The democratic mandate, which the non-Congress parties are likely to get, is against a regime that surrendered the interests of Indians on the dictates of imperial powers the way many African countries and Asian countries like UAE and Pakistan have done
Like Ivory Coast, a civil war can happen in India too because of biometric and electronic identification. All the international agencies, which are involved in promotion of unique identification (UID) through Planning Commission, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Election Commission of India (EC), residential addresses and land titles in India were involved there as well. Likes of LK Advani, P Chidambram, Nandan Nilekani, Sam Pitroda and C Chandramouli have been advocating national identity cards as if “everyday forms of identity surveillance” is natural and rational.
How is it that when heads of states are put under round the clock surveillance by colonial and imperial powers it is deemed an assault on national sovereignty but when a national government undertakes the same over their masters, the citizens, it becomes natural and rational.
A communication titled ‘Biometrics Stir the Pot in the UAE’ dated 22 November 2003, sent by some unidentified US official from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Group Destinations Arab Israeli Collective, Secretary of State, US and Dubai, UAE and to undecipherable location named ‘RUCNFSC CFSC SA COLLECTIVE’ merits attention. This communication was brought to light by Wikileaks. Its import can be appreciated only if its following text is read:
“The Public Affairs and Consular Section in Abu Dhabi hosted a Press Briefing on the fingerprinting of NIV applicants at the US Embassy. In addition, Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) and Consular Chief briefed the Director of Consular Affairs at the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) on the new Fingerprinting Procedures at the Embassy. Newspapers published accurate, informational stories and the Director of Consular Affairs expressed his understanding. Although one UAE official has refused to be fingerprinted saying he was being treated like a "Criminal," the UAE's majority Third-Country Nationals (TCN) are taking it all in stride, already subject to fingerprinting and retinal scans by the UAE and Emirate-level Governments.”NIV stands for Non-Immigrant Visas (NIV).
This reporting of UAE’s response to fingerprinting and retinal scans sounds like the reaction of different ministries of Government of India and Indian media, most of whom like their UAE’s counterparts did “accurate, informational stories.” But unlike the one official in UAE, who refused to be fingerprinted, in India, one did not learn about any civil servant who refused to enroll for biometric identification in the pronounced manner.
The communication further revealed that a foreign team installed fingerprinting collection devices on 23 October 2003 at the interview windows in conjunction with the consular section's routine computer upgrade schedule. After the installation, the consular section began collecting fingerprints from the required NIV applicants on 2 November 2003.
It is noteworthy that US embassy officials are reporting even the work of plumbers of fingerprint machines and installation of biometric devices to Secretary of State and their intelligence allies in Arab States, Israel to undecodable locations. Do Indian officials, senior political leaders and concerned citizens realize its import?
The Wikileaked communication informs that journalists and photographers from all UAE’s English and Arabic dailies were called for briefing them “about the new biometric collection procedures” so that public is informed about it. This communication informs: “journalists focused primarily on the appropriateness of fingerprinting and questioned whether or not the fingerprinting was focused on Arab and Muslim audiences. Vice Consul responded that this was not the case, and, as reassurance, showed journalists the stacks of old computers the Orkand team has just finished replacing with new Pentium IV systems. (Comment: we recommend other posts do the same if possible, as this seemed convincing to the journalists present.)”
It goes on report that following this briefing to media, on 6 November 2003, journalists published stories based on the information provided to them including “the implementation of fingerprinting solely based on routine maintenance schedules and mentioning Frankfurt, Brussels, San Salvador, and Guatemala City as the first Fingerprinting Posts.”
This shows how journalists are/ were taken for a ride because they were made to believe that it was just a routine case of replacing old equipments with new equipments. It appears that the same tactics has been replicated in India in the matter of Aadhaar, National Population Register (NPR) and other places where biometric identification is being made mandatory.
On 9 November 2003, there was a meeting with the Director of Consular Affairs at the UAE‘s MFA, where in the Director expressed “his understanding of the need to move towards biometrics to enhance the security of the United States. He briefly commented on the retinal scans in place at UAE ports of entry for certain categories of visitors to the UAE, in particular workers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. He expressed satisfaction that fingerprinting did not apply to A- 1 and A-2 visa categories.”
It is clear yet again that the biometric devices are getting installed not because of any domestic compulsion of the Asian or African countries but because countries like US want it installed. This also demonstrates that those wielding diplomatic and official immunity do not hesitate to barter away their citizens’ rights if their temporary individual rights and privileges remain intact.
This cable from US embassy in UAE records that “public reaction to the initiation of fingerprinting of NIV applicants has been mixed. The UAE population is more disturbed by the prospect of fingerprinting than the UAE's majority TCN population. Consular staff have not received complaints from TCN applicants, who have their fingerprints taken for residence visas and IDs by federal and emirate-level governments. Certain TCNs are also subject to retinal scans at UAE airports.” The TCN population refers to Third-Country Nationals. A TCN is an employee who is not a citizen of the home or host countries.
It reads “Reaction by UAE nationals, on the other hand, remains mixed. The vast majority of UAE national student and tourist visa applicants have complied quietly and calmy when requested for their fingerprints. The prospect for turmoil with government officials and prominent UAE nationals, however, remains to be seen. One UAE senior university administrator official, the subject of a Class A Visa referral, refused to come to the embassy and told pas staff that he "would not be treated like a criminal." This reaction only stresses the continuing need to inform applicants that biometric capture capability not only enhances national border security to the benefit of US citizens and permanent residents, but increases the safety and security of visitors to the United States as well.” The communication reveals that promoters of biometric devices were expecting some “turmoil” but as things unfolded they were happy to witness unquestioned obedience of government officials and prominent UAE nationals like in India.
A secret cable, which was created on 17 December 2009 and Wikileaked on the 23 April 2011 revealed that like in UAE, the US’ State Department is deeply curious about UID, India's biometric data based identification program. It asked its embassy in India to provide information about the progress or status of the Indian biometric ID card's development and deployment and wished to know “India's strategic plan for utilizing biometric ID card technology in the military, law enforcement, and private sectors.”
It sought to know as to which government agencies will be responsible for overseeing the implementation of the national ID card biometric collection strategy, how do authorities plan to utilise the biometric ID card at India's borders, ports, and airports, which foreign countries and/or corporations are assisting in the development of the ID card, which biometric systems (i.e. fingerprints, facial recognition, iris scan, etc.) will be incorporated into the card, what prompted development of the ID card, which company is providing the biometric collection devices, storage, and matching database equipment, which organizations/agencies within India will have access to information gathered by the biometric ID card collection devices, what systems, databases, or portals will the named biometric ID card collection devices in India communicate with, will the ID card be accepted for passport applications, what types of anti-fraud measures do Indian authorities plan to incorporate in the issuance process and what security features are planned for the ID card, will the card be International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) compliant and will it use any encryption and any efforts to "spoof" or defeat biometric enrollment, such as fingerprint alteration.
The cable asked these questions but it prefaced it with few observations. It reads: “Washington analysts read with keen interest recent press reports about a proposed biometric national ID project in India …the project has been billed at recent trade conferences as the largest biometric enrollment ever proposed and is the biggest biometric initiative anticipated in 2010. Despite promised improvements, the cards would provide, analysts are concerned the program could present a vulnerable target for regional extremist groups -- such as Lashkar e-Tayyiba -- who could obtain fraudulent Indian ID cards during the large-scale enrollment for use in travel or as breeder documents to apply for passports.”
This cable gives the impression that US agencies have been following the project from its incubation stage.
It underlined that with regard answers to the questions posed that “results of these requirements will be incorporated into a strategic assessment for senior US policymakers on the regional implications in South Asia of the biometric ID program.”
Another cable dated 4 September 2008 released by Wikileaks reveals that US Ambassador to India met with Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia on 2 September 2008 wherein the name of would be chief of UID/ Aadhaar, Nandan Nileakni figured for a Sub-group of US-India CEO Forum for educational collaboration which was to provide a report after the elections. Notably, this cable from New Delhi was sent to Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Joint Chiefs of Staff, National Security Council, Secretary of Defense among others. Notably, Nileakni was one of the eight members of National Knowledge Commission (NKC) headed by Sam Pitroda who advocates identification and tagging of every object in India through his Public Information Infrastructure initiative.
US Embassy’s cable for the week of 29th June to 2 July 2009 notes that the UID “project is expected to cost about Rs1,500 billion ($31.5 billion), and technological challenges in creating tamper-proof smart cards capable of handling Indian conditions are expected. According to press reports, the GoI may exclude private companies from participating due to the large amount of confidential information involved in the program. The public sector company Bharat Electronics Ltd has already issued over 120,000 smart cards under a GoI pilot project to establish a multipurpose national identity card, and is likely to be one of the key players.” It is noteworthy that eventually Indian government did not exclude private companies.
With regard to the National Smart Card Identification System, the wikileaked cables reveal that “Joint Secretary (Telecom) JS Deepak told Econoffs that the first meeting between Additional Secretary of Department of Telecom Subodh Kumar, Nandan Nilekani, chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and founder of Infosys, and Indian telecom service providers was held on 24th September to discuss the roll-out of the unique identification (UID) program. Earlier this year, the GoI set up the UIDAI to implement a Unique Identification card project, which will own the database of residents along with their biometric information….Joint Secretary Deepak noted that despite the inherent challenges posed by the massive scale of this program, the introduction of UID will transform the way Indians do business in the areas of Government-to-Citizen interaction. He said the ID would be useful for a multitude of purposes, including elections, taxation, national security, and banking. Deepak, a former USAID employee responsible for global social programs, was enthusiastic about the UID's potential to greatly reduce 'leakage' in government subsidies and benefit payments, including the NREGA program, and for its ability to also transform provision of education and healthcare.” Econoffs refers to US Embassy’s Economic Office.This communication was sent from New Delhi as part of its report for week of 21st to 24 September 2009. It is noteworthy that Deepak’s credential as former employee of United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has been mentioned. Earlier, Bolivia and Russia have expelled USAID from their countries. In Pakistan in protest against the drone strike there Pakistani Punjab government has refused to accept US aid. Recently, Associated Press has revealed that USAID’s Chief Rajiv Shah who is reportedly considered a possible candidate for the post of US Ambassador to India supervised Cuban twitter like program- ‘ZunZuneo’-using front companies based in Cayman Islands and other places for cooking unrest there. Interestingly, the $1.6 million spent on it was channeled in the name of an unspecified project in Pakistan since 2009.
The role of Ministry of Telecom in conceptualizing or launching UID program under A Raja’s tenure as its minister merits examination.
While the background behind the operationalization of the biometric ID project reveals the opaque manner in which it took off, ramifications of launch of such projects demonstrates its true colours.
In the book, Paper Citizens, its author Kamal Sadiq records, “In Ivory Coast, a national identity card scheme was central to a national politics that slid into civil war” that began in 1999 splitting the country in two-a rebel-held north and a government-held south. In this country, national identity card scheme was introduced with the help of UN agencies to enable the exercise of franchise. A referendum in July 2000 barred presidential candidates in Ivory Coast from contesting unless both of their parents were Ivorian. This led to disqualification of Ivory Coast’s former Prime Minister, Alassane Ouattara from the 2000 presidential election because his citizenship certificate and national identity card was denied until 2002. This issue became a major factor in the civil war given the fact that ruling party and opposition party held diametrically opposite views on documentary citizenship.
The insistence of documentary citizenship based on national identity card has also given birth to the business of fake identity cards, identity thefts and imposters.
Dwelling on the situation in African countries like Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Zambia, in a 2001 paper “Disenfranchising the North through the National Identity Card scheme” Ibrahim Ado-Kurawa, general editor of Weekly PYRAMID – The Magazine said, “In most of the organized world identity cards have never been election requirements” and concluded, “The ID card is a much more benign form of genocide if it gets to pass.”
The distinguishing identity of citizens and non-citizens is getting blurred because of the idea of documentary citizenship based on biometric identification being deeply planted by US and EU based security agencies and companies. This leads to creation and naturalization of 24X7 continental and transboundary surveillance on human movement that opens the possibility wherein national ID card would be a ticket to the loss of much of personal freedom and intergenerational and intra generational rights.
Non-Congress government that is all set to take charge of the national affairs will have to take a pledge that they will not be subjecting citizens to biometric surveillance through the ongoing merger of aadhaar, NPR Voter ID card and the Electronic Voting Machines. The servility of the previous regime towards agencies like US National Security Agency (NSA) and their infantile reactions in the face of evidence that the entire union cabinet was under NSA's surveillance must be remembered as one of the dark chapters of Indian history. In their abject meekness Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) did not hide even an iota of information from the NSA but it is reluctant share its correspondence with Nilekani under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
The democratic mandate, which the non-Congress parties are going to get is against a regime that surrendered the interest of Indians on the dictates of imperial powers in the way many African countries and Asian countries like UAE and Pakistan have already done. The new government must demonstrate that structure of India’s electoral ecosystem will remain impregnable from Trojan horses of all ilk to root out the possibility of Ivory Coast like situation that gets created by colonial powers. The strategic engineering, which has set pot boiling must be cooled because as they say a spark neglected burns the house.
You may also want to read…
(Gopal Krishna is member of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL), which is campaigning against surveillance technologies since 2010)