a number, a number to tell you that you are in fact you. With this article I would like to bring to light some of the jokes that Aadhar is bringing to the fore. Well, let's start with the biggest joke – the much hyped bill was thankfully presented in Parliament in December 2010 and is yet to face the standing committee. Further, the strongest resistance to Aadhar is coming from two eminent members of the National Advisory Council, Jean Dreze and Aruna Roy. A mammoth project that would lead to millions flowing out of the exchequer definitely needs to be debated at the national level. It is a pity that though we are striving on to move towards e-governance, we are missing on the aspect of e-consultation.

The sad part is that sooner or later we all will have a 12-digit identification number pinned on our chests at a cost of our privacy. One bold statement that has always been presented in the defence of UID (Unique Identification Number) is that it is not mandatory; but ironically it is ubiquitous. So far in India about 15 different types of ID work, but UID is projected to have the entire database of information of Indians. The real fear is access to such a data would give the government a free hand to profiling, segmenting and targeting a sect, group or religion. This could lead to dangerous consequences. This data, if slipped into the hands of corporates, could be used to serve various purposes.

UID promises to give the poor his/her identity, it is a tool for profiling the beneficiary in PDS, streamlining payments to be made under MGNREGS and enabling the achievement of targets under right to education or any such government scheme. Service delivery is what it guarantees. But serious doubts have been raised about its being able to rationalise the PDS. Going on the same line, UID has been advocated as a tool for the poor to avail themselves of the services of the PDS from any part of the country. The distinct reality is that every PDS has a limited amount of ration with it and will in no case be able to answer the numerous calls of the migrants. Another aspect being voiced in favour of the UID is its efficacy in streamlining the direct cash transfer to the poor by effectively segmenting the poor and the needy. But can it really fill the lacunae of governance is the real question.

Apart from that, there is exactly no strong edifice of biometrics on which this mega-structure is to be constructed. Patterns of iris change with age, disease and health; fingerprints can easily be tapped and copied. 

Moreover, the problem will come in reduplication of the structure. A register of more than 100 million identities sounds a distant dream. It's a herculean task to build such a colossal database. It is a critical piece of information infrastructure that has to come in place. So far, the project has seen less of IT and infrastructure building and more of politics. Advocated as the biggest step towards social development, the project requires efficient planning at the granule level. 

UID is about convergence of silos of information. The biggest concern, however, at my end is about human ethics — India is a home to more than eight million people with corneal blindness and many more have corneal scars and many more suffer from cataract. Authentification of fingerprints is questionable — there are thousands born without or have lost their hands; or even the workforce involved in manual labour or agriculture have their fingerprints marred. The entire framework is not in place and fails to answer how much of the data collected from fingerprints will be authentic. We can suffer from huge technology risks. No question has been raised about the millions of homeless people or the persons who come under the category of third sex, who may not opt to or may not be able to give the information. The project fails to answer many such questions. Questions can always be raised on the government regarding the abuse of information available with it. 

Many developed countries have retraced their path on the project owing to the issues of citizen privacy. The U.K had to repeal an Act of national identity register owing to large scale protests from the citizens. Countries like Hungary and Germany look upon the project as a violation of privacy. Political pundits in these countries have termed it as the “national e-surveillance act.”
The government has shown sheer urgency in going for the UID project. If the project fails to confront the various questions and doubts being raised, it would hurt democracy. This is a dark joke making its round in the political corridors with the idea of investing an identity to every citizen of the country. It is prudent at this stage for the government to have a frank debate over the matter and to put in public the entire structure before it goes into investing this enormous amount of money which could otherwise be used to lift millions out of poverty. 

(The writer's email is:

Keywords: UID numbersBiometric Prison Planet

Bharat Bhatti, Jean Drèze, Reetika Khera

Technical glitches in the unique identification method make it unreliable in disbursing wages under the employment guarantee scheme 

Within a few weeks of “Aadhaar-enabled” payments of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme wages being initiated in Jharkhand, earlier this year, glowing accounts of this experiment started appearing in the national media. Some of them also gave the impression, intentionally or otherwise, that this successful experiment covered most of Jharkhand. A fairly typical excerpt, which condenses five grand claims in a few lines, is as follows: “As the new system ensures payment of wages within a week, the demand for work under MGNREGS has gone up. Consequently, migration has been checked, families have been reunited and, no less important, some workers have a saving in the bank.”

Enthused by these upbeat reports, we tried to trace the evidence behind them, but quickly reached a dead end. The authorities in Ranchi referred us to the website of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), but we did not find any evaluation of the experiment there or, for that matter, any details of it. There was no alternative, it seemed, than to check the facts for ourselves.
Ratu Block
We headed for the Ratu Block in Ranchi District, the source of most of the reports. It was, at that time (early March), one of the five Blocks where the experiment had been launched. On arrival, we found that only three gram panchayats (GPs) were involved, out of 14 in Ratu Block. The showpiece appeared to be Tigra GP, but it turned out that even there, only one worksite had enjoyed the blessings of Aadhaar-enabled wage payments. In the three GPs together, the system had been implemented at five worksites, employing a total of about 50 workers. We managed to interview 42 of them with the help of a small team of student volunteers.

The main role of Aadhaar in the Jharkhand experiment is to facilitate the implementation of the “business correspondent” (BC) model. Under this model, accredited agents provide doorstep banking services to MGNREGS workers using a micro-ATM. They act as extension counters of the local bank (in this case, Bank of India), disbursing wages close to people’s homes. Biometric authentication is meant to prevent identity fraud, e.g. someone’s wages being withdrawn by someone else. Aadhaar is one possible foundation of biometric identification, though not the only one. In this approach, wages are paid through Aadhaar-enabled accounts that are supposed to be opened at the time of UID enrolment. Authentication requires internet connectivity, so that workers’ fingerprints and Aadhaar numbers can be matched with the UIDAI’s Central Identities Data Repository.

The BC model widens the reach of the banking system in rural areas. This, in turn, helps to bring more MGNREGS workers under the umbrella of the banking system, as opposed to post offices, where corruption (including identify fraud) is a serious problem. Doorstep banking facilities are also a significant convenience for workers in areas where bank offices are distant, overcrowded, or unfriendly.
A little farcical
Coming back to Ratu, some aspects of the experiment were a little farcical. For instance, on one occasion, workers from Tigra were asked to collect their wages 10 kilometres away, so that Aadhaar-enabled payments could be done in front of a visiting Minister. On a more positive note, the system seemed to work, at least under close supervision. Further, most of the workers had a positive view of it. They appreciated being able to collect their wages closer to their homes, without the hassles of queuing in overcrowded banks or of depending on corrupt middlemen to extract their wages from the post office. They did not fully understand the new technology, but nor were they afraid or suspicious of it.

Having said this, there were problems too. Dependence on fingerprint recognition, internet connectivity, and the goodwill of the BC created new vulnerabilities. Fingerprint recognition problems alone affected 12 out of 42 respondents. Some workers did not have a UID number, and some had a UID number but no Aadhaar-enabled account. None of them had received bank passbooks, making it difficult for them to withdraw their wages from the bank when the Aadhaar system failed.

Four respondents were yet to find a way of getting hold of their wages. Otherwise, the payment of wages was reasonably timely, but this had more to do with intensive supervision than with Aadhaar. It is important to understand that Aadhaar, on its own, is of limited help in reducing delays in MGNREGS wage payments. This is because the bulk of the delays occur before the banking system is involved — at the stage of submission of muster rolls, work measurement, preparation of payment advice, and so on. At every step, there is a lot of foot-dragging, and Aadhaar is not the answer.

(According to the MGNREGA Commissioner in Jharkhand, quoted in one of the articles mentioned earlier, “Against one month now, payments will reach workers’ accounts in one week.” This statement is typical of the delusional mindset of the Jharkhand administration. Not only are current delays much longer than one month, the claim that Aadhaar will reduce them to one week has no basis.)
What next? It is easy to envisage a certain way of extending this experiment that would turn it into a nightmare for MGNREGS workers. Three steps would be a potent recipe for chaos: depriving MGNREGS workers of bank passbooks, imposing the system even where there is no internet connectivity, and insisting on a single bank operating in each Block (the odd “one Block, one bank” rule). All this may seem far-fetched, but there are precedents of this sort of irresponsibility. Short of this, if the Aadhaar-based BC model is hastily extended without the system being ready (as happened earlier with the transition from cash to bank and post-office payments of MGNREGS wages), it could easily compound rather than alleviate other sources of delays in wage payments.

It is also possible to see a more constructive roll-out of the BC model across the country. In this constructive approach, the BC model would act as an additional facility for MGNREGS workers, supplementing ordinary bank procedures instead of becoming a compulsory alternative. This would enable labourers to bypass the BC in cases of fingerprint recognition problems, or when the BC is corrupt or unreliable. For this purpose, the first step is to issue bank passbooks to MGNREGS workers — this had not been done in Ratu.

The question remains whether Aadhaar adds value to other versions of the BC model. In the adjacent Block of Itki, the BC model is being implemented without Aadhaar, in partnership with FINO, a private company. Workers’ fingerprints are stored on a smart card, used for authentication and tamper-proof record-keeping. This obviates the need for internet connectivity, an important advantage of the Itki system in areas like rural Jharkhand.

Aadhaar, for its part, has two potential advantages. First, it facilitates multiple biometric applications based on single UID enrolment. Second, Aadhaar facilitates “inter-operability”, that is, linking of different UID-enabled databases. But the same features also have costs. For instance, dependence on a centralised enrolment system (as opposed to local biometrics) makes it much harder to correct or update the database, or to include workers who missed the initial enrolment drive. Similarly, inter-operability raises a host of privacy and civil liberties issues. A brief exploratory visit to Itki did not uncover any obvious reason to prefer the Aadhaar system to local biometrics.
Poor cousin
It is also worth noting that the Jharkhand experiment is a very poor cousin of much earlier and larger efforts to implement the BC model in Andhra Pradesh. Unlike UIDAI, the government of Andhra Pradesh has conducted serious experiments with the BC model and learnt from them. Biometric micro-ATMs are now being installed at local post offices, an important idea for the whole country: micro-ATMs could give post offices a new lease of life as effective payment agencies.

In short, Aadhaar-enabled payments for MGNREGS workers raise many issues that are yet to be properly examined and debated. The Ratu project, for one, looked more like a public relations exercise than a serious experiment. Incidentally, we learnt in June 2012 that Aadhaar-enabled wage payments had been discontinued in Tigra, due to resilient fingerprint recognition problems. That, of course, was not reported in the national media.

Last but not the least, it is not clear why MGNREGS should be used as a testing ground for UID applications when other, more useful options are available. For instance, UID could be used quite easily to monitor office attendance of government employees. 

The social benefits are likely to be large, and this is a more natural setting for early UID applications than the jungles of Jharkhand. Any takers?

Keywords: MGNREGSUIDunique identificationAadhaarwages

Unique facility, or recipe for trouble?

Many questions remain about the Unique Identity Number system that is being rolled out by the Central government.

It is quite likely that a few weeks from now someone will be knocking at your doors and asking for your fingerprints. If you agree, your fingerprints will enter a national database, along with personal characteristics (age, sex, occupation, and so on) that have already been collected from you, unless you were missed in the “Census household listing” earlier this year.
The purpose of this exercise is to build the National Population Register (NPR). In due course, your UID (Unique Identity Number, or “Aadhaar”) will be added to it. This will make it possible to link the NPR with other Aadhaar-enabled databases, from tax returns to bank records and SIM (subscriber identity module) registers. This includes the Home Ministry's National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID), smoothly linking 21 national databases.
For the intelligence agencies, this will be a dream-come-true. Imagine, everyone's fingerprints at the click of a mouse, that too with demographic information and all the rest. Should any suspicious person book a flight, or use a cybercafé, or any of the services that will soon require an Aadhaar number, she will be on their radar. If, say, Arundhati Roy makes another trip to Dantewada, she will be picked up on arrival like a ripe plum. Fantastic!

‘A half-truth'

So, when the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) tells us that the UID data (the “Central Identities Data Repository”) will be safe and confidential, it is a half-truth. The confidentiality of the Repository itself is not a minor issue, considering that UIDAI can authorise “any entity” to maintain it, and that it can be accessed not only by intelligence agencies but also by any Ministry. But more important, the UID will help integrate vast amounts of personal data, that are available to government agencies with few restrictions.
Confidentiality is not the only half-truth propagated by UIDAI. Another one is that Aadhaar is not compulsory — it is just a voluntary “facility.” UIDAI's concept note stresses that “enrolment will not be mandated.” But there is a catch: “... benefits and services that are linked to the UID will ensure demand for the number.” This is like selling bottled water in a village after poisoning the well, and claiming that people are buying water voluntarily. The next sentence is also ominous: “This will not, however, preclude governments or Registrars from mandating enrolment.”
That UID is, in effect, going to be compulsory is clear from many other documents. For instance, the Planning Commission's proposal for the National Food Security Act argues for “mandatory use of UID numbers which are expected to become operational by the end of 2010” (note the optimistic time-frame). No UID, no food. Similarly, UIDAI's concept note on the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) assumes that “each citizen needs to provide his UID before claiming employment.” Thus, Aadhaar will also be a condition for the right to work — so much for its voluntary nature.
Now, if the UID is compulsory, then everyone should have a right to free, convenient and reliable enrolment. The enrolment process, however, is all set to be a hit-or-miss affair, with no guarantee of timely and hassle-free inclusion. UIDAI hopes to enrol 600 million people in the next four years. That is about half of India's population in the next four years. What about the other half?
Nor is there any guarantee of reliability. Anyone familiar with the way things work in rural India would expect the UID database to be full of errors. There is a sobering lesson here from the Below Poverty Line (BPL) Census. A recent World Bank study found rampant anomalies in the BPL list: “A common problem was erroneous information entered for household members. In one district of Rajasthan, more than 50 per cent of the household members were listed as sisters-in-law.”
Will the UID database be more reliable? Don't bet on it. And it is not clear how the errors will be corrected as and when they emerge.
Under the proposed National Identification Authority of India Bill (“NIDAI Bill”), if someone finds that her “identity information” is wrong, she is supposed to “request the Authority” to correct it, upon which the Authority “may, if it is satisfied, make such alteration as may be required.” There is a legal obligation to alert the Authority, but no right to correction.
The Aadhaar juggernaut is rolling on regardless (and without any legal safeguards in place), fuelled by mesmerising claims about the social applications of UID. A prime example is UID's invasion of the NREGA. NREGA workers are barely recovering from the chaotic rush to payments of wages through banks. Aadhaar is likely to be the next ordeal. The local administration is going to be hijacked by enrolment drives. NREGA works or payments will come to a standstill where workers are waiting for their Aadhaar number. Others will be the victims of unreliable technology, inadequate information technology facilities, or data errors. And for what? Gradual, people-friendly introduction of innovative technologies would serve the NREGA better than the UID tamasha.
The real game plan, for social policy, seems to be a massive transition to “conditional cash transfers” (CCTs). There is more than a hint of this “revolutionary” plan in Nandan Nilekani's book, Imagining India. Since then, CCTs have become the rage in policy circles. A recent Planning Commission document argues that successful CCTs require “a biometric identification system,” now made possible by “the initiation of a Unique Identification System (UID) for the entire population …” The same document recommends a string of mega CCTs, including cash transfers to replace the Public Distribution System.
If the backroom boys have their way, India's public services as we know them will soon be history, and every citizen will just have a Smart Card — food stamps, health insurance, school vouchers, conditional maternity entitlements and all that rolled into one. This approach may or may not work (that is incidental), but business at least will prosper. As the Wall Street Journal says about the Rashtriya Swasthya Bhima Yojana (which is a pioneering CCT project, for health insurance), “the plan presents a way for insurance companies to market themselves and develop brand awareness.”

The danger

The biggest danger of UID, however, lies in a restriction of civil liberties. As one observer aptly put it, Aadhaar is creating “the infrastructure of authoritarianism” — an unprecedented degree of state surveillance (and potential control) of citizens. This infrastructure may or may not be used for sinister designs. But can we take a chance, in a country where state agencies have such an awful record of arbitrariness, brutality and impunity?
In fact, I suspect that the drive towards permanent state surveillance of all residents has already begun. UIDAI is no Big Brother, but could others be on the job? Take for instance Captain Raghu Raman (of the Mahindra Special Services Group), who is quietly building NATGRID on behalf of the Home Ministry. His columns in the business media make for chilling reading. Captain Raman believes that growing inequality is a “powder keg waiting for a spark,” and advocates corporate takeover of internal security (including a “private territorial army”), to enable the “commercial czars” to “protect their empires.” The Maoists sound like choir boys in comparison.
There are equally troubling questions about the “NIDAI Bill,” starting with why it was drafted by UIDAI itself. Not surprisingly, the draft Bill gives enormous powers to UIDAI's successor, NIDAI — and with minimal safeguards. To illustrate, the Bill empowers NIDAI to decide the biometric and demographic information required for an Aadhaar number (Section 23); “specify the usage and applicability of the Aadhaar number for delivery of various benefits and services” (Section 23); authorise whoever it wishes to “maintain the Central Identities Data Repository” (Section 7) or even to exercise any of its own “powers and functions” (Section 51); and dictate all the relevant “regulations” (Section 54).

Ordinary citizens, for their part, are powerless: they have no right to a UID number except on NIDAI's terms, no right to correction of inaccurate data, and — last but not least — no specific means to redress grievances. In fact, believe it or not, the Bill states (in Section 46) that “no court shall take cognisance of any offence punishable under this Act” except based on a complaint authorised by NIDAI.

So, is UID a facility or a calamity? It depends for whom. For the intelligence agencies, bank managers, the corporate sector, and NIDAI, it will be a facility and a blessing. For ordinary citizens, especially the poor and marginalised, it could well be a calamity.

(The author is Visiting Professor at the Department of Economics, University of Allahabad and Member of the National Advisory Council.)
Keywords: Unique Identity Number

Human right activist Gopal Krishna makes a case that the Unique Identification Number project is a gross violation of fundamental human rights and points out that a similar project/law in Britain is going to be repealed.

This is with reference to a privacy invasion project which is relevant to India and all the democratic countries of the world. The very first bill that is to be presented by the UK's new coalition government in the British Parliament is to repeal its Identity Cards Act 2006 even as Government of India has chosen to give approval to Unique Identification Number project that threatens citizens' privacy. Clearly, what is poisonous for civil liberties in the UK cannot become non-poisonous in India.

If one takes cognisance of the claim that the 'UID system is a civilian application of biometrics' and compares it with current practices, one finds that such a claim is quite misplaced.

In the report there is reference to a study commissioned by the US Department of Homeland Security to International Biometrics Group. Will someone explain how manifest reference to such a study constitutes civilian application?

In our country, it is rarely noticed as to when the concept of massively organised information quietly emerged to become a means of social control, a weapon of war, and for the victimisation of ethnic groups. Nandan Nilekani, co-founder and former chief executive of Infosys Technologies Ltd, India's second largest software company, has misled the Government of India into making it believe that in a country with 48 percent illiteracy, a 16-digit card would be helpful in reaching the poorest of the poor.

The Unique Identification Number/Aadhar project that emerged from the constitution of Unique Identification Authority of India in January 2009 reminds one of what happened from the period preceding Adolf Hitler's arrival to January 1933 when he occupied power, to Second World War and since then. The way International Business Machines, the world's largest technology company and the second most valuable global brand, colluded with the Nazis to identify Jews for targeted asset confiscation, ghettoisation, deportation, and ultimately extermination to help Hitler with its punch card and card sorting system -- a precursor to the computer -- made the automation of human destruction possible is a matter of historical fact.
Unmindful of the lessons from Germany in particular and Europe in general, advancing the argument of targeting, it has been claimed on the floor of Parliament by the finance minister while presenting the 2010-11 Union Budget that the UID project 'would provide an effective platform for financial inclusion and targeted subsidy payments,' the same targeting measures can be used with vindictive motives against citizens of certain religion, caste and ethnicity or region or towards a section of society due to economic resentment.

Curiously, the finance minister and the head of UID/Aadhar project refer to financial inclusion and not about economic inclusion of the poor. Exclusion of certain sections of society for political reasons had led to the targeted massacre of 1947, 1984 and 2002 in India. If an exhaustive trans-disciplinary study is conducted it would reveal how privacy is closely connected to data protection and the same was readily available to perpetrators of riots, massacres and genocide in our country.

The UID project is going to do almost exactly the same thing which the predecessors of 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 United States 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.

The Government of India cannot guarantee that in future, when the Nazis or some such sort come to power in India, they would not have access to UID for vindictive measures against certain sections of the citizenry. This is evidently the journey of 'identification' efforts from January 1933 to January 2009, when the UID Authority was announced.

The UID and National Population Register is all set to do what IBM did in Germany, Romania and in Europe and elsewhere through 'solutions' ranging from the census to providing list of names of Jews to Nazis. The UID has nothing to do with citizenship, it is merely an identification exercise.

Against such a backdrop, as concerned citizens, we welcome the progressive step by the new coalition government in the UK to scrap its controversial national identity card scheme in order to safeguard citizens' privacy and act against intrusions. The scrapping of the UK's ID project is planned to be done in the next 3-4 months. Besides repealing the Identity Cards Act 2006 and outlawing the finger-printing of children at school, the UK government would stop its National Identity Register and the next generation of biometric passports, the Contact Point database and end storage of Internet and email records.

But unlike the UK, the Government of India through a Press Information Bureau release dated May 18 has stated that 'the Cabinet Committee on Unique Identification Authority of India related issues today approved in principle the adoption of the approach outlined by UIDAI for collection of demographic and biometric attributes of residents (face, all ten fingerprints and iris) for the UID project. It was also decided to include data of the iris for children in the age group of 5 to 15 years. The same standards and processes would be adhered to by the Registrar General of India for the NPR exercise and all other registrars in the UID system.'
Not surprisingly, the government is feigning ignorance about the democratic movement against such efforts. In India too, there is a robust case against rejecting what has been rejected in the UK. The UID project is a blatant case of infringement of civil liberties. The government's identification exercise follows the path of the Information Technology Act 2000 that was enacted in the absence of no data or privacy protection legislation.

As is the case with the UID project, in the UK too the scheme has been vacillating from one claimed purpose to another. The project is being bulldozed in the name of poor by saying, 'Identity becomes a bottleneck if one wants to have a ration card, driving licence, passport, bank account or a mobile connection. It will enable poor residents to access multiple resources including education, health and financial services.'

Following the footprints of the UK's discredited project, it is being said that 'the identity number will help get a child admission in school.' Perhaps fearing abandonment of the project, in the aftermath of the UK government's decision, it is being now said that the Unique Identification Number is optional, not mandatory.
How is it that two democracies deal with the issue of ungovernable breaches of privacy differently? While the UK government is proactive in protecting the privacy of its citizens, the Government of India is ridiculing the very idea of privacy and civil liberties.

It is highly disturbing that at almost the same time, India's minority coalition government plans to do just the contrary with astounding disregard to citizens' privacy by stamping them with an UID number based on their biometric data. Such a 'surveillance' effort through the world's largest citizen identity project for 'creating a 
Unique Identity Number for every resident in India' undermines our democracy beyond repair.

Related to the UID number project is the NPR project. This is for the first time that the NPR is being prepared. The database will be built by the Registrar General of India. It is noteworthy that the census and NPR are different. The census is the biggest source of data on demography, literacy and education, housing and household amenities, economic activity, urbanisation, fertility, mortality, language, religion and migration. It serves as the primary data for planning and the implementation of policies of the central and state governments.

The NPR involves the creation of a comprehensive identity database for the country. It will include items of information such as the name of the person, father's name, mother's name, spouse's name, sex, date of birth, place of birth, current marital status, education, nationality as declared, occupation, present address of usual resident and permanent residential address. The database will also contain photograph and finger biometry of persons above the age of 15.

After the NPR database is finalised, the next task would be assigning every individual a UID. This number will be added to the NPR database. It is proposed to issue identity cards which will be a smart card with UID number printed on it and include basic details like name, mother's/father's name, sex, date and place of birth, photograph. Complete details will be stored in the chip. 

Like in the UK, in India too there is a need for a similar measure to stop the efforts underway through the UIDAI to issue a UID number to every resident in the country. Issuing unique identity numbers to the 1.2 billion residents of India based on biometric data is fraught with hitherto unimaginable dangers of human rights violations. It has emerged that it all started rolling in the aftermath of a meeting of the empowered group of ministers on November 4, 2008, and a meeting of the prime minister's council of the UID Authority on August 12, 2009, wherein it was decided that there was a 'need for a legislative framework' akin to the UK's Identity Cards Act 2006 which is now being scrapped.

The 13th Finance Commission has made a provision for an incentive of Rs 100 per person (Rs 400-500 per family) to bribe citizens below the poverty line to register for the UID and has recommended a grant of Rs 2,989.10 crore to be given to the state governments for the same. The three states (Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh) who have signed an MoU on their part have set up state-level committees to work as UIDAI registrars for collecting biometric samples like thumb impression or cornea configuration of each individual resident. Has there been any debate so far in the legislatures about the ramifications of a project which is all set to be scrapped in the UK?

As per the Authority's Office Memorandum signed by director general, UIDAI, dated September 29, 2009, 'The main objective is to improve benefits service delivery, especially to the poor and the marginalised sections of the society. To deliver its mandate, the UIDAI proposes to create a platform to first collect the identity details and then to perform authentication that can be used by several government and private service providers.'
The reference to private service providers is inexplicable, for the work is meant to be an exercise for public purpose and for the poor and the marginalised. The promise of service delivery to the poor and the marginalised hides how it will enable access to profit for the IT industry and the biometrics industry. Such claims are quite insincere, misleading and factually incorrect. It reminds one of the pledges in the Preamble of the Constitution of India, it will have us believe that the UID Authority would fulfil the constitutional promise of economic equality. Such objectives are bad sophistry at best.
This authority in turn set up a Biometrics Standards Committee in order 'to review existing standards and modify/extend/enhance them so as to achieve the goals and purpose for de-duplications and authentication' through framing biometrics standards for fingerprints, face and iris.
The authority defines biometrics as 'the science of establishing the identity of an individual based on the physical, chemical or behavioural attributes of the person.' Besides, photos of the face are commonly used in various types of identification cards, it is undertaking the use of fingerprints for identification and recording the iris, the annular region of the eye, bounded by the pupil and sclera on either side which is considered the most accurate biometric parameter.
The committee reveals that 'the biometrics will be captured for authentication by government departments and commercial organisations at the time of service delivery.' The commercial organisation mentioned herein is not defined.
The Biometrics Standards Committee refers to previous experiences of the US and Europe with biometrics. A technical sub-group was also formed that collected over 250,000 fingerprint images from 25,000 persons sourced from districts of Delhi, UP, Bihar and Orissa for analysing Indian fingerprints. It may do the same for the iris and face as well to form a database size of 1.2 billion. It has been recommended that the 'biometrics data are national assets and must be preserved in their original quality.' The committee refers to citizens' database as a national asset.
Both the UID and NPR, through convergence, represent a case of the State and the 'market' tracking citizens for one reason or the other. It is benign neither in its design nor in its execution. The working paper of the UIDAI revealed that the 'UID number will only guarantee identity, not rights, benefits or entitlements'. It is also said that it would not even guarantee identity, it would only provide 'aid' in identification.
We support the campaign of the people' movements, mass organisations, institutions and concerned citizens and individuals who strongly oppose the potential tracking and profiling based techno-governance tools such as the UID number. We demand that Parliament or the Comptroller and Auditor General should probe the UID Authority's work from January 2009 till date.

In view of the above mentioned facts, we submit that the collection of such data is a classic case of gross violation of fundamental human rights. The Government of India should take prompt lessons from the UK government's decision to scrap its National ID project and desist from taking the path paved by IBM for the Holocaust and abandon its UID/Aadhar project.

Gopal Krishna is a member of the Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties


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