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Acting like a modern day ‘Robert Clive’, Nilekani has managed to somehow take the Nawabs of Indian National Congress and his loyalists into confidence. The battle of 2014 elections is likely to decide whether 'Clive and his loyalists' will win once again or not
Before joining Indian National Congress (INC), Mahatma Gandhi had opposed biometric identification—fingerprint based registration of Asians in general and Indians and Chinese in particular. In his book, ‘Satyagraha in South Africa’, he describes Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance of 1906 and the Transvaal Asiatic Registration Act under which finger printing of Asians was attempted as a "Black Act". The Black Act was resisted on the grounds of the safety of Indian and Chinese community of South Africa and to resist an intolerable humiliation. The Act was repealed by the British government after years of struggle.
Do political parties in India endorse Mahatma Gandhi’s first Satyagraha in opposition to British Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance of 1906 and Transvaal Asiatic Registration Act of 1907? Under the Act, every male Asian had to register himself and produce on demand a thumb-printed certificate of identity. Unregistered persons and prohibited immigrants were to be deported without a right of appeal or fined on the spot if they fail to comply with Act.
If the parties endorse this political struggle of the Mahatma then how is it that they are complicit in endorsement of the notification of Planning Commission akin to an ordinance meant for biometric identification? There is a logical compulsion for them to seek the withdrawal of this notification dated 28 January 2009 and to oppose even the introduction of The National Identification Authority of India Bill re-approved by the Union Cabinet on 8 October 2013 in the upcoming winter session of the Parliament in the light of the wisdom gained from the freedom fighters.
On 22 August 1906, the South African government published a draft Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance. The Ordinance required all Indians and Chinese in the Transvaal region of South Africa, to register their presence giving their fingerprints and carrying passes. Knowing the impact of the Ordinance and effective criminalisation of the entire community, Gandhi then decided to challenge it. Calling the Ordinance a 'Black Act', he mobilised around 3,000 Indians in Johannesburg who took an oath not to submit to a degrading and discriminatory piece of legislation. This was the first time the world witnessed 'Satyagraha' or a non-resistance movement that later become a phenomenon in India's freedom struggle.
By this yardstick, no political party In India qualifies to be deemed an opposition party unless they burn, boycott or bury the scheme that issues biometric identification slips carrying unique identification (UID)/Aadhaar number.
It appears that the Chinese have remembered their historical lessons not only from their subjugation through opium wars but also how as community of shared fate they had opposed finger printing together with Indians in South Africa. Dr M Vijayanunni, former Census Commissioner and Registrar General of India underlined other reasons for China giving up a similar exercise on Rajya Sabha TV on 2 February 2013. Indians, on the other hand, appear to be forgetting lessons of their consistent defeats (in the battle fields and off the battle fields).
Among the defeats, the date of 23 June 1757 stands out. In his book, Imagining India, Nandan Nilekani provides ‘A Time Line of Key Events’ in India. Under the title ‘Seeds’, the first date he mentions is 1757. He describes the event of the year saying, “The Battle of Plassey, where (colonel) Robert Clive, commander of the (English) East India Company’s army and renegade (he would later be tried in Britain fort looting Bengal treasury) overthrows the Nawab of Bengal (Siraj-ud-daulah, the last independent Nawab of Bengal). It is a battle won through both money—bribing the Nawab’s loyalists—and the military.”
It seems that acting like a modern day Clive, he has managed to somehow take the Nawab of INC and his loyalists into confidence. The battle of 2014 elections is likely to decide whether Clive and his loyalists will win once again or not.
By 1750, the Indian empire was in a state of collapse as a result of a permission given by Indian emperor Jahangir to an ambassador of English emperor King James for setting up of a base by English East India Company in Surat, Gujarat in 1615. By 1690, this company had factories all along the west and east coasts of India with the main centres at Chennai (erstwhile Madras), Kokata (ersthwhile Calcutta) and Mumbai (erstwhile Bombay). The company started to protect its trade with its own armies and navies.
History repeats itself in simple ways. Capt Raghu Raman, the chief executive officer (CEO) of National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID), the Union Ministry of Home Affairs had proposed creation of private territorial armies by commercial czars in his earlier incarnation with Mahindra Special Services Group. But the State seems to have gone ahead and has started providing Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), the world’s biggest industrial security force, to commercial czars on rent. At this rate how long will it take for the commercial czars to hire Indian Army, Navy and Air Force? In any case, they are hiring them post retirement or poaching them in their pre-retirement phase itself. Unless the political and the informed citizenry is alive to the writing the writing on the wall its ramifications are bound to unfold and make their democratic rights redundant.
In an interview on 24 January 2012, NDTV's Sreenivasan Jain asked Nilekani about the patronage his biometric identification project enjoys from Rahul Gandhi. He asked, “And it helps to have Rahul Gandhi's backing?” Nilekani replied, “Yes definitely it helps, and we think the promise of this is being seen; that this can transform services to the people.”
Nilekani said, “Of course they are uncharted waters. The world's largest biometric database is of 120 million. We are talking about 1.2 billion. So that's 10 times anything else in the world. We are the only project that's doing on that scale using fusion biometrics, because we combine iris and fingerprints.”
It is the Indian citizens who are the master of the elected people that are being taken into “uncharted waters” by an unelected person. Unlike our indirectly elected prime minister, this person is not even indirectly elected.
Sreenivasan Jain asked, “But overall you feel that this project still has legs?” Nilekani replied, “Of course it has legs. 170 million have voted with their feet.” Indeed UID-Aadhaar and related schemes are meant to engineer the electoral system for good.
But this boastful claim was made before the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh (UP). The election to the UP legislative assembly was held in seven phases from 8th February to 3 March 2012. Through their verdict the electorate of Uttar Pradesh rejected the proposal of the INC to allow themselves to be identified with their biometric data like iris scan and thumb impressions. Rahul Gandhi had campaigned in UP using the UID/Aadhaar as an election agenda. After his party’s dismal performance, he took the responsibility of his party’s defeat.
The UP legislative assembly has 403 seats. Samajwadi Party (SP) won 224 seats and INC won 28 seats. Eight of the 10 assembly seats in the parliamentary constituencies represented by Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi, respectively, were won by the Samajwadi Party. Nilekani’s party did not just lose 17 of the 20 segments in these four parliamentary seats which it holds, it did not even come second in 13 of these assembly segments.
Supporting Home Ministry’s and Planning Commission’s scheme of unique identity, the INC had showcased UID/Aadhaar and related National Population Register (NPR) to influence the electorate but voters have given their verdict against these schemes. Nilekani’s party had claimed that the UID-Aadhaar/NPR will address the discrepancies in controversial below poverty line (BPL) list by hiding violation of the provisions of Census Act with ulterior motives. It was used like a fish bait to entrap citizens against democratic and legislative mandate. The message for Rahul Gandhi, P Chidambaram, Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Nilekani was that UP electorate who were promised UID-Aadhaar/NPR has rejected it.
The surveillance regime based on UID-Aadhaar/NPR has been proposed by INC for the people but not for biometric and other intrusive technologies. It has reliably been learnt that officials from Infosys Ltd have been giving leadership training to leaders of INC. This may have impacted decision making with regard to UID-Aadhaar/NPR but it has clearly not worked in UP elections.
Reports of efforts to put even finance minister and defence minister under surveillance reveal that there is paucity of capacity to monitor or regulate these technologies within the government. If this is the plight of the ministers and technologically challenged political class, the threat for citizens can easily be understood.
Post UP elections, government must review its capacity to regulate an emerging technology regime that is undermining democracy and sovereignty and should not be misled by unelected cabinet ranked officials who say, “Technology has no history and no bias, it treats everyone the same way.” History of technologies reveals that it is their owners who are true beneficiaries especially when it is used for social control. There is a compelling need to urgently assess the claims and risks of biometric and surveillance technology and how some companies made UID/NPR politically persuasive for the ruling party and intertwined the systems of technology with crying need for governance.
Samajwadi Party won the battle in UP but they are bound to lose the war unless they scrap and disassociate themselves from UID/NPR scheme. Imagine a situation, when one agency is not letting the party play its legitimate role as an opposition party in the national politics, what would be their plight, when they are likely to be blackmailed by several surveillance companies and non-state actors.
As an electoral lesson, Rahul Gandhi should have stopped his support for UID/Aadhaar project because the verdict was against it. Is it the case that the biometric databases of Indians have already been sold in the futures market and the powers that be have got their shares in the booty which makes it ‘irreversible’ as is being claimed, despite electoral reverses? How it is that Akhilesh Yadav, Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi are busy implementing UID-Aadhaar number scheme?
Two advertisements of Union Ministry of Home Affairs dated 24 August 2013 and 14 August 2013 in Hindustan Times and Hindustan, respectively merits attention. It signals a very dangerous trend for democratic rights and sovereignty of citizens. The former deals with biometric collection of usual residents of India for which camps are being organized, the latter dealt with Socio Economic & Caste Census (SECC) 2011 wherein it was announced that unless the usual residents covered under SECC sent a letter in a given format requesting for non-disclosure of the information collected from them within 15 days of the publication of the advertisement, their information would be made public. The latter is in violation of the Census Act, 1948 under which Census of India functions and the former is in violation of the Citizenship Act, 1955. SECC application format also reveals that there is something called family identification number which has been created. It merits examination whether it is legal.
According to the manual of instructions for filling up of the National Population Register (NPR) Household Schedule, 2011 prepared by the Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner (ORG&CCI), Union Ministry of Home Affairs, the objectives of NPR involves “Collection of personal details of all residents of the country and capture of photograph and finger prints of all residents who are of age 15 years and above in villages/urban areas.” The data collection for preparation of NPR was undertaken along with the house listing operations of Census 2011. The manual categorically states that “NPR will contain the details of all the ‘usual residents’ of the country regardless of whether they are citizens or non-citizens.” If that is the case, how can it qualify to be an act under the Citizenship Act and Rules given the fact that the register will have both citizens and non-citizens?
As per the manual, NPR’s utility lies in creation of “a comprehensive identity database in the country. This would not only strengthen security of the country but also help in better targeting of the benefits and services under the government schemes/ programmes and improve planning.” It further states, “It may be noted that nationality declared by respondent does not confer any right to Indian citizenship”. In such a case isn’t census itself quite sufficient for it?
In fact, Census Commissioner is supposed to gather the data of population under the Census Act, 1948 on the pre-condition that it would be kept secret and it will not be revealed even to the courts.
Unlike the data collected under Census Act which is confidential as per Section 15 of the Act, the provisions of the Citizenship Act and the citizenship or nationality rules that provides the basis for creation of the register of citizens do not provide for confidentiality. The fact is that there is no mention of capturing biometrics in the Citizenship Act or Citizenship Rules. It is clear that the collection of biometrics is not a statutory requirement. This is not permissible under also Collection of Statistics Act. But both Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and the Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India (ORG&CCI), which are creating the NPR are collecting biometric data as well. It is not a question of duplication alone; it is a question of treating citizens worse than prisoners.
Providing for a dignified treatment of the citizens of India, section 15 of the Census Act establishes that “Records of census are not open to inspection or admissible in evidence”. It reads: “No person shall have a right to inspect any book, register or record made by a census-officer in the discharge of his duty as such, or any schedule delivered under section 10 and notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, no entry in any such book, register, record or schedule shall be admissible as evidence in any civil proceeding whatsoever or in any criminal proceeding other than a prosecution under this Act or any other law for any act or omission which constitutes an offence under this Act.”
Union Home Ministry and UIDAI are undermining the dignity of the citizens by according them a status inferior to that of prisoners.
As per ORG&CCI, NPR process include collection of details including biometrics such as photograph, ten fingerprints and iris information for all persons aged 15 years and above. This is be done by arranging camps at every village and at the ward level in every town. Each household is required to bring the acknowledgement slip to such camps. In the next step, data is printed out and displayed at prominent places within the village and ward for the public to see. After authentication, the lists are sent to the UIDAI for de-duplication and issue of UID Numbers. The cleaned database along with the UID Number will then be sent back to the ORG&CCI and form the NPR.
It is evident that ORG&CCI has amalgamated its two independent mandates using two forms for each household in India. The first form relates to the house listing and housing census that has 35 questions relating to building material, use of houses, drinking water, availability and type of latrines, electricity, possession of assets etc. The second form relates to the NPR that has 14 questions including name of the person, gender, date of birth, place of birth, marital status, name of father, name of mother, name of spouse, present address, duration of stay at present address, permanent address, occupation, nationality as declared, educational qualification and relationship to head of family. There are 10 columns in the Aadaar/ UID enrolment form.
ORG&CCI admits that “all information collected under the Census is confidential and will not be shared with any agency—government or private.” But it reveals that “certain information collected under the NPR will be published in the local areas for public scrutiny and invitation of objections. This is in the nature of the electoral roll or the telephone directory. After the NPR has been finalised, the database will be used only within the government.” While dual work of census and NPR has blurred the line between confidential and non-confidential, UIDAI has gone ahead to seek consent for “sharing information provided…to the UIDAI with agencies engaged in delivery of welfare services” as per column 9 of the UID/Aadhaar enrolment form.
The way census bodies are linking biometric information with identification of citizens it is apparent that a permanent emergency-like architecture is unfolding. The electoral database is also sought to be converged. The idea is to make citizens transparent before the all mighty government so that government, their servant can remain opaque to safeguard the interests of undemocratic and ungovernable social control technology companies.
In such a backdrop, the key questions facing Indians of all ilks are:
What would Government of India and Parliament of India do when cyber and biometric invasion into the privacy of Indians happens by foreign entities?
What will citizens, legislators and political parties do when they have sufficient evidence to infer that Government of India is colluding with cyber and biometric invasion into the privacy of Indians happens by foreign entities?
Did the citizens’ database that was handed over by Hosni Mubarak regime to the Government of USA prior to its fall facilitate the overthrow of Morsi regime in the recent coup by the military in Egypt and the repression of Egyptians there after?
UP verdict of March 2013 is a mandate against assault on democratic rights and diluting federal structure of the country. It is against turning India into a market democracy where executive and legislative decisions are driven by profit mongers not by public interest. Will the verdict of 2014 general elections be any different?
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(Gopal Krishna is member of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL), which is campaigning against surveillance technologies since 2010)
One person from Kerala enrolled and successfully received two Aadhaar numbers. This raises serious question over the de-duplication theory and practices of UIDAI
Aadhaar or the unique identification (UID) number is being enforced by the governments and the de-facto tagging institution, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) by claiming uniqueness of the number. However, one person from Kerala has busted the myth created by UIDAI and its chairman Nandan Nilekani.
According to a report in Matrubhoomi, a Kerala-based newspaper, PV Narayanan, a resident of Panatthadi panchayat received two Aadhaar numbers: 548780623023 and 356459270677. The names on both these letters issued by UIDAI are same, with slight different photos. Narayanan probably may have registered at two places or centres. But, surprisingly, his fingerprints seem to have passed the so-called ‘robust’ de-duplication test of UIDAI. Since Aadhaar includes an iris scan, this too seems to have been missed.
As Moneylife has pointed out, both the union government and UIDAI were in such a hurry that they neglected the basic principle of pilot testing and size of sample. For over 1.2 billion UID numbers, they have used data from just 20,000 people, in pairs, as the sample and on the basis of the results, gone ahead with the UID number through the 'Aadhaar' project. (How UIDAI goofed up pilot test results to press forward with UID scheme)
The case of Narayanan also mocks the false positive identification rate (FIPR) theory of UIDAI. Earlier, speaking about the FIPR, the UIDAI had said, "We will look at the point where the FPIR (i.e. the possibility that a person is mistaken to be a different person) is 0.0025%". This means, for every 1 lakh comparisons, there would be two and a half false positives. On a large scale, it means for a population of over 120 crore, there would be 18 lakh crore false positives, or, for every single Indian resident there would be 15,000 false positives! (Click to see the calculations)
The International Biometric Group (IBG) testing also shows that performance can vary drastically within technologies-some fingerprint solutions, for example, had next to no errors during testing, while others rejected nearly 1/3rd of enrolled users. "Most interestingly, the testing shows that over time, many biometric systems are prone to incorrectly rejecting a substantial percentage of users. Verifying a user immediately after enrolment is not highly challenging to biometric systems. However, after six weeks, testing shows that some systems' error rates increase ten-fold," said the research, consulting and integration firm, which works closely with the biometric industry. The report is titled "Real-World Performance Testing".
Maybe the UIDAI and its registrar have thought the second enrolment of Narayanan from Kerala as false positive and issued another Aadhaar number. Hope the UIDAI chairman would be able to find out ‘original and true’ Narayayan from these two biometric-based Aadhaar numbers!
Indians are accustomed to advertising and falsehoods. But when it comes to advertising by biometric technology companies, uninformed citizens and even the non-Congress leaders are willing to trust even the most untrustworthy of claims
Among other things, will the general elections of 2014 reveal whether or not Indians are willing to be guinea pigs for biometric technology companies? It will disclose the identities of those political parties who take donations from such companies or are beneficiaries or their shareholders.
Biometric identification will impact human civilization in a far deeper way than printing press, industrial revolution, light bulb, Internet and personal computers did. The introduction of these automatic identification technologies marks the beginning of a world where everything and every place gets imbedded with such spying identifiers.
More than four years have passed but opposition parties in particular and non-Congress parties in general are yet to consolidate their considered position vis-à-vis biometric data collection in the name of e-governance initiative of Indian National Congress led Government. Meanwhile, Nandan Nilekani, the chairman of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) under the Planning Commission boasts, “We have made India the tech capital of biometrics” He has disclosed, “We felt speed was strategic. Doing, and scaling things quickly, was critical. If you move very quickly, it doesn’t give the opposition the time to consolidate.”
Strategically, state governments led by opposition leaders like Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi too were conned into signing memorandum of understanding (MoU) with UIDAI before August 2010. Strangely, Modi who was categorically opposed to collection of biometric data submitted himself for 12- digit biometric unique identification (UID) number and launched it in Gujarat. Due to paucity of information even Admiral Nirmal Varma, Chief of Naval Staff and His Holiness Dalai Lama have already enrolled for UID number, which is linked to National Population Register (NPR), without the passage of Privacy Bill. It is incomprehensible as to who compelled Dalai Lama to enroll for it.
In a manifest case of inconsistency even Yashwant Sinha headed Parliamentary Committee on Finance was conned into recommending that the data already collected by UIDAI be transferred to the NPR after questioning the power of the union government to collect biometric data. The 48-page Report of Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) on Finance submitted to both the Houses of Parliament reads (in the section on Observations/Recommendations): “The collection of biometric information and its linkage with personal information without amendment to the Citizenship Act 1955 as well as the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules 2003, appears to be beyond the scope of subordinate legislation, which needs to be examined in detail by Parliament.” The Parliamentary Committee did not realise that both the Centralized Identities Register (CIDR) of UID number and UID number generating NPR is one and the same as per the terms of reference of the UIDAI provided in the Planning Commission’s notification dated 28 January 2009.
NPR, CIDR and National DNA data bank projects are going to do almost exactly the same thing, which the predecessors of Adolf Hitler did, else how is it that Germany always had the lists of Jewish names even prior to the arrival of the Nazis? The Nazis got these lists with the help of IBM, which was in the 'census' business, including racial census that entailed not only counting the Jews but also identifying them. At the US Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, there is an exhibit of an IBM Hollerith D-11 card sorting machine that was responsible for organising the census of 1933 that first identified the Jews. IBM has not disputed its involvement in it.
Nilekani’s book Imagining India describes the ‘Dividends of an autocracy versus a Democracy’ and contends that “In terms of implementing policies that are good for you, whether you like it or not, autocratic regimes are better than democracies”.
As part of World Bank's Tranformational Government initiative, the core idea is to ensure convergence of all the residents and institutions underway through Project UID. This is a Silicon Valley initiative (dominated by Biometric technology companies) passing off as “Planning Commission initiative” without consultation at district and panchayat level and within the political parties to create a central database of residents and generate a unique identification number for all such residents which is proposed to be “used as the basis for identifying and authenticating a person's entitlement to government services and benefits”. This initiative is being steered by the Department of Information Technology (as the Line Ministry) through National Informatics Centre Services Inc/ National Informatics Centre (NIC), as the technical solution provider and a consultant for “linking of existing databases, as well as providing for future additions, by the user agencies.” This entails tracking and profiling residents electronically through some 53 departments of the Government of India, 35 State/UT Secretariats and 603 District Collectorates. NIC was formed in 1975.
These initiatives are sub-sets of the universal set called Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations (PIII) for a National Knowledge Network that is being pursued by Sam Pitroda who is another Advisor to the Prime Minister in the rank of a Cabinet Minister without oath of office and secrecy. PIII reveals the plot emphasizing digital network to process all kinds of information at all levels saying, “For government, PII is very important to first identify all beneficiaries, essentially people. We also at the same time need to identify all our physical assets all over the country, like primary schools, railway stations, hospitals. Then, we also need to tag all our programmes-and government typically would have hundreds of programmes for public delivery systems. Once you tag people, places, and programmes, then it is easier to really organise information for delivering public services. Hopefully, with new focus on PIII, where we could essentially tag people, tag places, tag programmes, we will be able to structure delivery systems to get a lot better in terms of productivity, efficiency and reduced cost. The starting point for this nationwide network of fibre optics, wireless systems to connect 2.50 lakh Panchayats all over the country, especially in rural areas, where ultimately, information data gathering would begin. This is where beneficiaries are.”
All this information will be in the hands of a few ‘trustworthy’ people in the government and few select ‘patriotic’ companies. Such a situation is fraught with both unintended and intended consequences impacting monetary and non-monetary aspects of citizens’ life. It may be noted that the Land Titling Bill, 2011 makes a provision for linking UID Number with property as per its Section 10 and Section 36.
The gullibility of the non-Congress parties to these initiatives is intriguing given the fact that Government has admitted, “There is no data protection statute in the country.”
While UIDAI and the Indian National Congress-led Government have been misleading the citizens/residents and the media about the UID Number scheme being voluntary, the ‘Legal Framework For Mandatory Electronic Delivery of Services’ of Union Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, refers to “UIDAI – UID based authentication for services” as an enabler, thus making it compulsory.
Initially, it appeared puzzling as to why it was taking so long for UIDAI and its initiatives to get legislative sanction after Parliamentary Standing on Finance disapproved of The National Identification Authority of India Bill 2010 and its project on several counts. But this puzzle got solved on 10 October 2013, when Nilekani told people of Bangalore’s Koramangala, his potential political constituency for 2014 elections:
“See, the legislative sanction is not for Aadhaar. The government has ample legal opinion to say that they can do Aadhaar without legislative backing. The purpose of the law is to create a regulatory agency to manage the use of it and to manage penalties and fees […] It’s a common thing for the government to start an activity, and then pass a law because…Parliament and all that, so there’s nothing that prevents us from doing this, except that in the long run we want a regulatory status for autonomy purposes and to manage this whole thing. So the law will come.”
His ministerial statement about ‘Parliament and all that’ makes a mockery of Parliament, which has been subjugated by keeping Secretary Generals of both Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha on contract.
But it is inexplicable as to how 30 State Governments signed MoUs with UIDAI before August 2010 without realizing that it is a threat to the constitution as it erodes State’s autonomy for good. This is revealed from a presentation given by Nilekani to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance on 4 August 2010 even before the Bill was referred to it in December 2010.
When it is apparent for the Indian National Congress led Government that Supreme Court is likely to issue an adverse order on 22nd October after the Court on 8th October refused to modify its 23rd September order on the application of the government, the Union Cabinet approved a Bill on that very day to give statutory status to the UIDAI which provides biometric identifier numbers.
The Bill is likely to be re-introduced in the winter session of parliament during November-December. Its earlier version was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in December 2010 but was trashed by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance. Section 57 of the earlier Bill provided that UIDAI’s acts of omission and commission since 28 January 2009 be rubber stamped by the Parliament to underline that whatever it did had the consent of the Parliament. It remains to be seen whether the same has been retained by the Union Cabinet’s new version of the Bill. Union Cabinet’s approval of the Bill is likely to meet the same fate as its approval of the Bill to protect legislators from disqualification even after conviction in a criminal case.
Supreme Court is all set to pass a landmark ruling on the legality of UIDAI and its biometric collection akin to the judgment of 10 July 2013 that had struck down the legal provision that protects a lawmaker from disqualification even after conviction. The notification of Planning Commission dated 28 January 2009 is likely to meet the same as the ordinance that was meant to protect the disqualification of legislators.
All the political parties other than Congress seem to be deaf when it is admitted by Nilekani that “biometrics as a tool of surveillance”. He says, “So, like, you go to America today, you land at JFK airport and they take your fingerprint and your [iris scan]…and they do some…funny thing with it. So they have looked at biometrics as a tool of surveillance and…and all that. In our case, we said, let us use this technology in a very different way. We’ll use this technology to give a unique identity to everyone. And that is what we do.”
Admittedly, the biometric tool is for surveillance but the gullible seem to believe even what is unbelievable-it is for delivery of identity proof and social entitlements. Although Indians are accustomed to advertising and falsehoods purveyed by them but when it comes to advertising by biometric technology companies uninformed citizens and the non-Congress leaders are willing to trust even the most untrustworthy of claims. Nilekani, the vendor, has been on record for stating that success or failure of biometric identifier is dependent on marketing alone. Isn’t Nilekani a member of the Congress?
All the parties other than the Congress have a political duty to ensure that the enactment of Privacy Bill, 2011 precedes initiatives like Public Information Infrastructure, NPR and CIDR else the very purpose of the proposed legislation is defeated. Before the creation of Data Protection Authority of India (DPAI) as envisaged under Section 49 of the Privacy Bill and Central Electronic Services Delivery Commission (CESDC) under Section 8 of the Electronic Delivery of Services Bill, 2011 with proven impeccable judicial competence, the implementation of all biometric data collection related programs must be stopped both in private as well as in the government.
The 15th Lok Sabha in particular witnessed the wanton autocracy of the ruling party. In her address to both the Houses of Parliament, Pratibha Patil, the President, on 4 June 2009, said, “The Unique Identity Card scheme for each citizen will be implemented in three years overseen by an Empowered Group. This would serve the purpose of identification for development programmes and security”. The President disclosed that UID is meant for “security” purpose. It is something, which has not been disclosed by Nilekani. She also revealed that this is meant for “each citizen” even as the Government misled saying that it is meant only for usual residents. In an illustration of how ignorance rules the roost in the Congress led Government even the President was not informed that UID is a biometric identifier number and not a card. The President had informed that it will be implemented in three years. If that was the case why was Nilekani given tenure of five years since July 2009? By now it is clear that the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) that supervised UID initiative has attempted to make legislatures irrelevant and powerless in due course.
On 21 February 2013, in his address to both the Houses of Parliament, Pranab Mukherjee, the President said, “An important initiative that my Government has taken recently is the rollout of the Direct Benefits Transfer system. This would enable Government sponsored benefits such as scholarships, pensions and maternity benefits to flow directly into the accounts of beneficiaries, who can access them using their Aadhaar number. In due course, the Direct Benefits Transfer System will also cover wages and subsidies on food and LPG. This system will help cut down leakages, bring millions of people into the financial system and lead to better targeting of beneficiaries. It will be a trend-setter in the use of modern technology to bring benefits to our poorest citizens, especially in rural areas. However, the Direct Benefits Transfer System will not be a substitute for public services and will be complementary to the Public Distribution System.” The Supreme Court has put a stay on this illegitimate initiative.
Hasn’t the Congress become a marketing wing of ‘foreign’ biometric technology companies? How does one explain the ID Limelight Award given to Nilekani at the ID WORLD International Congress, 2010 in Milan, Italy on 16 November 2010 during the Conference sponsored by AB Notes, the key sponsor of the ID Congress and Safran Morpho (Safran group), a French multinational corporation? The award was given within less than one month of the launch of biometric UID/Aadhaar number by Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh on 29 September 2010. Nilekani joined UIDAI in July 2009 and got the award within 14 months. What miracle did he perform in such short span? How will the Congress justify the contract awarded by Nilekani to Safran’s subsidiary, Sagem Morpho Security Pvt Ltd for the purchase of Biometric Authentication Devices on 2 February 2011 after getting the ID Limelight award from them?
Non-Congress parties who seek votes against the Sonia Gandhi led (well indirectly) Government must be made to declare that they will abandon biometric data collection the way it has been done in UK, US, France, China and Australia. There is a compelling logic for the voters to reject those parties, which implicitly or explicitly support tracking, profiling, databasing and mortgaging of citizens’ rights and their sovereignty under the dictates of their donors and non-state actors.
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(Gopal Krishna is member of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL), which is campaigning against surveillance technologies since 2010)