In your interest.
Online Personal Finance Magazine
No beating about the bush.
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.
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)