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The Centre's overarching agenda to make Aadhaar a success by forcing people to withdraw money from ATMs under a diktat from RBI is being opposed by bankers due to huge cost involved. Several consumer activists and NGO, including Moneylife Foundation also sent a memorandum to RBI governor on the same issue
Leading banks are set to oppose the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) diktat that all new automated teller machines (ATMs) and point of sale (POS) machines should be tailored to accept Aadhaar — one of the widely publicised ventures aimed at winning votes and changing the lives of millions, reports Economic Times (ET).
Even several activists, consumer and non-government organisations (NGOs) as well as Rajeev Chandrasekhar, an independent member of the Rajya Sabha also had opposed the RBI move over Aadhaar-enabled ATMs and PoS citing the huge cost involved.
According to the ET report, last week, senior bankers went into a huddle to list out the pitfalls of the central bank's directive, which they think is being rushed through without understanding the implications for banks.
"Why should we spend hundreds of crores in changing the network when the same thing can be achieved with existing technology?" a senior banker was quoted as saying in the report. On 3rd December, the payments committee under the banking lobby, Indian Banks' Association, met to discuss the matter which will soon be taken up with the regulator, the report says.
The ET, quoting a panel member, said, "While RBI has said that banks may issue cards without the Aadhaar feature, the POS machines and ATMs have to be mandatorily Aadhaar-enabled. Now, if banks don't issue credit or debit cards that are enabled for Aadhaar acceptance, why should we procure new types of ATMs and POS for a handful of customers who prefer biometric readers for transactions?"
Some of the bankers and service providers ET spoke to say their entire network has to be overhauled for the purpose. "Data on the magnetic strip of a credit/ debit card is transmitted through telephone lines. Biometric data will need high-speed connections and the bandwidth and capability has to be raised. Besides, in biometric mode, response time and rejects may be higher and transactions could take longer," a service provider told the financial daily.
These were the points that came up when Moneylife Foundation hosted a round table in September 2013 with leading organisations such as All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA), All India Bank Depositors Association (AIBDA), Council for Fair Business Practices (CFBP), V Citizens Action Network (V-CAN), Consumer Education and Research Centre, Ahmedabad 9CERC), India Against Corruption (IAC), Forum for Fast Justice (FFJ), Forum of Free Enterprise (FFE), Nagrik Chetana Manch (NCM), All India Business Council (AIBC) and Women Graduates Union, Mumbai (WGU), as well as concerned citizens to discuss the issue.
The group drafted a memorandum that has been sent to the RBI governor Dr Raghuram Rajan
The key issue was: Who will bear the huge technology cost that would be involved. The activists feared that the banking system was being used by the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) to create nationwide infrastructure of biometric readers and scanners at the cost of bank consumers. Further, UIDAI plans to charge a fee for each Aadhaar authentication, which would also have to be borne by consumers.
Among the issues raised at the discussion was the fact that biometric-enabled ATMs had been launched with much fanfare between 2004 and 2007 but were an unmitigated disaster. Most participants felt that there ought to be a pilot project to justify the technology, safety as well as the bandwidth required for the UIDAI authentication, before such a big cost burden was imposed on the banking system.
Media reports say that banks plan to add over 200,000 point of sale (POS) machines and around 20,000 ATM machines in the near future. In addition, the vast existing ATM network will also have to be made Aadhaar-enabled. This entails huge cost and, according to some experts, will force banks to divert resources from other projects. Banks are being lured to invest in the technology on the promise that direct benefits and subsidies will be routed through the banking system. But it is unclear whether the distribution of subsidies will earn any revenue for banks or only burden them with costs, which will be transferred to other customers.
The memorandum said, “Public policy towards financial inclusion has to be devised diligently, keeping the stakes of the customers in mind and not coerce customers into accepting an unnecessary identification tool like the biometric system. It should ensure safe and secure transactions and aim at lowering banking costs. Consumers expect the RBI to follow the principles of good governance, transparency and accountability to the consumers.” An interesting aspect of the round table discussion was that consumer groups had the support of the largest bank employee unions, which also plans to oppose the huge expenditure plans from the inside.
Rajeev Chandrasekhar, who is also a member of the Standing Committee on Finance, had requested Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to relook at the RBI's proposal on Aadhaar authenticated biometric ATMs. In the letter sent to the PM, finance minister P Chidambaram and chairman of Standing Committee on Finance, Mr Chandrasekhar wrote, "Public policy towards financial inclusion should be devised intelligently with objective of lower banking costs and increased access for consumers and not using ill-conceived, brute force methods involving significant additional spending and increase in costs to consumers and please make no mistake, these costs will be passed on by banks to consumers."
Moneylife has been pointing out that this new directive (from RBI) will involve additional expenses, which bank depositors will end up bearing under the guise of technology costs. So far, Aadhaar has made no mention of who will bear the cost of biometric POS readers (according to a senior banker, they will cost Rs8,000 each) and biometric ATMs (Rs4 lakh for the machine plus installation, maintenance, electricity, etc).
Last month, the RBI advised banks to choose either EMV chip and PIN or Aadhaar’s biometric validation as additional factor for authentication and securing the card present payment infrastructure. However, several mainstream media reported that RBI has asked banks to adopt Aadhaar authentication only.
However, the RBI has advised banks to keep their new card present infrastructure enabled to use both EMV chip and PIN and Aadhaar (biometric validation) acceptance. It may be noted that EMV cards are 'smart' cards that have an embedded chip while PIN authentication involves the card-holder to punch in a secret code on the card-swiping machine, for each transaction.
Interestingly, about 90% of the existing POS terminals in the country, managed by 21 acquirers (among them Axis Bank, HDFC Bank and ICICI Bank), can accept EMV chip cards and PIN. However, following RBI directive banks will have to scrap the whole infrastructure and buy new one with biometric readers, which costs a bomb.
The biometric technology vendors have admittedly built their coalition to outwit progressive movements as part of their divide and succeed strategy wherein organisations of both left and right hues have been persuaded to act like their mouth pieces or maintain studied silence
Endorsing Supreme Court’s order, the Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) on Finance in its most recent report has asked Government of India to issue instructions to state governments and to all other authorities that 12-digit biometric unique identification (UID)/Aadhaar number should not be made mandatory for any purpose.
The Seventy Seventh Report of the 31-member Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) on Finance reads, “Considering that in the absence of legislation, Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is functioning without any legal basis, the Committee insisted the Government to address the various shortcomings/issues pointed out in their earlier report on 'National Identification Authority of India Bill 2010' and bring forth a fresh legislation.” It was presented to the Speaker on 18 October 2013 upon authorisation by the PSC by Yashwant Sinha, the Chairman of the PSC.
PSC report’s categorical recommendation reads, “The Committee would like to be apprised of the details in this regard particularly in the light of recent judgement of the Supreme Court mentioning that no person should suffer for not possessing the Aadhaar card. The Government must in the meantime issue instructions to State Governments and to all other authorities that it should not be made mandatory for any purpose.”
This was ahead of the resolution passed by West Bengal Assembly on 2 December 2013 against Aadhaar related program. Legislators in the Assembly referred to the PSC report of January 2011 trashing Aadhaar. More and more state assemblies are expected to do the same. Meanwhile, Madhya Pradesh High Court has listed a case against Aadhaar on 15 January 2014 for hearing. In a related development the case against the illegal 12-digit biometric Unique Identification (UID)/Aadhaar number is now scheduled to be heard on 7 January 2014 in the Supreme Court. High Courts of Punjab & Haryana and Andhra Pradesh have already raised questions about its legality. Most opposition parties other than new ones like Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have taken a position on this issue regarding mankind’s biggest biometric database. The Bengali and English text of the resolution passed by West Bengal Assembly is attached.
This Seventy Seventh Report of PCS deals with the action taken by Government on the recommendations contained in the Sixty Ninth Report of the Committee (Fifteenth Lok Sabha) that was presented to Lok Sabha and laid in Rajya Sabha on 22 April, 2013. The PSC report concludes, “Committee has time and again insisted the Government to address the various shortcomings/issues pointed out in their earlier Reports and bring forth a fresh legislation on UIDAI.” Notably, 'National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2013 is listed for introduction after generating “more than 44 crore Aadhaar.”
PSC report disapproves of the grievance redressal mechanism of the UIDAI. “The Committee is dissatisfied to note that the action taken reply is elusive on the number and nature of complaints received regarding issue of Aadhaar Cards.”
Irregularities committed by the illegal UIDAI has been dealt with from page no. 11 to 14 of this Report of the 31-member Parliamentary Committee on action taken by Government on the recommendations contained in the Sixty Ninth Report of the Committee (Fifteenth Lok Sabha) on Demands for Grants (2013-14) of the Ministry of Planning.
The PSC notes that “out of 60 crore residents to be enrolled by UIDAI by March 2014,...While the details regarding number of Aadhaar numbers generated has been furnished, the reply (of the Government) is silent as regard to the numbers issued.” The report notes that replies indicating action taken on all the recommendations contained in the Report were furnished by the Government on 22 July, 2013.
The PSC report observes, “the total budgetary allocations made for UIDAI since its inception upto (Budget Estimates) BE 2013-14 is Rs5,440.30 crore, out of which Rs2,820.30 crore has been utilised up to 31 March 2013 and the remaining amount of Rs2,620 crore has been allocated in BE 2013-14. The Ministry has informed that the average cost per card is estimated to range from Rs100 to Rs157. Taking the average cost per card to be Rs130, the total expenditure for issue of 60 crore cards is estimated to about Rs7,800 crore. Thus, the expected requirement of funds during 2013-14 is Rs4,979.70 crore, whereas only Rs2,620 crore has been kept for BE 2013-14, which is thus grossly inadequate. Given the tardy progress in enrollment/ generation of aadhaar cards, being done without legislative approval, it is doubtful that UIDAI could achieve the targets envisaged during 2013-14. The Committee is constrained to observe a disturbing approach in the budgetary exercise of the Ministry by fixing inflated targets without commensurate budgetary allocations. The Committee would, therefore, expect the Government to review enrolment progress/funds requirement and project realistic requirement of the funds after legislative approval.”
In an interesting development, Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries has expressed his support for biometric identification saying, “Aadhaar, an initiative of Unique Identification Authority of India, will soon support the world’s largest online platform to deliver government welfare services directly to the poor.” He has written this in a chapter titled ‘Making the next leap’ endorsing biometric profiling based identification in the book ‘Reimagining India’ edited by McKinsey & Company published by Simon & Schuster in November 2013. This appears to be an explicit signal to the political parties and media houses who receive direct and indirect corporate donations from companies as their clients in myriad disguises.
Coincidentally, the cover story of Forbes India magazine features “Rohini & Nandan Nilekani: The Conscious Givers” (Seema Singh, 13 December 2013 issue) for having won Outstanding Philanthropist award 2013. They won the award for “having given nearly Rs350 crore, especially to ideas which CSR doesn’t fund. Rohini has committed to giving Rs20 crore every year; Nandan has spent five years at UIDAI as part of the ‘giving back to society’ process.” It says, Nandan has a mission to invest “in institutions that pay off over years.”
The story notes “For Nandan, giving years to public causes is more expensive than writing cheques for ‘a few hundred crores’.” It reveals that Nandan is taking lessons in Kannada from a teacher to improve his Kannada ahead of announcement of the candidates by the political parties because certain ideas need “political energy” to get implemented. Notably, Rohini Nilekani funds both rightwing Takshashila Institution and left-leaning Economic and Political Weekly besides Association for Democratic Reforms, PRS Legislative Research and IndiaSpend, a data journalism initiative and The Hoot besides running her own Arghyam Foundation, a NGO.
It is germane to recall the strategies employed by the Stratfor precursor Pagan International to defuse the mobilisation of grassroots movements for his corporate clients. It used it to divide the main actors into four groups: Radicals, Idealists, Realists and Opportunists. The Opportunists are in it for themselves and can be pulled away for their own self-interest. The Realists can be convinced that drastic change is not possible and we must settle for what is possible. Idealists can be convinced they have the facts wrong and pulled to the realist camp. This categorisation is true about political, media and voluntary organisations as well. A noticeable section of these organisations have been co-opted to promote biometric aadhaar. The biometric technology vendors have admittedly built their positive coalition to outwit the negative coalition of progressive movements as part of their divide and succeed strategy wherein organisations of both left and right hues have been persuaded to act like their mouth pieces or maintain studied silence or address the issue at stake in a piecemeal manner.
Incidentally, another cover story titled “The Network Effect” (Caravan, Rahul Bhatia, 1 December 2013) has dwelt on how the big businesses like Reliance Industries have come to control both the message and the medium like TV18, which was part of the Network18 group that includes CNBC-TV18, the IBN channels, Forbes India magazine besides other channels, publications and websites. Not surprisingly, media houses in general appear quite supportive of the biometric Aadhaar disregarding its illegality and illegitimacy due to umbilical relationship or due to their dependence on advertisement revenues from agencies and enterprises that advocate biometric identification.
Now the question is will state legislatures and state governments support the recommendations of the parliamentary committee, Supreme Court, High Courts and the resolution of West Bengal Assembly guided by public interest or will they get influenced by the propaganda of transnational vested interests?
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(Gopal Krishna is member of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL), which is campaigning against surveillance technologies since 2010)
Both Aadhaar and NPR are based on the unscientific and questionable assumption that there are parts of human body likes fingerprint, iris, voice etc that does not age, wither and decay with the passage of time. Those who support Aadhaar and NPR seem to display unscientific temper by implication
The reason for the vehement opposition to 12-digit biometric unique identification (UID)/Aadhaar number project is that it is contrary to the basic structure of the Constitution of India, which provides for a limited government and not an unlimited government. The project is aimed at creating an unlimited government. Even if a law is passed to make it legal it will remain bad and illegitimate. This is the argument that has been advanced by the lawyer representing the opponents of the project in the Supreme Court. The matter is likely to be heard again on 10th December.
For a 21 month period between 25 June 1975 to 21 March 1977, the country was put under internal Emergency under Article 352 of the Constitution of India, effectively bestowing on Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, the power to rule by decree, suspending elections and civil liberties. This was made legal and it remained so as long as it lasted. The powers given to her virtually had no limits. The human body came under assault as a result of forced vasectomy of thousands of men under the infamous family planning initiative of Sanjay Gandhi.
Like Indira Gandhi, Dr Manmohan Singh has been a Prime Minister for nearly 10 years. The installation of authoritarian architecture through biometric identification of Indians is likely to get the similar response from voters as they had given in the aftermath of proclamation of emergency. The human body is again under attack through indiscriminate biometric profiling, with patronage from Rahul Gandhi. Indian National Congress (INC) is likely to face a bigger defeat than it had suffered in 1977. Uttar Pradesh elections and the recent assembly elections are indicative of the trend.
Given the fact that judicial orders from the High Courts and Supreme Court have so far dealt with the limited issue of how UID/Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory, first thing anyone should do understand with regard to gathering momentum against biometric unique identification (UID)/Aadhaar number is that the very first document that residents of India encounter in this regard is ‘Aadhaar Enrolment Form’. At the very outset the enrolment form makes a declaration is that “Aadhaar Enrolment is free and voluntary.” This is a declaration of Government of India. This is a promise of Planning Commission of India headed by the Prime Minister. As a consequence, all the agencies state governments, the Government of India and the “agencies engaged in delivery of welfare services” are under legal and moral obligation to ensure that the UID/Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory. As such the Supreme Court has simply stated what the Prime Minister himself has promised. In its interim order what the Court has done is to simply reiterate the significance of the promise made by Government of India. If programs, projects and schemes are launched in breach of Prime Minister’s promise, it will set a very bad and unhealthy precedent and no one ever in future trust the promise made by any Prime Minister. The column number 8 in the Aadhaar Enrolment Form on the first page refers to “agencies engaged in delivery of welfare services” but does not define who these agencies are. It appears that its definition has deliberately been kept vague. Which are the agencies that are involved in delivery of welfare services? Aren’t security agencies and commercial agencies with ulterior motives included in it?
On page number 2 of the Aadhaar Enrolment Form provides, “Instructions to follow while filling up the enrolment form” which states that column numbered 8 is about seeking consent from an Indian “Resident (who) may specifically express willingness / unwillingness by selecting the relevant box” by ticking “yes” or “no” options. The column number 8 reads: “I have no objection to the UIDAI sharing information provided by me to the UIDAI with agencies engaged in delivery of welfare services.” Now, the issue is that if residents are promised that enrolment is “voluntary” they may give their consent unaware of its ramifications but if they know that it is made “mandatory” they may refuse to give their consent.
Are the agencies with whom Planning Commission’s Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) on behalf of President of India has signed contract agreements with foreign surveillance technology companies like Accenture Services Pvt Ltd, US, Ernst & Young, US, L1 Identity Solutions Operating Company, now France (as part of Safran group), Satyam Computer Services Ltd (Mahindra Satyam), as part of a “Morpho led consortium” (Safran group), France and Sagem Morpho Security Pvt Ltd (Safran group), France “engaged in delivery of welfare services”? Admittedly, these agencies have access to personal information of the Purchaser and/or a third party or any resident of India for at least seven years as per Retention Policy of Government of India or any other policy that UIDAI may adopt in future. The purchaser is President of India through UIDAI.
The contract agreement is applicable to both Planning Commission’s Centralised Identities Data Repository (CIDR) of digit biometric unique identification (UID)/Aadhaar number which is ‘voluntary’ and the ‘mandatory’ National Population Register (NPR) of Ministry of Home Affairs which is also generating Aadhaar number. Notably, column number 2 in the Aadhaar Enrolment Form on page number 1 and 2 refers to “NPR Number” and “NPR Receipt/TIN Number” and at states “Resident may bring his/her National Population Register Survey slip (if available) and fill up the column” number 2.
The databases of both the numbers namely, UID/Aadhaar number and NPR number are being converged as per approved strategy. Does it not make both the databases of biometric identification numbers one and mandatory in the end? Is the promise by the Prime Minister about Aadhaar Enrolment being “free and voluntary” truthful? It is not “free” for sure because it costs citizens’ their democratic rights. As to it being “voluntary” it is not so by design. It is evident that the Prime Minister has been miser with truth.
Initially, it seemed surprising as to why L1, a high value company that worked with the US’ intelligence was sold to French conglomerate Safran group which has a 40 year partnership with China. It also seemed puzzling as to why the contract amount given to Sagem Morpho of Safran Group is not being disclosed. But with the disclosure of non-traceability of financial data with regard to French conglomerate’s Sagem Morpho courtesy New Indian Express and emergence of the possible relationship of UIDAI with US based agencies like In-Q-Tel and MongoDB on the horizon courtesy Navbaharat Times, such transactions do not appear astounding anymore.
Now the question is do these agencies have access to biometric and demographic data of even those residents of India who did not give consent as per column 8 of Aadhaar enrolment form for sharing information provided by them to the UIDAI with these agencies who do seem to be engaged in delivery of welfare services.
There is no confusion as to why such agencies of US, France and China are eager to get hold of the biometric database of Indians. “Biometrics Design Standards for UID Applications” prepared by UIDAI’s Committee on Biometrics states in its recommendations that “Biometrics data are national assets and must be preserved in their original quality.”
UIDAI’s paper titled ‘Role of Biometric Technology in Aadhaar Authentication’ based on studies carried out by UIDAI from January 2011 to January 2012 on Aadhaar biometric authentication reveals that the studies “focused on fingerprint biometric and its impact on authentication accuracy in the Indian context. Further, improvements to Aadhaar Authentication accuracy by using Iris as an alternative biometric mode and other factors such as demographic, One Time Pin (OTP) based authentication have not been considered in these studies.”
This paper explains, “Authentication answers the question ‘are you who you say you are’”. This is done using different factors like: What you know– user ID/password, PIN, mother’s maiden name etc, What you have – a card, a device such as a dongle, mobile phone etc and What you are – a person’s biometric markers such as fingerprint, iris, voice etc. The ‘what you are’ biometric modes captured during Aadhaar enrollment are fingerprint, iris and face. It is noteworthy that this paper refers to biometric markers like ‘fingerprint, iris, voice etc’ revealing that after fingerprint and iris, ‘voice’ print is also on the radar and its reference to “etc” includes DNA prints as well.
Notably, ESL Narasimhan, governor of Andhra Pradesh said, “We are spending thousands of crores on identification cards every other day and then saying it is useless card. It happened in case of citizenship card, PAN card, voter identity card and now they are coming to Aadhaar card. He was speaking at the inaugural session of fifth international conference on 'emerging trends in applied biology, biomedicines and bio-forensics'. This was reported by Business Standard on 30 November 2013.
Narasimhan is a former head of the Intelligence Bureau (IB). DNA analysis has become so cheap that within a few years instead of an Aadhaar, one can have whole DNA sequence with unique marker because “with a few thousand rupees, everybody's entire DNA sequence can be put on a card", argued Ramakrishna Ramaswamy, vice chancellor, University of Hyderabad, speaking at the same conference. It is noteworthy that these efforts are going in a direction wherein very soon employers are likely to ask for biometric data CD or card instead of asking for conventional bio-data for giving jobs etc. It is likely to lead to discrimination and exclusion.
In villages, they say when you give a hammer to a blacksmith he/she will only think in terms of nailing something. The only difference is that here it is the human body which is being nailed. If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail. If biometric technologies are at hand, some people under the influence of technology tend to see every problem as an identification problem.
The UIDAI paper states, “Of the 3 modes, fingerprint biometric happens to be the most mature biometric technology in terms of usage, extraction/matching algorithms, standardisation as well as availability of various types of fingerprint capture devices. Iris authentication is a fast emerging technology which can further improve Aadhaar Authentication accuracy and be more inclusive.”
Such absolute faith in biometric technology is based on a misplaced assumption that are parts of human body that does not age, wither and decay with the passage of time. Basic research on whether or not unique biological characteristics of human beings is reliable under all circumstances of life is largely conspicuous by its absence in India and even elsewhere.
There is a need for the Parliament, Supreme Court, state legislatures and High Courts to examine whether or not biometrics provides an established way of fixing identity of Indians. Has it been proven? A report “Biometric Recognition: Challenges and Opportunities” of the National Research Council, USA published on 24 September 2010 concluded that the current state of biometrics is ‘inherently fallible’. That is also one of the findings of a five-year study. This study was jointly commissioned by the CIA, the US Department of Homeland Security and the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Another study titled “Experimental Evidence of a Template Aging Effect in Iris Biometrics” supported by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Biometrics Task Force and the Technical Support Working Group through Army contract has demolished the widely accepted fact that iris biometric systems are not subject to a template aging effect. The study provides evidence of a template aging effect. A “template aging effect” is defined as an increase in the false reject rate with increased elapsed time between the enrollment image and the verification image. The study infers, “We find that a template aging effect does exist. We also consider controlling for factors such as difference in pupil dilation between compared images and the presence of contact lenses, and how these affect template aging, and we use two different algorithms to test our data.”
A report “Biometrics: The Difference Engine: Dubious security” published by The Economist in its 1 October 2010 issue observed “Biometric identification can even invite violence. A motorist in Germany had a finger chopped off by thieves seeking to steal his exotic car, which used a fingerprint reader instead of a conventional door lock.”
Notwithstanding similar unforeseen consequences Prime Minister’s faith in biometric remains unshaken. It seems that considerations other than truth have given birth to this faith. Is there a biological material in the human body that constitutes biometric data which is immortal, ageless and permanent? Besides working conditions, humidity, temperature and lighting conditions also impact the quality of biological material used for generating biometric data. Both Aadhaar and NPR are based on the unscientific and questionable assumption that there are parts of human body likes fingerprint, iris, voice etc” that does not age, wither and decay with the passage of time.
Those who support Aadhaar and NPR seem to display unscientific temper by implication.
Unmindful of this all the political organisations and institutions of government who supported imposition of emergency are likely to support biometric identification project as it helps build a permanent emergency architecture which was conceived during the imposition of internal emergency.
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(Gopal Krishna is member of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL), which is campaigning against surveillance technologies since 2010)