Biometric identification is modern day enslavement -Part 2

The Database State is an exercise in outsourcing of government through technologies that govern individuals to admittedly undemocratic entities wherein biometric identification is being made a pre-condition for citizens to have any rights

Database State, a report from the UK revealed how the old maxim, 'If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear' has been given a very public burial. The report states, ”In October 2007, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs lost two discs containing a copy of the entire child benefit database. Suddenly issues of privacy and data security were on the front page of most newspapers and leading the TV news bulletins. The millions of people affected by this data loss, who may have thought they had nothing to hide, were shown that they do have much to fear from the failures of the database state.” Likewise, creating database containing biometrics is a giant leap towards authoritarian control by data mining companies. It turns citizens into subjects and suspected criminals, who can be kept under leash by control over sensitive data. Through convergence each data can be transformed into sensitive data.


If consent for it is granted by uninformed citizens then citizens become a number on a computer of a state actor or non–state actor engaged in ‘welfare’ services. This would automatically create a file on each citizen. In an effort to appear harmless, the claims are that the file would contain very little information like but as has now come to light it is being linked to ‘preventing terrorism’, ‘stopping crime’ or ‘protecting children’ etc. This in turn creates logic for profiling and tracking citizens based on their financial transactions, mobility, religion, caste, region, orientations, health records and driving record.

Right to privacy and freedom belong to citizens by right. It is not granted by government. A government is the servant of the citizens, not its master. Governments are supposed to seek the permission to limit these rights in certain circumstances. It signals a break-down of a democratic government if it chooses to engage in indiscriminate surveillance of citizens or to impose a system of compulsory identification or to open a file on each citizen or to criminalise citizens who refuse to comply as is proposed to be done by the Indian National Congress (Congress) led government with the connivance of the opposition parties.

When political candidates of Congress party and its allies stood up for elections and sought votes did they seek the mandate to put the voters under surveillance?  

The 'database state' is the tendency of the state and non-state actors to use computers and biometrics to manage society by putting people under watch by mouthing benevolent schemes and excuses.

Databasing people is akin to modern day enslavement by those who are wedded to the faith in property-based democracy. Slavery by whatever name is wrong on principle.

Non-state actors have prevailed on state agencies to adopt "Transformational Government" initiative. It might sound good unless one comprehends that what is being transformed is not government but it is power over citizens under the dictates of non-state actors.

This was attempted by UK’s Tony Blair government, which misled the world and its own citizens about Iraq having nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programme although it knew that it was not true. Not surprisingly, the British citizens could see through the fraudulent misrepresentation and voted for the coalition of David Cameron-Nick Clegg. UK's Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said, “This government will end the culture of spying on its citizens. It is outrageous that decent, law-abiding people are regularly treated as if they have something to hide. It has to stop. So there will be no ID card scheme. No national identity register, a halt to second generation biometric passports” in the British House of Commons.

Clegg added, “We won't hold your internet and email records when there is just no reason to do so. Britain must not be a country where our children grow up so used to their liberty being infringed that they accept it without question. Schools will not take children's fingerprints without even asking their parent's consent. This will be a government that is proud when British citizens stand up against illegitimate advances of the state.”

But the Sonia Gandhi-led coalition government in India chooses to follow the discredited path of Tony Blair and his UK's Identity Cards Act, 2006. Both, Blair and UKID Act, have been abandoned. 

Given the fact that ‘radical restructuring of the security architecture at the national level’ is underway, when Nandan Nilekani, the chairman of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) was asked more than two years back as to how tracking of citizens can get facilitated once different databases like National Population Register (NPR), National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID), National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System (CCTNS), Multi-Agency Centre (MAC), central monitoring system (CMS) , Socio Economic and Caste Census (SECC), National Investigation Agency (NIA), national cyber coordination centre (NCCC), national critical information infrastructure protection centre (NCIIPC), telecom security directorate, Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations and UID are converged, you can actually track all the information. He responded saying, “I don't want to talk about that.” His silence is deafening. But intelligence agencies be it UIDAI or any or any of it incarnations are known for adopting such stances.

Under NATGRID, 21 sets of databases will be networked to achieve quick, seamless and secure access to desired information for intelligence/enforcement agencies, it is quite clear that the biometric databases under creation are meant for such agencies in India and elsewhere. The Rules made under the Information Technology Act, 2000 in April 2011 provide access to any data held by any "body corporate" in India. This does not apply to body corporate of foreign origin.

In such a backdrop, there is a compelling logic for VS Sampath, the Chief Election Commissioner, to rescind the dangerous proposal of Dr SY Quraishi, his predecessor, to Union Ministry of Home Affairs asking it “to merge the Election ID cards with UID”. Such an exercise would mean rewriting and engineering the electoral ecosystem with the unconstitutional and illegal use of biometric technology in a context where electoral finance has become source of corruption and black money in the country. This would lead to linking of biometric UID/Aadhaar, election ID and electronic voting machines (EVMs), which are not as innocent and as politically neutral as it has been made out to be. It is noteworthy that all EVMs have a UID number as well. This will amount to electoral surveillance.

Surveillance is a “shameful act” of supervising and imposing discipline on a subject through a hierarchy system of policing. Michel Foucault, the author of 'Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison' examined the systems of social power through the lens of the 18th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham, the originator of the now iconic Panopticon. This Panopticon was/is a design for a prison in which the inmate's cells are arranged in a circular fashion around a central guard tower. The architectural configuration allows for a single guard's gaze to view all inmates, but prevents those inmates from knowing exactly when they are being watched.

It was aptly observed, “The major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power.” This design is a “generalised model of functioning and a way of defining power relations in terms of the everyday lives of men.”

In initiatives like biometric identification the subject, the citizen is seen but he/she does not see. He/she is the object of information, but never a subject in communication. Foucault's Panoptic model is quite valid for biometric database because these databases are meant to ensure real time tracking and profiling of citizens and turns them into subjects and in a slave like situation. Tumultuous colonial history of the technologies associated with surveillance reveal that the origins of surveillance happened during free trade of slaves.

Biometric identification treats Indian citizens worse than slaves. It is an act of identification prior to any act of omission and commission.  It is a case of a deepening of everyday surveillance. It is similar to what was done under the Britain's Habitual Criminals Act of 1869 required police to keep an “Alphabetical Registry” and cross-referenced “Distinctive Marks Registry. The first held names and the latter descriptions of scars, tattoos, birthmarks, balding, pockmarks, and other distinguishing features. This registry of marks was systematically disaggregated into nine general categories pertaining to regions of the body. Therefore there were files for the head and face; throat and neck; chest; belly and groin; back and loins; arms; hands and fingers; thighs and legs; feet and ankles.

The proposed convergence of biometric information with financial and personal data such as residence, employment, and medical history heralds the beginning of the demolition of one of the most important firewalls in the structure of privacy. Such convergence of databases poses a threat to minorities and political opponents as they can be targeted in a situation where government is led by any Nazi party like political formations.

Late Roger Needham, a British computer scientist aptly said, “If you think IT is the solution to your problem, then you don’t understand IT, and you don’t understand your problem either.” It sounds like he was addressing this observation to gullible citizens, political class and the likes of Capt Raghu Raman, the CEO of NATGRID Grid, Sam Pitroda, the head of Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations, Nilekani and C Chandramouli, the Registrar General of India for National Population Register & Census Commissioner.

Safeguarding of citizens' privacy and their civil liberties in the face of an unprecedented onslaught from collection of biometric data and other related surveillance measures that are being bulldozed by unregulated and ungovernable technology companies by overawing the Governments through its marketing blitzkrieg is emerging as fight between the David and the Goliath. Database State cannot be the aim of any democratically healthy government. It is an exercise in outsourcing of government through technologies that govern individuals to admittedly undemocratic entities wherein biometric identification is being made a pre-condition for citizens to have any rights.

In effect, right to have rights is all set to be made dependent on being biometrically profiled and not on constitutional guarantees and Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is a regressive step that takes citizens to pre-Magna Carta days (1215 AD) or even earlier to the days prior to the declaration of Cyrus, the Persian King (539 BC) that willed freedom for slaves. Should it not be resisted?  

You may also want to read…

Why biometric identification of citizens must be resisted? Part I


(Gopal Krishna is member of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL), which is campaigning against surveillance technologies since 2010)

Ravi S
1 decade ago
Privacy or subversion?
Some privacy champions raise the privacy issue which is irrelevant in a poor country like India where about 750 million people starve for 2-square meal, where illiteracy is high, where religion & caste-based-bias continues, rampant corruption & exploitation exists. They forget that India has a law called Information Technology Act 2000. It has been in existence since year 2000 that protects Aadhaar information along with other laws.

Aadhaar registration collects biometric data and bare minimum information (proof of identity, age, and residence) through enrollment form. Peruse the Enrollment-Form with data fields on page-1 and instructions on page-2. No profiling information is collected, like religion, caste, income, property-holding, education etc.

Privacy issues and risks equally apply to information and data (with or without biometrics) provided by people to census office, tax office, passport office, driving license, vehicle registration, land and building registration,
registration of birth, marriage and death, employers (current, past and prospective), banks, credit card companies, insurance companies, telephone service provider, television service provider, internet service provider, internet services (email, video, social media, search engine, chat, voice, file-storage and transfer etc.), registration at school/college, marriage bureaus, post-office and courier services, hospital registration and medical records, visa of US and UK etc.

In India, government departments, public and private sectors have been using biometrics (fingerprints and face photo) for years, decades and centuries in some or all offices. Examples of fingerprints usage are: Land and building registration (since British rule), Defense departments (fingerprints as service record of civilian as well as service
personnel since British rule till now, also for access and attendance now), Planning Commission of India (for access and attendance), census office (for compulsory NPR), Passport, RTO (for driving license), insurance companies, IT, BPO and healthcare companies (for access and attendance), visa of US and UK etc. Aadhaar does not violate any privacy or fundamental right.

India has seen anti-modernization protests in the past too. Some people caused bandh & hartals in protest against modernization and computerization of Banking & Rail-ticket 25 years ago. Today people are very happy to enjoy bank ATM and to book rail-ticket from anywhere. Then they had argued that paper records were better than computers. Now those protesters never want to reveal that they ever protested against computerization.
Ironically, there is no opposition to collection of biometric data at other points of services. People stand in long queues to imprint biometrics for obtaining Indian passport, US, UK visa. The attendance & access of most of the IT & ITeS companies are biometric based. The attendance & access of the Planning Commission of India is also biometric based. People have been imprinting all ten-fingers plus details of eyes and other identification marks on body on the first day of joining employment in Defense department of India (civilian as well as service personnel) since British rule of India. Yet one never opposed all that.
The use of electronic devices provides no privacy; such as mobile phone, internet (particularly social network media), email, television, bank card, traffic camera. At any moment the government and the service provider knows of geographical location of people, of conversation on phone, with whom, what we are reading, writing or watching on internet, and what TV channel we are watching, when and for how long. All this is done under electronic surveillance thru device identifiers like IMEI, IP address, GPS etc.

Embassies have switched over to mechanical type-writers in 2013 after CIA worker Snowden’s disclosures. Government also knows our movements thru the traffic cameras on roads, our vehicle number plate, our face etc.
Despite this knowledge, the privacy champions do not want to stop using mobile phones, internet, TV etc. Their sole objective is subversion of Aadhaar, nothing else, and they will not succeed because Aadhaar has already crossed the critical-mass on 15-Aug-2013 by enrolling about 450 million people, assigning 400 million Numbers and linking 30 million bank accounts for Direct Benefit Transfer across many states. And as of November-2013, 500 million Aadhaar have been assigned.
Ravi S
1 decade ago
Who is afraid of Aadhaar & Why?
As the public databases are getting inter-linked one by one thru Aadhaar Number in various States (particularly Delhi, Maharashtra, Andhra), we see the following effects:
1. Middlemen & Officials are finding difficult to continue with corruption in public welfare pensions, scholarships, public health, NREGA, subsidy on PDS Ration, Kerosene, LPG etc.
2. Ineligible, duplicate and fictitious beneficiaries are getting eliminated from public welfare pensions, scholarships, public health, NREGA, subsidy on PDS Ration, Kerosene, LPG etc.
3. Corrupts will find difficult to buy & sell Benami land & building (i.e.under fictitious name).
4. Corrupts will find difficult to open & operate Benami companies for money-laundering.
5. Corrupts will find difficult to open & operate Benami bank accounts for keeping black-money.
6. Tax-evaders will find difficult to evade taxes.
7. Impersonation & proxy will be difficult to commit.
8. Criminals & Terrorists will get detected and tracked thru inter-linked databases of mobile phone, bank account, travel documents etc.
9. Illegal Immigrants will get detected and tracked thru inter-linked databases of mobile phone, bank account, travel documents etc. They will have no place to hide on Indian soil.
10. It will get difficult for Criminals to hide as records are getting accessible to Police from any State of India.
11. It will get difficult to obtain another new Driving License and Arms License from another State once it got impounded.
12. Fraudsters will not be able to steal Provident Fund money.
13. Onion Hoarders will get tracked easily.
14. Dummy candidates will not be able to write competitive exams for others for the sake of money.
15. Ineligible people will not be able to misuse the certificates of income, domicile, education degrees and caste to deprive the eligible people.
Deepak Gupta
1 decade ago
The database state already exists for the common man doing a permanent job and paying income tax. Most transactions require some form of identification.

Now the identification is being extended to all residents. Doing it with a PAN and making it mandatory everywhere and using a biometric ID has one major difference - properly designed biometric ID is harder to avoid and fudge for most people.

In case of any universal ID, we need basic protection against use of data for purposes other than those specified in law.

In case of biometrics, we need an additional safeguard - that its use as a password of any kind must be optional and the option supported by additional methods of authentication in addition to biometrics.

In other words, even if the bank requires me to use fingerprints to operate an ATM, I MUST retain the right to also make mandatory for my account an additional password/secure token of some kind.

Why do I say so?
Passwords or any form of secure token are supposed to be private (Only I know mine) and dynamic (I can change it at will, if you somehow copy mine)

Biometrics are neither - they are not private as your prints can be easily picked up by someone following you around. Even more importantly, they cannot be changed once copied by someone. So, they can be used for identifying people, but are "complete nonsense" if used as only method of authenticating a transaction.
1 decade ago
Dear MDT / Mr Gopalkrishna,

Privacy is among the least understood concept in public. Most of the people simply abide to the "I have nothing to hide" argument and willingly submit themselves. I personally feel that what makes matters worse is impedance mismatch between the privacy advocates and the readers / audience. Whatever the privacy advocates say, is either too technical that it doesn't help the audience or it comes back to the same argument "I don't have anything to hide". For example

It would be better if you could do a writeup on privacy and why it is important and one which is for the layman.
1 decade ago
Despite your praise of UK, they have implemented a spy network over email and social networking, on the lines of the US system exposed by Snowdon. We have to get used to surviellance in the electronic age. It is a choice between corrupt and leaky systems which we have experienced so far and against which there is much popular grouse and agitation, and the efficient systems of UID with updated databases which can be interlinked to plug leakages, ensure rightful services/subsidies and ensure compliance to regulatory filings such as of tax returns. The later will see the country benefit and grow quickly, and also see the improvement of internal security. At a later stage, once things are better streamlined and computerised, the inter-linkage and privacy issues can be given greater attention and addressed.
Sanjeev B
Replied to Deepak comment 1 decade ago
Deepak, it doesn't work that way.

Privacy is like virginity, once you lose it, you lose it. Ask any film actor whether they have any privacy.

The State has my Permanent Account Number. If I want state entitlements, I should register to pay my taxes (even if I don't need to pay anything). Once this is established, the Permanent Account can be used for debit as well as credit transactions. I think we forget that PAN stands for Permanent Account Number. If it's an Account, let's use it as one. So this will stop dishonest people from extra entitlements. If you want entitlements, show your track record on the payment side too.

To ensure one PAN per citizen, you need to keep track of collections and account for it.

You don't need the biometrics and DNA of your citizens, you just need a one-individual-one-account system.
Replied to Sanjeev B comment 1 decade ago
Wrong. PAN has proved insufficient with people having multiple PAN nos. in different spellings of name or different names. Biometrics is a must for unique identification to a single person.
Mumbai One
Replied to Deepak comment 1 decade ago
First you need to understand what is leakage in a system like PDS. All AC room czars think it has to do with ID system need their brain mapped. The leakages are happening not due to lack of an ID, but because of greed and corruption. And believe me, nothing can stop the corruption, bribe at grass root levels.
Secondly, here is something from the minister of consumer affairs, food and public distribution, Prof KV Thomas. He said, "door-step delivery of foodgrains is very crucial and it needs to be ensured by State Governments as provided in the Act. States should create infrastructure for doorstep delivery to prevent leakage and diversion of foodgrains."
He also stressed the need for creation of scientific storage capacity and intermediate storage facilities at various levels.
Dont you think this speaks a lot than your arguments about UID helping plug leakages?
Replied to Mumbai One comment 1 decade ago
Wrong. It is clearly seen in the existing system that people are able to make multiple LPG connections, multiple ration cards, multiple voter cards, etc. especially if they have residences in two states. Often, the combination or spelling of names is different. This makes it very difficult to trace duplicates across the nation as there could be even hundreds of people with the same name combination so there is no way of knowing whether they are the same person or different people. UID makes identification of such people a very simple matter as a person will be able to register only once with his biometrics and any duplicate registration in the same name or differently spelt name will immediately show up from his biometrics. Similarly, a person who is a high earner and income tax earner, will not be able to claim a benefit under a scheme for BPL as his tax details can be cross-verified through a single UID, which would not be possible in the present system where linking the income tax details with the BPL scheme details would not occur as they will be in two separate databases with no common reference.
Replied to Deepak comment 1 decade ago
If you claim biometrics to be foolproof then how do you justify an Aadhar card for coriander (dhaniya patti) and mobile phone? Aadhar cards have been created with these name and photographs also.
Free Helpline
Legal Credit