Aadhaar, NPR, UN resolution and deafening silence of political parties –Part 25
Can Indians trust likes of P Chidambaram, Sam Pitroda, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Nandan Nilekani and C Chandramouli, who are collecting our biometric data just because they say that their heart bleeds for unreached poor? In addition, the silence of Congress, BJP and other political parties on Aadhaar-NPR issues is deafening
In an academic paper In Other Words: The Indian City and the Promise of Citizenship, Jankaji Nair from the Centre for Historical Studies at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) asks, “Can the mere refusal to be visibilised, by planning agency, law, census, and now in the pernicious plans for unique identity (UID), add up to social justice in the city?” The synonyms of the word ‘pernicious’ include malicious, wicked, evil and malevolent.
It is becoming abundantly clear that the market, rather than the state is attempting to define the identity of a citizen, amidst ‘mutinies’, ‘adjustments’ or surrender by them to avoid a ‘fugitive’ existence. The right to the republic, in particular, and right to have rights in general are increasingly getting determined by ulterior motives of global finance, which wants free trade in all sorts of data at any human cost and even at the cost of sovereignty.
Kamal Sadiq in his book Paper Citizens: How Illegal Immigrants Acquire Citizenship in Developing Countries published by Oxford University Press in June 2011 has argued that although citizenship is ‘expressed through documents’ but the process of creating the document (for Right to Identity) is not the consistent monopoly of the state. His reference to the phenomenon ‘documentary citizenship’ is quite relevant in the context of biometric documentation being bulldozed down the throats of Indians. While it is not crystal clear as to whether those citizens who obtained citizenship through registration and documentation can and should be allowed to have the right to deprive natural citizens of their rights as is being done by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.
Under the influence of cartels of ID cards if they are allowed to establish that it is documents that create citizens and not the states it will a deeper affront to the episteme of natural citizens from artificial citizens. The latter seem to remain foreigners in local communities. The rights of natural citizens go beyond proof of documentation.
At page 198 Kamal Sadiq writes, ‘The bounded nature of citizenship, where the nation-state was a container for all rights, has eroded because of its dependence on documents. Citizenship is no longer a secure political realm…documentary citizenship presents a serious problem for our understanding of the composition of states’.
Some artificial citizens whose rights are documents based are out to disinherit the natural citizens of their rights by initiatives like biometric identification. Such initiatives merit robust resistance from the natural citizens. Kamal Sadiq points out the ability of documentary citizens to partake in the political affairs of a country – vote, run for public office, while retaining their previous sense of nationality and belonging. He makes a case that documentary citizenship undermines state sovereignty.
In an article dated 18 January 2014, Nick Turse, the co-author of The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Spies, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyber Warfare, Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050 underlines that as of 2013 elite US forces are deployed in 134 countries around the globe. It is not about whether or not Government of US or its allies who are part of Five Eyes intelligence alliance or government of China is being hostile towards India and Indians. It is about whether as a nation are Indian political parties, battle ready in the event of such calamities. Aren’t centralised electronic and biometric databases of Indians, vulnerable assets?
Notably, The UN resolution was passed by the General Assembly on 18 December 2013, as ‘Right to Privacy in the Digital Age’. It was sponsored by more than 50 countries, including India, and approved unanimously by the 193 members. The resolution has requested Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to submit a report on the protection and promotion of the right to privacy in the context of domestic and extraterritorial surveillance and/or interception of digital communications and the collection of personal data, including on a mass scale, to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council at its 27th session and to the Assembly at its 69th session.
Ms Pillay recalled that Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights state that no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with one's privacy, family, home or correspondence, and that everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks. She said, “People need to be confident that their private communications are not being unduly scrutinised by the State.”
The ruling parties in India are violating these rights and, wittingly or unwittingly, opposition parties have become complicit in surveillance exercises in the name of delivery of welfare services for the poor.
The US resolution deals with the emerging question of cyberspace privacy. The UN General Assembly has established, for the first time, that human rights should prevail irrespective of the medium, and therefore the need for protection both offline and online.
But does electronic and biometric surveillance bother the political parties who are part of the ruling coalition led by Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and P Chidambaram? Does it perturb the opposition parties led by Lal Krishna Advani, Narendra Modi and Sushma Swaraj? Do the parties who seem to belong to the federal front of Nitish Kumar, Arvind Kejriwal, Navin Patnaik, Mamta Banerjee, Jayalalitha and Mulayam Singh Yadav concerned about the corrosion of sovereignty? Does it matter to the parties of the secular front which has been proposed by Prakash Karat?
The stance of these political leaders on biometric identification reveals their character as to whether they wish to be deemed legitimate opposition parties to fight for the political rights of citizens, or they wish to remain wedded to ruling coalition with mere token oppositionism.
Each of these parties seem to have failed in their political duty to announce whether they support or seek scrapping of biometric identification that violates the fundamental ’tenet of a democratic society’ and the ‘Right to Privacy in the Digital Age’.
After the UN resolution, US president Barack Obama has attempted to unsuccessfully defend the indefensible acts of surveillance on 17 January 2014. He claimed that National Security Agency (NSA) was created to give us insights into the Soviet bloc. He referred to “totalitarian states like East Germany offered a cautionary tale of what could happen when vast, unchecked surveillance turned citizens into informers, and persecuted people for what they said in the privacy of their own homes”, but by implication underlined that the in the post-Soviet bloc era, democratic countries are being turned into totalitarian states through indiscriminate profiling of citizens through US based companies or through the allies of US.
He admitted that “the government collection and storage of such bulk data also creates a potential for abuse” and “surveillance technology and our reliance on digital information is evolving much faster than our laws.” He observed, “There is a reason why BlackBerrys and iPhones are not allowed in the White House Situation Room.”
Obama underlined “the vulnerabilities to privacy that exist in a world where transactions are recorded, and emails and text and messages are stored, and even our movements can increasingly be tracked through the GPS on our phones.”
Almost echoing the farewell speech of the then US President, Dwight D Eisenhower delivered in January 1961, who had prophetically warned against the new coalition of companies, agencies, and lobbyists that dwarf the state, Obama reminded, “Corporations of all shapes and sizes track what you buy, store and analyze our data, and use it for commercial purposes; that’s how those targeted ads pop up on your computer and your smartphone periodically.” Eisenhower had urged citizens to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence… by the military-industrial complex”. (Read: No warrant, no problem: How the government can get your digital data )
Obama says, “Given the unique power of the state, it is not enough for leaders to say: Trust us, we won’t abuse the data we collect. For history has too many examples when that trust has been breached. Our system of government is built on the premise that our liberty cannot depend on the good intentions of those in power; it depends on the law to constrain those in power.”
Can Indians trust likes of P Chidambaram, Sam Pitroda, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Nandan Nilekani and C Chandramouli, who are collecting our data just because they say that their heart bleeds for the leakage in the system for the sake of the unreached poor? Chidambaram’s election to Parliament faces challenge in the court. Other big data players of his ilk have become a challenge for the legislature itself because they are cabinet ministers without any oath of secrecy, office or accountability.
Obama will have us believe that Government of US does “not collect intelligence to provide a competitive advantage to US companies or US commercial sectors.” This is not true at all because there is evidence to establish that the opposite of this claim is true. (Read: The surveillance reforms Obama supported before he was president )
Obama said, “I have also asked my counselor, John Podesta, to lead a comprehensive review of big data and privacy. And this group will consist of government officials who, along with the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, will reach out to privacy experts, technologists and business leaders, and look how the challenges inherent in big data are being confronted by both the public and private sectors; whether we can forge international norms on how to manage this data…”
Has the link between big data like Centralised Identity Data Repository (CIDR) of biometric Aadhaar number and National Population Register (NPR) numbers and violation of right to privacy been studied prior to their launch?
The silence of India’s political class in general and opposition parties in particular on the issue of UN resolution, surveillance regime of the victors of World War II and automatic identification in the digital age is deafening.
You may also want to read…
Why biometric identification of citizens must be resisted? Part I
Biometric identification is modern day enslavement -Part II
Biometric profiling, including DNA, is dehumanising -Part III
Marketing and advertising blitzkrieg of biometric techies and supporters -Part IV
History of technologies reveals it is their owners who are true beneficiaries -Part V
UID's promise of service delivery to poor hides IT, biometrics industry profits –Part VI
Technologies and technology companies are beyond regulation? -Part VII
Surveillance through biometrics-based Aadhaar –Part VIII
Narendra Modi biometrically profiled. What about Congress leaders?-Part IX
Aadhaar: Why opposition ruled states are playing partner for biometric UID? -Part X
Is Nandan Nilekani acting as an agent of non-state actors? –Part XI
Aadhaar and UPA govt's obsession for private sector benefits–Part XII
CIA-funded MongoDB partners with UIDAI to handle Aadhaar data –Part XIII
Are Indians being used as guinea pigs of biometric technology companies? -Part XIV
Aadhaar: Is the biometric data of human body immortal and ageless? Part XV
Aadhaar: The propaganda of transnational vested interests –Part XVI
Aadhaar: Pakistan handed over, India giving database on a platter– Part XVII
Engineered row in US-India relations, an attention diversion tactics of big brothers?—Part XVIII
Aadhaar: UIDAI and the ‘fifth column’ of Napoleon—Part XIX
Aadhaar: Turning citizens into subjects through social control technology companies –PartXX
Why Kejriwal govt in Delhi should abandon biometric Aadhaar?—Part XXI
Aadhaar for LPG: Oil companies, Ministry of Petroleum & UIDAI disobeying Supreme Court order–Part XXII
Why Vasundhara Raje should immediately withdraw circulars making Aadhaar mandatory -Part XXIII
How Congress has been proven wrong on biometric Aadhaar and NPR -Part XXIV
(Gopal Krishna is member of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL), which is campaigning against surveillance technologies since 2010)