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No beating about the bush.
Manifestoes of political parties must make their stand clear on scrapping of Aadhaar and its biometric identification ahead of elections while state governments should withdraw from their MoUs with UIDAI following decision by the apex court
Supreme Court has exposed the ulterior motives behind the ‘voluntary’ 12-digit biometric Aadhaar/ unique identification (UID) number for creating a Central Identities Data Registry (CIDR) of ‘usual residents’ of India and for ‘doing government process re-engineering’ through its order on 23rd September. The questionable intentions of Planning Commission’s Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) face yet another legal and constitutional scrutiny. UIDAI has failed in the earlier examinations. The Indian National Congress (INC) and the opposition parties appear complicit in the unconstitutional, illegal and illegitimate exercise because they failed to demand its scrapping and, instead, maintained silence when in breach of trust. Congress-ruled states and centre attempted to make it mandatory.
It may be recollected that Punjab and Haryana High Court bench headed by Chief Justice AK Sikri passed an order on 2 March 2013, after hearing a matter challenging a circular making Aadhaar mandatory. The moment Court raised questions of laws the circular was withdrawn by the Central government. The decision underlined that UIDAI is legally assailable and indefensible.
UIDAI and related projects treats every Indian as a subject of surveillance, unlike UK which abandoned a similar project (that used to be cited by Wipro Ltd in promotion of UID) because it is ‘untested, unreliable and unsafe technology’ and the ‘possible risk to the safety and security of citizens’.
It was recorded by Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) on Finance that submitted a report to both the Houses of Parliament on, 13 December 2011, trashing the biometric identification project and the post facto legislation to legalise UIDAI and its acts of omission and commission since 28 January 2009 till the passage of the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010.
Notably, UK Home Secretary explained that they were abandoning the project because it would otherwise be 'intrusive bullying' by the State, and that the government intended to be the 'servant' of the people, and not their 'master'.
The silence of Wipro, which had prepared the ‘Strategic Vision on the UIDAI Project’ document and submitted to the processes committee of the Planning Commission set up in July 2006, is deafening. This document too seems to be missing from public domain.
The Supreme Court order vindicates the Punjab and Haryana High Court order, PSC report and the Statement of Concern, dated 28 September 2010, issued by 17 eminent citizens including Justice VR Krishna Iyer, Prof Romila Thapar, SR Sankaran, Justice AP Shah, KG Kannabiran, Bezwada Wilson, Aruna Roy and Prof Upendra Baxi seeking halting of the project. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Subordinate Legislation is also received compliants on “Subordinate Legislation for Biometric Identity Card NRIC and Aadhaar/UID is illegal and illegitimate and Constitutional, Legal, Historical & Technological Reasons Against UID/Aadhaar Scheme on 18.3.2013".
State governments, especially those ruled by non-Congress parties are so deaf that they do not seem to hear even when the verdict shouts, so to speak. In the aftermath of Supreme Court’s order, the State governments must withdraw from the memorandum of understanding (MoU) they signed with the UIDAI.
All the non-Congress ruled states are opposed to National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) citing erosion of the State’s autonomy but quite strangely so far they have failed to see the link between CIDR, National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID), National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) and Sam Pitroda’s Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations (PIII) which are part of the same political culture that leaves intelligence agencies beyond the ambit of legislative scrutiny.
The entire issue is quite grave because the genocidal idea of biometric identification is linked with the holocaust witnessed in Germany. Such identification exercises have rightly been abandoned in UK, Australia, China, US and France. Notably, Nandan Nilekani has admitted, "To answer the question about what is the biggest risk" of a centralised database of biometric identification, he said, "in some sense, you run the risk of creating a single point of failure also" during his talk at the World Bank in Washington on 24 April 2013. No one knows who will be held legally liable for such failures. Who is being held accountable for leakage of data from UIDAI at present?
Notably, World Bank’s president, who introduced Nilekani at the lecture, expressed his patronage for the project. It is not surprising given the fact that essentially it is part of its e-Transform Initiative launched in April 2010 for 14 developing countries in partnership with transnational companies like L1, IBM and governments of France and South Korea.
It is the inevitability failure to protect data led to the extermination of a large human population in Germany in the 1940s. In the case of CIDR and CIDR-linked initiatives, it is not the failure but the convergence of data, tracking, profiling, tagging and the violation of norms of privacy that is embedded in its design. Nilekani explained at his lecture at World Bank, "First of all, this is not an ID card project. There is no card. There is a number. It's a virtual number on the cloud, and we don't give a physical card. We do send you a physical letter with your number, which you keep in your pocket, but the real value of this is the number on the cloud".
The biometric number is an identifier, which is used to "authenticate" and verify whether or not the person is what the person claims to be. The ridiculous thing about the Congress, in general, and supporters of the project in particular is that they do not even know what Aadhaar is! On 31 January 2013, it came to light that the members of Union Cabinet were unaware whether it is a number or a card. Instead of facing the issue upfront, a Group of Ministers (GoM) was set up to resolve it but no one knows whether it has been resolved.
It also reflects how undemocratic Congress is. The decision to impose biometric Aadhaar number was autocratically and unilaterally decided without taking consent from even its own party members who are then expected to defend this indefensible project. Nilekani has misguided the party in this regard.
A tainted coalition of bankers, biometric technology companies and a section of mainstream media created an illusion among the uninformed citizenry, for five years, that an illegitimate and illegal biometric identifier will be able to do what the pre-existing 15 identity proofs could not do.
The advocates and supporters of biometric identification, who are part of the negative coalition that unconditionally and blindly supports linking of fish baits for trapping the poor in the biometric database, are game for turning the all the Indians into guinea pigs for an experiment that has resulted in incineration of human beings in the past.
The fact of this experimentation is revealed from what Nilekani said in his speech at the Centre for Global Development, Washington. He said, “Our view was that there was bound to be opposition. That is a given…we said in any case there is going to be a coalition of opponents. So is there a way to create a positive coalition of people who have a stake in its success? So, one of the big things here is that there is a huge coalition of, you know, organisations, governments, banks, companies, others who have a stake now in its future. So, create a positive coalition that has the power to overpower or deal with anyone who opposes it.”
Positive coalition of progressive political parties, peoples’ movements and informed citizens must expose the collaborators of undemocratic biometric technology companies, bankers and NGOs, and give a befitting reply. They lost in UK, Australia, China, France and USA; they will lose in India too.
Nilekani’s method of reasoning is a case study. On 23 April 2013, he said, "We came to the conclusion that if we take sufficient data, biometric data of an individual, then that person's biometric will be unique across a billion people. Now we have to find that out. We haven't done it yet. So we'll discover it as we go along". At his lecture at World Bank on 24 April 2013, he said, “nobody has done this before, so we are going to find out soon whether it will work or not.” No one can tell as to what his premise is, what the inference is, or how the inference is deduced.
Notably, the Strategy Overview document of the UIDAI said that "enrolment will not be mandated" but added, "This will not, however, preclude governments or registrars from mandating enrolment." It must be noted that Nilekani headed several committees whose recommendations made Aadhaar mandatory.
Tricked by the marketing blitzkrieg, some political parties are wary of taking a position that would appear to be against anti-poor. They may not realise that what may be the real beneficiary of this biometric identification is UIDAI, which wants to meet its target of enrolling 60 crore Indians by 2014.
Amidst leakage of files from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and leakage of public money from scam after scams in the Congress-led government, the claim of attempting to reduce leakage in the system by using questionable plumbers like Nilekani does not inspire even an iota of confidence. Nilekani admitted at his lecture the Centre for Global Development in Washington in April 2013 that UIDAI has "created huge business opportunity for fingerprint scanners, iris readers."
The purchase of these machines is also a leakage that merits probe. Leakages can be plugged by rigorous implementation of Right to Information (RTI) Act and decentralisation of decision making, instead of adopting a centralisation approach and technological quick fixes.
The entire Indian and international media were taken for a ride regarding the so called turf-war between the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and UIDAI. The media was made to understand that it was resolved by dividing the Indian population in two parts of 61 crore and 60 crore for coverage under National Population Register (NPR) which also generates Aadhaar number and UID. The fact is the terms of reference of the UIDAI mandated it "take necessary steps to ensure collation of National Population Register (NPR) with UID (as per approved strategy)", to "identify new partner/user agencies", to "issue necessary instructions to agencies that undertake creation of databases… (to) enable collation and correlation with UID and its partner databases" and UIDAI “shall own and operate the database". The executive notification dated 28 January 2009 that set up UIDAI mentions this. The entire episode appears to have been staged.
Nilekani has recommended Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) for the "unique identification" of vehicles. If the real motive is not surveillance then how that is UIDAI chairman wears several hats, like an intelligence person to undertake unauthorised and illegitimate tracking?
On 29 June 2013, Nilekani reportedly revealed that they were in preliminary discussions with embassies to use the UID number to “simplify visa application procedures”. Isn’t passport a sovereign document? Notably, Nilekani refers to Aadhaar as akin to internal passport. For passport, there is Passport Act, under what Act is this ‘internal passport’ being promoted?
The Supreme Court order must be looked at in the light of what of government of India’s approach paper on privacy states. The paper says, “Data privacy and the need to protect personal information is almost never a concern when data is stored in a decentralised manner. Data that is maintained in silos is largely useless outside that silo and consequently has a low likelihood of causing any damage. However, all this is likely to change with the implementation of the UID Project. One of the inevitable consequences of the UID Project will be that the UID Number will unify multiple databases. As more and more agencies of the government sign on to the UID Project, the UID number will become the common thread that links all those databases together. Over time, private enterprises could also adopt the UID Number as an identifier for the purposes of the delivery of their services or even for enrolment as a customer. Once this happens, the separation of data that currently exists between multiple databases will vanish.” On this ground alone, the UIDAI project should be abandoned as it concerns not only the present generation but future generations as well.
It is noteworthy that the Attorney General of India had submitted to the Parliamentary Committee that the UIDAI will function only till the passage of the UID Bill. The Bill was not passed. Now the UIDAI should cease to exist because it is legally invalid. How can a notification of Planning Commission be deemed legally valid when even the ordinance issued by the President of India become invalid if the Bill is not passed within six months.
Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL) has been pursuing a campaign against the biometric based Unique Identification (UID) or Aadhaar Number, National Population Register (NPR), National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID), National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and Direct Cash Transfer since 2010. It had appeared before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance that trashed the UID Bill, on 13 December 2011, in its report to the Parliament. It was an applicant before the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which in an order on 27 December 2012 addressed to Secretary, Union Ministry of Home Affairs communicated human rights concerns regarding UID and RFID submitted to it by CFCL. CFCL is an applicant before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Subordinate Legislation. CFCL is also an applicant before the Press Council of India on the complicity of some media organizations in the matter of enrolment for legally questionable biometric identification.
(Gopal Krishna is member of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL) and can be contacted at [email protected])
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After threatening citizens with exclusion from services and benefits if they have not enrolled for Aadhaar and getting slapped by the Supreme Court, the UPA government now plans to introduce NID Bill to give legal status to the numbering scheme
After getting a rebuttal from the Supreme Court, the union government said it will push for passage of a long-pending Bill that would provide legal status to the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) during the upcoming winter session of the Parliament.
Rajiv Shukla, minister of state for parliamentary affairs and planning, told agencies that the government will bring the National Identification Authority of India Bill 2010 in Parliament during the forthcoming winter session for discussion and passage.
The working of the UIDAI has come under scrutiny of the Supreme Court, which in an interim order on Monday, said that Aadhaar can be issued only to Indian citizens and it cannot be made mandatory for availing of benefits of the government’s subsidy schemes. While trashing the Centre's claim of Rs50,000 crore expenses on the UIDAI project, a Bench of Justices BS Chauhan and SA Bobde said that Aadhaar number is not necessary for important services.
The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and the UIDAI have been complicit in the coercion and bullying that is now part of the UID enrolment process, and its silent acquiescence while people are threatened with exclusion from services and benefits if they have not enrolled.
The UIDAI, which issues 12—digit Aadhaar numbers to residents, currently operates through an executive order.
The Bill to provide the authority legal backing was approved by the union Cabinet in September 2010 and introduced in the Rajya Sabha in December that year. It was sent for scrutiny to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance headed by former finance minister and BJP leader Yashwant Sinha.
“Now the Bill has been sent back to the Planning Commission by the Standing Committee with some amendments. We will soon take it to the Cabinet and try to push the draft for passage in the winter session,” Shukla said.
The minister said the UIDAI has not made enrolment for Aadhaar number mandatory for residents and it was for the central departments, ministries and state governments to decide how to verify the identity of beneficiaries.
“Aadhaar establishes the identity of a person and not the nationality. It also serves as proof of residence. Moreover, it is a voluntary facility and not mandatory,” he said.
This also raises question on the forceful implementation of Aadhaar by several government ministries, like the ministry of petroleum and natural gas, which is trying to make it mandatory for customers to provide the UID for subsidy on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cylinder. While minister for petroleum Veerappa Moily has been saying that all consumers of LPG will have to submit their Aadhaar numbers to receive subsidy, the union government itself has admitted that it is not mandatory.
Replying to an un-starred question on 8 May 2013, Shukla, had said, "Aadhaar card is not mandatory to avail subsidized facilities being offered by the Government like LPG cylinders, admission in private aided schools, opening a savings account etc."
According to the independent MP, brute force methods involving significant additional spending and increase in costs to consumers would not help financial inclusion and the government must relook at the RBI proposal on Aadhaar authenticated biometric ATMs
Rajeev Chandrasekhar, an independent member of the Rajya Sabha, who is also a member of the Standing Committee on Finance, has requested Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to relook at the Reserve Bank of India (RBI)'s proposal on Aadhaar authenticated biometric automated teller machines (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 (point of sale) 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). According to the news report, banks are expected to add around 200,000 POS machines and around 20,000 ATMs next year.
While Aadhaar-based authentication is touted as the panacea for financial inclusion of illiterate masses, it has not worked. Between 2004 and 2007, several banks launched biometric ATMs, with much fanfare, around the country. They did not work and had to be quietly discarded. Before embarking on another financial misadventure, the government needs to prove that there is better technology, which will work, especially since RBI’s internal committees have expressed several misgivings about the technology.
Here is the letter sent by the MP...