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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)