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No beating about the bush.
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?
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(Gopal Krishna is member of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL), which is campaigning against surveillance technologies since 2010)
PS Deodhar is former advisor to Rajiv Gandhi on electronics, but even his article in 2009, highlighting the problems with Aadhaar, was ignored in a hurry to push through Nandan Nilekani's ambitious and expensive UID scheme
On 1 July 2009, in a Delhi seminar on the subject of national identification (NID) card, I opposed the proposal to get into national ID cards for every citizen in the country. I fully endorsed the need to create “Citizen Data Base” by allocating a unique national identity number (NIN) to every citizen and resident of India as was suggested by our former President, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, sometime ago in context of voter’s list. Let me also first establish my credentials by adding that I am a technologist who had brought smart card technology to India 23 years ago and I have followed ID card technology since, having personally developed India’s own smart card pay phone as well as applications for smart cards in financial and health sectors. Smart Card Forum of India in 2002 named me as “Smart Card Pioneer in India.” Yet I opposed this move. Here are some of my relevant comments:
Socio-political realities and limitations
NID card becoming an ‘internal passport’
An ID card, by definition, is a form of internal passport. Virtually all ID cards worldwide develop a broader usage over time, than was originally envisioned for them. This development of new and unintended purposes is becoming known as function creep. Without care, the card becomes an icon. Its use is enforced through mindless regulation or policy, disregarding other means of identification, and in the process causing significant problems for those who are without the card. The card becomes more important than the individual.
Loss or lack of NID card
Virtually, all countries with ID cards report that their loss or damage causes immense problems. Up to 5% of cards are lost, stolen or damaged each year, and the result can be denial of service benefits, and - in the broadest sense - loss of identity. Imagine illiterate Indians in city slums, beggars on the street, farmers in the field, adivasis, illiterate women and shining India NID Smart Card.
Replacement of NID
The replacement of a high security, high integrity card involves significant administrative involvement. Documents must be presented in person to an official. Cards must be processed centrally. This process can take some weeks. However, a low value card can be replaced in a lesser time, but its loss poses security threats because of the risk of fraud and misuse.
People who lose a wallet anywhere or their passport in foreign county will quickly understand the misfortune and inconvenience that can result. A single ID card when lost or stolen can have precisely the same impact in a person’s life
Countries that have opposed National ID cards and their reasons
US: In the United States, successive administrations have refused to propose an ID card for every citizen. Extension of the Social Security Number (SSN) to the status of an ID card has been consistently rejected since 1971 by the Social Security Administration task force as well as by the Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Bush Administrations. In US, issues of individual autonomy and national sovereignty have dominated the Identity card issue, despite a high level of anxiety over fraud, tax evasion and illegal immigrants.
Australia: In 1986 Australian Government planned to introduce NID, after a fierce resistance from citizen that formed the biggest civil campaign, the government abandoned the plan in 1987.
New Zealand, UK And Philipines: All dropped their plans for the reasons of cost and complexity as well as the popular resistance.
France: France has ID cards but it was stalled for many years because of public and political opposition. Public debate intensified in 1980, with the judiciary expressing concern that an ID card had the potential of limiting the right of free movement. Francois Mitterrand expressed the fear that the creation of computerized identity cards contains a real danger for the liberty of individuals. The plan was re-introduced under a later conservative government.
Canada, Ireland, Nordic Countries and Sweden: All these countries too do not want national ID for one or other of the above reasons.
TN Seshan’s failed voter ID initiative
This task was indeed Herculean and our Election Commission has a first-hand experience of it. TN Seshan and many others, who followed him, know it well from their experience with the administrative disaster related to Voter’s ID card with a photo. Experience of voters in the recently concluded election will tell us of the reforms we need in this basic task. Like our former President observes, we need at first a reliable Voter’s Digital List and only then we can hope to have Voter’s ID. A Unique National Identity Number for every individual and making it accessible on a public data base is all that we need to derive the desired objective.
Effectiveness of NID Card
Containing terrorism: Of the 25 countries most affected by acts of terrorism 80% have national ID cards. One-third of those include a biometric element. In addition, it is reported that almost two-thirds of known terrorists operate under their own identity, and that most enter countries using tourist visas, which, because of their popularity, are subject to low levels of scrutiny. Since 1986, Pakistan, which also has a national ID card program with a biometric element, has suffered thousands of terrorist attacks, killing several thousand citizens. During the same time frame, India, which has no national ID card program at all, suffered fewer attacks, killing less than 1,500 people. National ID cards are not new in Britain. During both World War I and World War II, citizens were required to carry a national ID card at all times and produce it when demanded by police. In 1951, however, Britain's National Registration Act was repealed and ID cards were no longer issued. It is good to know why.
Assisting law enforcement: Law and Order is a key motivation for the establishment of ID cards in numerous countries but their usefulness to police has been marginal. In the UK, Association of Chief Police Officers observed that instead of NID Card they are in favour of a voluntary system and police would be reluctant to administer a compulsory NID Card possession since it might erode relations with the public. The major problem in combating crime is not lack of identification procedures, but difficulties in the gathering of evidence and the pursuit of a prosecution. Criminologists too have not been able to show any evidence that the existence of a card would actually reduce the incidence of crime, or the success of prosecution. In reality, only a national DNA database as has just been suggested by Dr Kalam or a biometric database now used in Canada might assist the police in linking crimes to perpetrators. In Brazil, all residents are obliged to carry at all times NID Card, of the size of a credit card bearing a photograph, thumb print, full name and parents' names, national status (Brazilian national or alien resident) and a serial number. Is this feasible in India?
Controlling illegal immigration: Although the immigration issue is a principle motivation behind ID card proposals in continental Europe and the United States, the impact of cards on illegal immigration has been patchy. The use of a card for purposes of checking resident status depends on the police and other officials being given very broad powers to check identity. More important from the perspective of civil rights, its success will depend on the exercise of one of two processes: either a vastly increased level of constant checking of the entire population, or, a discriminatory checking procedure which will target minorities. The argument most often put forward to justify the quest to catch illegal immigrants in any country is that these people are taking jobs that should belong to citizens. The image of the illegal immigrant into Indian cities is a powerful one, and it is used to maximum effect by proponents of ID cards. In India, getting a false ID for a bribe will in any case defeat the purpose.
Increasing police powers: A Privacy International survey of ID cards found police abusing NID cards in virtually all countries. Most involved people being arbitrarily detained after failure to produce their card. Others involved beatings of juveniles or minorities. There were even instances of wholesale discrimination on the basis of data set out on the cards. Cards are often alleged to be the vehicle for discriminatory practices. Police who are given powers to demand ID invariably have consequent powers to detain people who do not have the card, or who cannot prove their identity. Even in such advanced countries as Germany, the power to hold such people for up to 24 hours is enshrined in law. The question of who is targeted for ID checks is left largely to the discretion of police. The wartime ID card used in the UK outlived the war, and found its way into general use until the early 1950s. Police became used to the idea of routinely demanding the card, until in 1953 the High Court ruled that the practice was unlawful and that led to the repealing of the National Registration Act, and the abandonment of the ID card. The Chief Justice remarked, “ although the police may have powers, it does not follow that they should exercise them on all occasions...it is obvious that the police now, as a matter of routine, demand the production of national registration identity cards whenever they stop or interrogate a motorist for any cause. In this country we have always prided ourselves on the good feeling that exists between the police and the public, and such action tends to make the public resentful of the acts of police and inclines them to obstruct them rather than assist them”.
Facilitating discrimination: The success of ID cards as a means of fighting crime or illegal immigration will depend on a discriminatory checking procedure which could indeed target the poor and minorities. The irony of the ID card option is that it invites discrimination by definition. Discriminatory practices are an inherent part of the function of an ID card. Without this discrimination, police would be required to conduct random checks, which in turn, would be politically unacceptable. All discrimination is based on one of two conditions: situational or sectional; Situational discrimination targets people in unusual circumstances. i.e. walking at night, visiting certain areas, attending certain functions or activities, or behaving in an abnormal fashion. Sectional discrimination targets people of certain section i.e. poor, women, youths, illiterate or the homeless. ID cards containing religious or ethnic information make it possible to carry this discrimination a step further. Several developed nations have been accused of conducting discriminatory practices using ID cards. Ironically, the Parliaments of several European nations, including France and Holland, have accepted a law introducing the obligation to identify oneself in numerous situations including, for instance, at work, at football stadiums, on public transport an in banks. While the card is voluntary in name, it is in effect a compulsory instrument that will be carried at all times by Dutch citizens. Moreover, foreigners can always be asked to identify themselves to authorities at any moment and in any circumstance. French police have been accused of overzealous use of the ID card against blacks, and particularly against Algerians. Greek authorities have been accused of using data on religious affiliation on its national card to discriminate against people who are not Greek Orthodox. In India, what could be in store?
Please let’s not rush. There are things to do before we invest and squander thousands of crores of much needed resource.
(PS Deodhar is founder and former chairman of the Aplab Group of companies. He is also the former chairman of the Electronics Commission of the Government of India and was an advisor to late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on electronics. He also was the chairman of the Broadcast Council in 1992-93 that set in motion the privatisation of the electronic media with metro channels.)
Is UIDAI’s Aadhaar, the same thing that it claims to be? Here is a simple analysis of the UID project from Dr Anupam Saraph, who designed and implemented identity schemes for government and private organisations
"In the meanwhile, no person should suffer for not getting the Aadhaar card in spite of the fact that some authority had issued a circular making it mandatory and when any person applies to get the Aadhaar Card voluntarily, it may be checked whether that person is entitled for it under the law and it should not be given to any illegal immigrant."
-Supreme Court Order in WP 494 of 2012 on September 23rd 2013
How safe is the UID?
1. Enrolment agencies, sub-registrars, registrars and UIDAI have no legal liability for any theft, fraud, crime, and compromise of your security or privacy that may be perpetuated through Aadhaar
2. The use of Aadhaar by various agencies will now expose all your IDs, information, properties, entitlements etc. to misuse in one go thus exposing you to unprecedented risk
3. You have neither control on who uses your Aadhaar nor any way to know or verify its use by anyone
4. Your entire data and biometric is handled by non-Indian companies
How safe is your money in the banking system with UID?
1. Banks have been directed to open accounts with Aadhaar numbers instantaneously—they can no longer verify if the number links to real and unique individuals
2. Money transfers from Aadhaar accounts will not be audited if there is less than Rs10 lakh transferred in a year. This means subsidy, bribes and black money may go to shell accounts that may never be traced!
3. Money can be moved from Aadhaar-to-Aadhaar electronically without your knowledge
How protected are your entitlements and rights with UID?
1. Aadhaar does not guarantee anything. It merely becomes yet another obstacle in obtaining services from the government
2. If your biometric verification fails, you will lose all benefits across the government till you re-establish your credentials. Re-establishing credentials may be at the mercy of netas and babus
How legal is the UID?
1. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Aadhaar card has rejected the Aadhaar exercise. There is no legal sanction or budgetary sanction
2. The Planning Commission has no mandate for such projects
3. The Executive order is bad law under the constitution as it violates fundamental right
4. Under the Citizenship Rules of 2003 it is the Registrar General of India who has to maintain a National Register of Indian Citizens and issue National ID cards
Some fallacious UID Premises
1. Each UID number corresponds to a unique real person
2. Each person can have only one UID
3. All issued UID numbers are genuine
4. No identity theft is possible with the UID
5. Existing identity databases are full of fraud and duplication
6. UID database made by the same agencies/documents has no fraud or duplication
7. Identity is the barrier to service
8. Cash transfer is more effective than the service it was meant to subsidize or deliver
9. Cash transfers will reach real beneficiary
10. Several trillion Rupees can be transferred directly without any scam
11. Financial inclusion is about having a bank account
12. 18,950 rural branches can service 593,731 villages or 31 villages to a branch or 40,000 persons per rural branch through UID
13. 38,592 branches can service 5,161 cities and towns or 7,500 persons per urban branch through UID
14. Corruption in India is because the common man fakes identity
15. UID will simplify the processes to access fundamental rights, entitlements and services
(Dr Anupam Saraph holds a PhD in designing sustainable systems from the faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences of the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, the Netherlands. Dr Saraph has held CxO and ministerial level positions and served as an independent director on the boards of Public and Private Sector companies and NGOs. As a Professor of Systems, Governance and Decision Sciences, Environmental Systems and Business he mentors students and teaches systems, information systems, environmental systems and sustainable development at universities in Europe, Asia and the Americas.)