Is it just a coincidence that Tariq Malik of NADRA and Nandan Nilekani received awards at Milan ID World Congress for their similar work? Is Nilekani simply following the footprints of Malik in creating, enforcing biometric-based ID?
Electronics has become a fundamental political problem.
-Dr Ernesto “Che” Guevara in 1962
tujhe zibah karne kee khushi, mujhe marne ka shauk,
(You are happy to kill, I am fond of dying)
meri bhee marzi wahi hai, jo mere saiyaad ki hai
(My desire is the same as that of my hunter)
-Jail Note Book of Shahid-e-Azam Bhagat Singh, 1929
jin ko tha zaban pe naaz (Those proud of their eloquence)
chup hain wo zaban daraaz (Their tongues are completely silent)
chain hai samaaj me (There is tranquility in society)
bemisaal fark hai (This is an unexampled difference)
kal me aur aaj me (Between yesterday and today)
apne kharch par hain qaid (imprisoned at their own expense)
log kaid tere raaj me (people under your rule)
-Habib Jalib, a revolutionary poet from Pakistan
The Election Commission of India (ECI) has exposed the reluctance of Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to share its correspondence including the letter of resignation of Nandan Nilekani from the post of chairman of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) under the Planning Commission. Nilekani is reported to have submitted his resignation to the Prime Minister on 13 March 2014. After the Right to Information (RTI) application in this regard was transferred by the PMO, the Commission in a letter dated 15 April 2014 responded saying that the RTI application "has been inadvertently transferred" to it and marked a copy of its reply to the Planning Commission.
It is apparent that PMO does not wish the resignation letter and the correspondence to be available in the public domain prior to the elections. It deliberately transferred the RTI application to the Election Commission as part of its delaying tactics and perhaps to save the Indian National Congress-led government from possible embarrassment.
For instance, how is engagement with Pakistani Ministry of Interior’s National Database & Registration Authority (NADRA) and Election Commission of Pakistan with French corporate conglomerate, Safran Group in India’s national interest? Notably, UIDAI’s awarding of contract to Safran Group links it to Home Ministry’s Registrar General of Citizen Registration, Census and the Election Commission.
The core issue here is the sensitivity of the exchange of letters between key authorities in the sensitive matter of electronic and biometric identification of Indians through Aadhaar, National Population Register (NPR), electoral database and Census database.
In effect, all these databases will be governed by Information Technology (IT) Act.
Notably, in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, the Parliament passed eight Bills in 17 minutes without any debate on 23 December 2008. These Bills included the IT (Amendment) Act, 2008. Its absurdity came to light when the misuse of section 66 (A) and section 79 got widely reported. Subsequent amendments and rules have made the IT Act worse, which the new government will have to look into.
If one looks for parallels in regard to emergence of biometric voter ID cards on India’s horizon, one finds that the Indian government is following the path paved by Government of Ghana, which conducted an election using biometric voter verification and registration systems in 2012. The Electoral Commission of Ghana had made a functional biometric verification machine a pre-condition for voting at all the polling stations. With this Ghana joined those countries, which use a biometric voters’ register for its election. These countries include Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Nigeria, Kenya, Soloman Islands, Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Biometric profiling is likely to be introduced in Bhutan too in the next parliamentary elections. It has been reported that biometric finger print scanners were used during the National Council Election in Bhutan’s two polling stations at Dewachen and Samtse High School in 2013.
Sierra Leone's National Electoral Commission (NEC) conducted the polls in November 2012 using biometric voter registration with the support of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Not surprisingly, Bangladesh Election Commission upgraded its biometric identification and voter registration system and consolidated over hundreds of different databases into a single database running on Oracle Exadata Database Machine X2-2. Was there a domestic demand for centralisation of the database?
Notably, NADRA developed and delivered Nigerian national identity card system for issuance of Smart ID cards to citizens.
In Nepal, the Election Commission introduced voter registration programme based biometric profiling and conducted its elections in November 2013. UNDP had provided strategic technical and operational assistance to the Election Commission in planning and conducting the election through its Electoral Support Project (ESP). The European Union, UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), Denmark and Norway provided financial support to this project.
Coincidentally, the Election Commission of Pakistan is introducing a biometric system for the elections. NADRA has implemented the Multi-Biometric National Identity Card & Multi-Biometric e-Passport solutions for Pakistan, Passport Issuing System for Kenya, Bangladesh High Security Driver’s License, and Civil Registration Management System for Sudan.
Notably, NADRA has won Sri Lanka ID Card project involving data collection of all eligible citizens’ biometric, biographic and digitization and creating a National Persons Registry. It has developed Biometric Refugee Registration System for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and World Bank’s Poverty Score Card/System.
Besides this “NADRA has taken proactive initiative by developing electronic voting machine (EVM) solution proposed to be placed on all polling stations across the country.”
Do Indian voters need learn to subject themselves to biometric identification by transnational intelligence companies like Pakistan’s 86 million registered voters?
It may recalled that 23 April 2010, the World Bank had launched its eTransform Initiative by signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with France and South Korea besides transnational companies like L-1 Identity Solutions, IBM, Gemalto, Pfizer and others. It was launched in the presence of Ministers of Finance and Communications from many developing countries. The World Bank is currently funding 14 projects related to e-government and e-ID around the world. These project are unfolding under the influence of international finance and not because there was a domestic need for it.
Let us ponder over few questions:-
Is it a coincident that the task of Tariq Malik of NADRA, Pakistan and those of Nandan Nilekani, C Chandramouli and VS Sampath appear similar?
Is it also a coincidence that Tariq Malik of NADRA and Nilekani were awarded in Milan, Italy based ID World Congress for their similar work? Nilekani is simply following the footprints of Malik.
Isn’t there a design behind persuading and compelling developing countries to biometrically profile their citizens?
Is it too early to infer that international bankers, UN agencies and western military alliances wish to create profiles in their biometric and electronic database for coercive use of social control measures?
Is it not true that uninformed citizens, parliamentarians and gullible government agencies are too eager to be profiled and tracked through an online database?
Would freedom fighters and framer of constitution of India have approved of mass surveillance by any national or transnational agency?
In the US, the budget for intelligence gathering in 2013 was $52.6 billion. Out of which $10.8 billion went to the National Security Agency (NSA). It is about $167 per person. Do Indians know the budget allocation for their intelligence? Why have they been kept in dark about it?
Aren’t allocations for UIDAI, NPR and National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) part of it?
Is it not clear that UN agencies, World Bank Group, transnational intelligence companies and military alliances are working in tandem to create the bio-electronic database of Indians as per their pre-determined design? Is this design structured to safeguard the interest of present and future generation of Indians?
The next government in India has the task of examining these questions and making the budget allocation for intelligence agencies public and open to legislative scrutiny. If they don’t do it, how else would the new regime be deemed different from the old one and it must explain how national security of US, France and their allies is different from that India.
Even after 52 years while India continues to maintain secrecy about its acts of omission and commission in 1962 war with China. But by now it is clear that after the defeat it felt the need of a strong indigenous electronics base for security. The Department of Electronics was set on 26 June 1970 directly under the Prime Minister in the era in which New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO) was still being sought to contest one way flow of information by western media that distorted realities facing the world. It is germane to recollect the historical context in which world’s biggest electronic and biometric database of Indians is being created. Having failed in getting NWICO so far, unless the advocates of NWICO politically challenge the creation of one imperial online database in a robust manner, 21st century will unleash a new great game for takeover of national assets.
Meanwhile, it appears to be too much to expect that the lame duck PMO will share its correspondence with Nilekani who was mandated to create world biggest biometric database “as per approved strategy” along with Ministry of Home Affair (MHA)’s NPR before May 2016. PMO’s notoriety in misplacing sensitive files has given birth to understandable apprehensions in this regard. Hopefully, the new government will ensure that the PMO provides these relevant files.
The authoritarianism of electronic and biometric web is emerging as intrusive extensions of transnational powers due to complicity without any political scrutiny in the country.
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(Gopal Krishna is member of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL), which is campaigning against surveillance technologies since 2010)
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