In your interest.
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No beating about the bush.
The Devyani Khobragade row appears to be a motivated act ahead of a verdict of the US District Court pointing out the unconstitutionality of NSA program of indiscriminately collecting electronic data
In the context of the current row between governments of the US and India, did our President and the Prime Minister wonder as to how US companies like Accenture which have been awarded contract for so called de-duplication of ‘big data’ of Indians by Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) can use the data to the disadvantage of Indians? It is reliably learnt that Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had raised concerns against biometric UID project as well.
Responding to a question on what should a journalist choose when there is a conflict between truth and national interest, without pausing even for a moment one Professor of journalism from a university in US who visited Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) in 1999-2000 said, journalists should choose national interest. Clearly, truth is a casualty not only in war but also in journalism.
One has repeatedly heard it said that most of US media in general are an extension of the foreign policy of government of US as they consistently indulge in jingoistic reporting. One is witnessing the same in the current row in US-India relations. Indian media is doing the same.
What media in US, India and elsewhere in general seems to be failing to see through is that it is an engineered rift to create a miasma wherein the new disclosures about the 5-Eyes alliance of five English-speaking countries (US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand) for the purpose of sharing intelligence does not occupy centre stage. These disclosures of classified information were made by Edward Snowden, a former contractor at US’ National Security Agency (NSA). The row might be aimed at taking this expose off the public memory. It is information warfare of sort. This alliance is directed against countries like India. Under the agreement among the alliance members interception, collection, acquisition, analysis, and decryption is conducted by each of them for an automatic sharing of intelligence.
This alliance comprises of the US National Security Agency (NSA), the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Canada’s Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), and New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB). The intelligence partnership was formed in the aftermath of the Second World War ahead of transfer of power to India by UK. These “eyes” did not need to infiltrate India’s intelligence system because they were embedded there from the outset. Given such a backdrop, the entry of cyber Trojan horses in modern communications systems deployed by these Indian agencies cannot be ruled out because there is nothing in public domain to suggest that it was debugged. Not surprisingly, officials of Indian intelligence agencies have been seceding to join the alliance of these “eyes” with remarkable ease. In view of the same, the conception of converging “the entire country into one single communication entity” introduced in 1975 with the help of a UN agency whose complicity with these “five eyes” stands exposed needs to be revisited.
Besides the Five Eyes with the addition of Denmark, France, the Netherlands and Norway, it becomes a 9-Eyes alliance for conducting espionage. The role of the media houses like BBC, Reuters, Associated Press etc from these countries which form part of the alliances merits rigorous content analysis to examine whether or not the alliance of their native countries influences their reporting or not.
The Devyani Khobragade row appear to be a motivated act ahead of the verdict of the US District Court for the District of Columbia pointing out the unconstitutionality of NSA program of indiscriminately collecting electronic data to take the public attention away from this verdict. It has been revealed that our prime minister, president and almost all the ministers have all been under the surveillance of NSA.
The verdict was passed on 16 December 2013. The verdict attempts to safeguard the interests of citizens of USA. This is not applicable to non-US citizens because US laws do not recognize the rights of privacy of non-US citizens to be sacrosanct. This implies that rights of privacy of Indian citizens do not have protection either under the Indian laws, US laws or any international law at present.
It must be noted that companies like Ernst & Young (E&Y), UK and Safran Group (of France) who have got contract from UIDAI are from the countries which are part of this alliance. The core question is that if our President and Prime Minister appear seemingly unperturbed in the face of glaring evidence of they having been subject of surveillance, how they can be trusted for safeguarding the right to privacy of citizens? Had it not been an election year, it is quite likely that they would not have protested against the arrest and body cavity search of Devyani Khobragade, India’s Deputy Counsel General in New York. Had this not been the case the concerned authorities and ruling parties would have reacted similarly in the incidents concerning Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, George Fernandes, Hardeep Singh, and Shah Rukh Khan to name a few.
It is evident that India’s geostrategic position in relation to the US in particular and all its alliance members in general have been compromised by politicians who have kept personal interest above national interest. Proceedings of Indian Parliament bear witness to the prevarications of the politicians of the ruling party in the matter of the arrest, release and extradition of Warren Anderson, former chief executive (CEO) of Union Carbide Corp (UCC), of US who faces criminal case in India for having caused industrial genocide in Bhopal and who is currently an absconder under Indian laws. There is documentary evidence accessed through Right to Information (RTI) that reveals that several of the serving ministers including an industrialist have wrongly argued that UCC’s inheritor, Dow Chemicals Co, US does not have any liability for the Bhopal genocide. Even the current leader of the opposition and a member of Parliament (MP) from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and party’s spokesperson gave a written legal opinion along with Congress MP and spokesperson of the party to this effect. In the aftermath of Devyani Khobragade episode one wonders that had Indian politicians sought Anderson’s extradition and fixed the liability of UCC without resorting to uncalled for quid pro quo, such incidents of taking Indians and Indian officials for granted would not have happened.
Once again the sincerity of the statements made by political leaders across parties faces a litmus test as to whether it is an empty posturing meant only for public consumption when the election campaigns are underway or they are honestly concerned about safeguarding the prestige of the country and its national interest.
In a seemingly unrelated but relevant development, on 5 December 2013 Economic Times reported that India’s Intelligence Bureau (IB) has questioned issuing of UID/Aadhaar number to the foreigners and refugees from other countries. Notably, it is not clear as to how many citizens of the nine countries of the intelligence gathering alliance are currently residing in India. IB raised these objections on 6 November 2013 at a meeting of senior officials of the investigative agency, the home ministry and UIDAI. The UIDAI has argued that any non-resident Indian (NRI) or foreign citizen living in India can apply for Aadhaar since it is only meant for establishing identity and not citizenship.
This submission of UIDAI is an exercise in sophistry. The fact is that UIDAI is working with Election Commission of India to merge the electoral database with the Centralized Identity Data Repository (CIDR) of UID/Aadhaar numbers. Relying on prime minister’s patronage UIDAI appears to be taking even IB for a ride. Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is rightly arguing that since ultimately both CIDR of UIDAI and National Population Register (NPR) data of MHA is going to be collated the issue of citizenship is likely to get confounded. What is apparent is that this confusion is part of the design and not a product of default. IB is right in seeking background checks of private players involved with the UIDAI. It must be done before it is too late or before it becomes structurally subservient to foreign agencies due to the unfolding ‘solutions architecture’.
In the verdict of US District Court, Judge Richard Leon rules, “I cannot imagine a more "indiscriminate" and "arbitrary invasion" than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval. Surely such a program infringes on "that degree of privacy" that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment. Indeed I have little doubt that the author of our Constitution, James Madison, who cautioned us to beware of "the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power," would be aghast.” Madison, the fourth President of USA is considered the father of US Constitution. The 68-page verdict is attached.
This verdict is readily applicable to the “indiscriminate” biometric and demographic databases being created in India by the Planning Commission’s UIDAI and MHA’s Registrar General & Census Commissioner for NPR besides National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID), the Indian incarnation of NSA. Framers of Constitution of India too would be “aghast” at such “systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval.” Indeed these initiatives along with the bitterly opposed proposal of National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) and Goods and Services Tax (GST) Network constitutes “abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power” in our country.
In an RTI reply dated 5 December 2013, UIDAI shared the contract agreement it signed on behalf of the President of India acting through Director General of UIDAI, Planning Commission, Government of India (which is the employer) on 17 March 2010 with the consortium consisting of Ernst & Young Pvt Ltd and Netmagic Solutions Pvt Ltd wherein ‘M/s Ernst & Young Pvt Ltd’ is the lead partner and Consultant. Both the RTI applications were filed by Qaneez-e-Fathemah Sukhrani, an urban affairs researcher. The contract agreement has page numbers only till page no. 26 but the rest of the pages which are appendices including description of services, clarifications of RFP dated 4 January 210 related to RFP, description of methodology, reporting requirements, total cost of services duties of the employer, teaming agreements with consortium partner/individual experts, RFP of UID CIDR Consultant issued by the employer and the pre-qualification, technical and commercial proposal submitted by the Consultant are not numbered.
The description of approach and methodology given the Appendix A: Part C dealing with Contract –UID CIDR Consultant contract agreement with Ernst & Young, a company based in UK, one of the alliance members of Five Eyes interestingly begins with the talisman of Mahatma Gandhi about pondering over how the poorest can get “control over his life and destiny” restored and will have us believe that this is its inspiration to participate in this initiative.
In an earlier RTI reply dated 25 October 2013, UIDAI shared that Ernst & Young order date was 26 February 2010 wherein the value of the contract was mentioned as Rs7.05 crore. The contract agreement with Ernst & Young states that “the Unique ID will be a random 12-digit number with the basis for establishing uniqueness of identity being biometrics”. It announces that “we will provide a Unique Identity to over 113.9 crore people.” This is evidently a fraudulent announcement because UIDAI with which the agreement has been signed has mandate to provide Unique Identity to only 60 crore residents of India and not to 113.9 crore people. The agreement states that it proposes to adopt political, economic, social, technology, legal and environment (PESTLE) framework to cover all key dimensions of the UID program. This framework merits attention for it tantamount to rewriting the political geography of the country with hitherto unknown consequences for political rights.
Most startling disclosure from the contract agreement is its admission that “biometric systems are not 100 % accurate”. It admits that “uniqueness of the biometrics is still a postulate.” In an admission that pulverizes the very edifice on which UID/Aadhaar and the NPR rests, it writes, “The loss in information due to limitations of the capture setup or physical conditions of the body, and due (to) the feature representation, there is a non-zero probability that two finger prints or IRIS prints coming from different individuals can be called a match.” The contract agreement underlines it in bold letters. There appears to be an attempt at verbal gymnastics to hide the key message here. In simple words, “non-zero probability that two finger prints or IRIS prints” turning out to be a match means that there is a probability that biometric data of two different individuals can be identical.
With this admission which is rooted in scientific evidence articulated earlier as part of this series, there emerges a compelling logic to abandon the exercise of creating database of biometric data for identification in favour of pre-existing 15 identity proofs on which Election Commission of India relies for elections and which has been giving legality and legitimacy to the Parliament and the Government of India.
It has been reported based on disclosures of Snowden that US and UK intelligence forces have hacked and planted spyware on more than 50,000 computer networks worldwide and their number is expected to reach over 85,000 by the end of 2013.
In view of the same, in place of counting the numbers of those residents of India enrolled/imprisoned under biometric Aadhaar and NPR at their own cost, national energy ought to focus on questions which have huge ramifications like:
Does the Parliament and State Assemblies know as to how many citizens of UK, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, France, the Netherlands and Norway are currently residing in India at present? How many of them are non-traceable?
How many of them are within the country on a valid visa and a valid passport?
How many companies from UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are currently operating in India at present?
Are Indian agencies and citizens aware that the Five Eyes have “focused cooperation” on mining of computer networks with other countries like Belgium, Italy, South Korea, Turkey and others?
This alliance has the capability to directly access internet companies’ data, tapping international fibre optic cables, sabotaging encryption standards and standards bodies, hacking the routers, switches and firewalls that connect the internet together. The facts about their tentacles being present in these countries have been brought to light after the disclosures by Snowden.
Does the conduct of these countries and their companies serve India’s national interest?
Do the interests of these countries and companies converge with our interests?
In such a backdrop, instead of continuing with imperial initiatives like biometric Aadhaar and NPR that relies on the companies based in the countries who comprise five eyes alliance, government of India, Indian citizens and political parties need to deal with the attention diversion tactics of this alliance in a deeper and non-conventional manner to undo the harm done by their cyber and non-cyber Trojan horses. The verdict of US District Court against NSA merits the attention of Supreme Court of India when it hears the case against biometric identification based UID/Aadhaar.
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(Gopal Krishna is member of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL), which is campaigning against surveillance technologies since 2010)
Wikileaks revealed that Pakistan handed over citizens' database to US agencies. In case of India, there will be no need for a database handing over ceremony because it is being given to global security agencies through their proxies who in turn are subservient to legislative will of legislatures in the US, France and UK unlike India
In view of the instructions from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) which is in the process of compiling National Database of Armed License (NDAL) in collaboration with the National Informatics Centre (NIC), an advertisement was published in Prabhat Khabar, on 7 December 2013. It informs that for the preparation of a “NIC database” of arms license holders a Unique Number is to be allotted to them prior to 1 October 2015.
It is relevant to recall the origin of the NIC. During the internal emergency imposed on the citizens by Indira Gandhi, she had setup NIC to weave the entire country into one single communication entity. The erstwhile Electronics Commission and the Department of Electronics (now Department of Electronics and Information Technology-DEITY) had submitted a proposal to United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for assistance to set up a National Computer Centre in Delhi for building up national databases and “for macro-economic adjustment programme of the Government” and the World Bank Group. The UNDP agreed to fund the National Informatics Centre (NIC). NIC was set up with a mandate to “act as a focal point for maintaining inventories of primary data and computer based systems for data collection and dissemination.” The long-term objective of NIC was approved by Indira Gandhi-led Planning Commission, Ministry of Finance and the erstwhile Electronics Commission. An Advisory Council set up for the NIC in 1976-1977.
An Indian development support organization founded in 1960, Indo-Global Social Service Society (IGSSS) disassociated itself from undertaking enrolment for UID number project which was being undertaken under Mission Convergence in Delhi. Withdrawal of IGSSS that works in 21 states of the country across four core areas India: Sustainable Livelihood, Youth Development, Disaster Risk Reduction, and Urban Poverty merit the attention of all the states and civil society organisations especially those who are unwittingly endorsing the UID number related processes.
In its withdrawal letter IGSSS said, “We will not be able to continue to do UID enrolment, as we discussed in the meeting of 10 May 2011.” It added, it is taking step because “it’s hosted under the rubric of UNDP’s ‘Innovation Support for Social Protection: Institutionalizing Conditional Cash Transfers’ [Award ID: 00049804, Project: 00061073; Confer: Output 1, Target 1.2 (a) & Output 3 (a), (b)]. In fact we had no clue of this until recently when we searched the web and got this information.”
A case was filed against the UID/Aadhaar project in Delhi High Court, which is now transferred to the Supreme Court. The next date of hearing is on 28 January 2014.
Whoever forms the next government in Delhi must scrap UID/Aadhaar related legacy of Indian National Congress-led regime. The democratic mandate in Delhi is against UID/Aadhaar which was made compulsory and caused hardship to residents of Delhi.
After the war with China in 1962, the Government felt the need of a strong indigenous electronics base for security. Department of Electronics was set on 26 June 1970 directly under the prime minister. NIC started functioning in 1977. In the aftermath of Kargil conflict, the need for UID/Aadhaar/NPR number appears to have been engineered. Like Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), NIC signed memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the state governments/union territory administrations. Later, NIC services were extended to states and districts.
Notably, the NIC had raised concerns over privacy and security of proposed database of UIDAI as early as 6 November 2009. NIC wrote, "It has been proposed to hire the data centre services for PoC (proof-of-concept) and prototype on rental basis. It is presumed that the data related to UID will be hosted in a government Data Centre. If not, the issues related to privacy and security with respect to UID data may require to be taken into consideration."
In an unconvincing response, UIDAI replied that hosting the data on a private network "does not necessarily lead to violation of privacy and security." UIDAI argued, "There will be appropriate SLAs (Service Legal Agreements -- both legal and technological) to ensure that the data is protected. It is to be mentioned that a number of sensitive database (Income Tax and PFRDA, to name two of them,) which ensure security and privacy, though they are not necessarily housed in 'government' Data Centres." The letter was disclosed by Press Trust of India (PTI).
On 8 May 2013, Rajiv Shukla, the Minister of state for Parliamentary Affairs and Planning informed Lok Sabha that Dr BK Gairola, Director General, NIC who chaired the Biometric Standards Committee of UIDAI, which was created on 29 September 2009, submitted its report on 30 December 2009 incurring a total expenditure of approximately Rs66,000. It appears that NIC was silenced into a state of unquestioned obedience after its initial objections. But NIC’s concerns assume great significance in the light of disclosures about the involvement of foreign intelligence agencies eyeing the centralized databases like CIDR database of UID/Aadhaar numbers, NPR and NDAL. It is inexplicable as to why the NIC, which does not have any previous experience of dealing with biometric data, was asked to chair a committee meant to recommend biometric standards for biometric profiling? Or is it the case that NIC was always involved in electronic profiling since its inception during internal emergency given the fact that biometric data is ultimately stored as electronic data?
In the meantime, the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2013 is all set to be introduced to provide legal basis to UIDAI in the current session of the Parliament without incorporating several recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance including those concerning national security and illegal collection of biometric data. The Bill of 2013 has almost the same text which was introduced in 2010 and was rejected by the Parliamentary Standing Committee in December 2011. There is nothing new in it except addition and substitution of few words.
The NDAL is being created with the help from NIC amidst huge demand for arms by private security agencies. Among other ramifications such a proposition appears to be a precursor of ‘private territorial armies’ proposed by Captain Raghu Raman, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of MHA’s National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) in his earlier incarnation as CEO of a multinational security company, Mahindra Special Security Services Group, a subsidiary of the Mahindra Group. He argued that corporate must step in because government cannot ensure internal security of the country. In his attached (see below) ‘Confidential’ Advisory Paper titled “A NATION OF NUMB PEOPLE”, Capt Raghu Raman argues, “enterprises would need to raise their own protection units. The idea may sound outlandish but in fact most of urban citizens do pay for private security for their homes and colonies. So do corporates. The idea is to take it to the next level and have private protection units that can work in close cooperation with law enforcement agencies. Think of it as a private territorial army.” Associations of companies like FICCI and ASSOCHAM have already underlined the link between NATGRID and UID number.
Capt Raghu Raman concludes his paper stating, “If the commercial czars don’t begin protecting their empires now, they may find the lines of control cutting across those very empires.”
This was the considered view of Capt Raghu Raman as a servant of a commercial empire. Can it be ascertained as to whether or not he has changed his view in his new role as a contract employee of MHA and as a servant of citizens of India?
According to Oxford Dictionary, meaning of the word “NUMB” mentioned in the title of the paper is “unable to think, feel, or respond normally.”
Unless Indians are indeed “numb people”, they will feel a logical compulsion to resist countless assaults on democratic rights in the name of national security. While national security must be robust enough to deal with external and internal threats of “commercial czars” who engineer internal strife and profiteer from war mongering but if citizens’ rights are mortgaged in the hands of these czars nothing worthwhile remains for defending. Security forces and agencies who get nurtured by the taxes of citizens have relevance only if they protect their rights, they lose relevance for citizens if they become available on rent to private forces.
The advertisement issued on instruction from MHA states that arms licenses will not be valid without the unique number after this date. The arms license holders have to fill up the attached form in this regard. This advertisement has been published by Government of Bihar. A specific order from District Magistrate (DM) of Patna is significant because similar orders are likely to be issued by all the 600 DMs in compliance with the order of MHA. The order dated 4 December 2013 is attached. It was reported as recently as August 2013 that the state governments of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were opposed to such a move. This advertisement reveals that government of Bihar has chosen to fall in line and change its position. It is not clear as to what made it alter its previously held position
It may be recalled that ahead of the launch of MHA’s first National Population Register (NPR) (along with 15th Census 2011) on 1 April 2010 by Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India, on 23 February 2010, Mullappally Ramachandran, Minister of State in the MHA had informed that that the government is planning a national database of arms license holders in a written reply in the Lok Sabha. He had informed that the government will review various provisions of the Arms Act, 1959 and Arms Rules, 1962 with regard to grant of arms licenses for possession of arms and ammunition by individuals and manufacture of fire-arms in the country. The amendments will include a provision under the arms rules, under which the licensing authorities will be required to maintain a database and to share the data with the central government which shall maintain a national database. This came after the announcement about the setting up a National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID), the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System (CCTNS), the CIDR of UID/Aadhaar number and NPR. There was a proposal to bring amendments in the Arms Act to oblige the licensing authority to maintain a database with the help of NIC. It is not clear whether the proposed amendments were made. Meanwhile, as of August 2013, data from 97 districts from southern states of Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu have already been compiled in the database for NDAL.
As per the Arms and Ammunition Policy for Individuals of Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) includes a provision that obliges “the licensing authority to maintain a database as may be specified and to share the data with the Central government which shall maintain a national database. Accordingly, a provision for database will be made by amending the Arms Rules. National database including data on PB weapons may be maintained centrally by MHA. State Governments are being requested to instruct all DMs to maintain a comprehensive and complete data base of all licenses issued by them, which may be shared with the Central Government.” It is not clear whether the Arms Rules created as an act of subordinate legislation have been amended through yet another act of subordinate legislation. Notably, Arms and Ammunition Policy for Individuals available on the website of MHA does not mention any date or year.
It is noteworthy that the manifesto titled “2083: A European Declaration of Independence” was brought out by Norwegian gunman and neo-crusader, Anders Behring Breivik who carried out the heinous attacks on his fellow citizens. This 1500 page manifesto refers to the word “identity” over 100 times, “unique” over 40 times and “identification” over 10 times. There is reference to “state-issued identity cards”, “converts’ identity cards”, “identification card”, “fingerprints”, “DNA” etc. The words in this manifesto give a sense of deja vu.
In a related development, National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), Ministry of Interior, Pakistan is also undertaking a similar exercise. Is it a coincidence that both the countries are undertaking the exercise at the same time? Will it prevent drone attacks and the ignominy of mouthing verbal opposition to such assaults on its sovereignty? The core question is: what has improved in Pakistan due to NADRA’s citizens’ database except facilitating precision targets by drones?
Even before Planning Commission’s UIDAI and MHA’s NPR conceptualized their biometric and demographic database, Pakistan’s NADRA claimed that it had successfully profiled all its citizens. Wikileaks revealed that the citizens’ database was handed over to US agencies. In case of India, there will be no need for a database handing over ceremony because the database is given to the security agencies through their proxies who in turn are subservient to legislative will of legislatures in US, France and UK unlike India.
Big data companies are looking for databases of diverse kinds. The question is at what price will NDAL’s data be available? UIDAI had replied that hosting the data on a private network "does not necessarily lead to violation of privacy and security," what if the private network happens to be a big data companies like MongoDB, In-Q-Tel, L1, Safran and Accenture? If Government’s reply is still the same, it should come out with a White Paper explaining in what circumstances security and privacy is violated and what aspect of its breach is acceptable and tolerable and what aspects are non-negotiable and constitute acts of treason. If storage and mining of biometric data by these companies is legal and legitimate, the question is why does Government consider this data to be “national assets”?
Curiously, the first NPR that was launched with 15th Census seems to be making all the Indians April fools of sort but not for a day but forever. Isn’t this unique number of arms license holders linked to the creation of the NATGRID which can easily undertake the role envisaged for National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) that faced opposition from all the non-Congress State Governments and the biometric unique identification (UID)/Aadhaar/NPR number?
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(Gopal Krishna is member of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL), which is campaigning against surveillance technologies since 2010)