Public Interest   Exclusive
Is UID anti-people? –Part 2: A bundle of contradictions, misconceptions & mirages

Government pursuing UID discreetly without answering Parliament or doubts of citizens is leading to the fear that apart from sacrificing the interests of citizens, this humungous scandal when exposed and revealed will have dangerous consequences and unrest amongst people. The plight of those who have given their biometrics and iris to unknown persons will be haunting them forever. This is the second part of a nine-part series on the unique identification number scheme 

 
It all started as a Unique Identity (UID) for 'residents' of this country in 2009 and later it metamorphosed into a huge scandal in the name of "aam aadmi". 
 
Initially we only had doubts that had to be clarified but later when delicate queries were hedged is when we all got suspicious and started following the trail.
 
The entire 'Scheme' (pun intended) is full of contradictions, hidden facts, hedging, disinformation, impracticality, arbitrariness, and what's more, fraught with threat to national security. In the beginning we were wary of making such a charge or allegation and therefore worded our statements suitably. But when we saw the reply to Right to Information (RTI) queries that were rather irresponsible and blatant, we were convinced that something is shy and that the government and the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) were hiding important information from the citizens. We then started to ask more questions and each time we got a different response for the same question! We became more curious and our research reveals that the government and the UIDAI have deliberately misled the people of this country.
 
We started to probe and also simultaneously engage in networking with all those who felt that the government should come upfront and explain. We got tremendous support and that too from various quarters that included almost all independent civil society members of the NAC (National Advisory Council) chaired by Sonia Gandhi.
 
The issues are several and that too of serious implications involving the security of the nation when data is being shared with a foreign country that too doing the same business with National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) of Pakistan! Breach of individual privacy, siphoning of huge amount of money from the public exchequer (our taxes) for something we are not quite sure or results not proven. On the contrary, the experience in UK and Australia after pushing it through has been to withdraw and the damage is huge. So can't we learn from others' mistakes? We rely purely on statistics, ground realities and experience to counter all the claims. We have absolutely no hesitation to correct our opinion provided they are convincing and furnished to us straight forward not vaguely as "We should always consider the positives rather than harp on only the negative". Then it becomes a debate.
 
When we started to approach the authorities we got vague evasive responses sometimes dilatory and also irresponsible. 
 
We went public and held several workshops, symposiums, seminars and also demonstrations that included faking of IDs by people that too in front of none other than MN Vidyashankar-the principal secretary to Government of Karnataka who played a key role in this enterprise. This was in an open house where some distinguished guests were also invited. He ducked for cover and promised many things only to go smug and silent later on. Even emails continuously sent to him were diverted to others and no proper clarification was available to any of our questions till date. It's a different matter that he was transferred from this post to another sometime ago.  
 
We had a strange and vivid experience. Initially the Karnataka government authorities were proactive and also participated in interactive sessions. But later they became totally reticent and refused to come to meetings in which we participated. They didn't express this in so many words but gave flimsy reasons of being busy and tied up. 
 
Some Kannada news channels also told us that they had contacted several top officials and they refused to participate in any debate. So this led to more doubts and wondered why the UIDAI, which boasted of transparency and probity, went into hiding. They couldn't answer tough questions that too with evidence given to them. It became obvious that they were trying to hide many things from the glare of public.
 
UID was touted as a 'unique' number (not card as many think it to be) and that there would be no other identity needed once this comes into place. But then, when protests started, there was a rider that this is only 'optional' and not mandatory? 
 
We were told that only basic information is collected. But later the truth started to unfold. Banks started collecting all information under Know Your Customer (KYC) norm that intruded virtually into citizen's privacy. The information sought for had nothing to do with regular banking that too of account holders who were comfortable with their operations for decades. There was no legal sanctity to collect these information but the banks still insisted that they were directed by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and that itself is sufficient to collect the information. Some of the banks even threatened to freeze the operative accounts if the details were not furnished. In each of these applications there was a provision for the Aadhaar number. This meant that at some stage by deceit the government will have access to our bank accounts and all transactions if they so wanted. That too without the knowledge or permission of the account holder; obviously the KYC doesn't have a disclaimer to the contrary.
 
We understand that the UID is linked to 24 databases by various service providers. This is the double speak and contrary to their claim.
 
When the 'uniqueness' was contested, the UIDAI introduced the biometrics and started with the thumb impression. When this was also contested, UIDAI stated that they would collect the impression of all the 10 fingers and also introduced the iris scan as a defence mechanism. When this was also shown as not foolproof and feasible, they scampered and commenced a "proof of concept" (PoC) study.
 
It is customary to conduct the proof of concept before the launch of any programme not in between or later. Further such proof of concept study is done end-to-end that is with all key parameters that need to be fulfilled or viability of the project itself. Secondly such survey should be done with proper scientific sampling viz: In the rural and labour intensive part like in this case to really get the correct result but it was not so: the entire fiasco was shrouded with mystery and hopelessly done; obviously the results also were skewed. Ultimately it was an "eye wash" and meant only as routine exercise.
 
UIDAI's identification results are based on 20,000 people chosen from the 60,000 who attended two biometric enrolment sessions. What do the results for all 60,000 look like? Why were the full results not published? How were the 20,000 chosen? What was wrong with the other 40,000? Why don't UIDAI report the de-duplication statistics for the one million people now enrolled on the CIDR, instead of a paltry 20,000 of them?
 
How many unique pairs of biometrics can be chosen from 40,000? Answer: 40,000 x 39,999 / 2=799,980,000. If UIDAI are right 40,000 is a number of the order of 104, whereas the number of comparisons which have to be made to prove uniqueness is of the order of 108. The population of India is of course not 40,000. More like 1.2 billion or 1.2x109. So that the number of comparisons between pairs of biometrics that would need to be made to prove uniqueness is 7.2x1017. It would take a very long time but, in a perfect world, those 7.2x1017 comparisons could be performed by computer and it could be proved automatically that there are no duplicates, i.e. each electronic identity is unique. 
 
In the real world, problems arise. UIDAI says quite rightly that they must expect the odd false positive. In other words, on occasion, it will look as though two people have the same biometrics. There may be hundreds of reasons for that. Here are just four of them: 
 
1. The equipment used may not be entirely reliable. 
2. An over-worked UIDAI agent may by mistake register Mr Narayana's biometrics against Mr Chandrashekar's name. 
3. Mr Narayana may have naughtily enrolled twice, once in his real name and once in Mr Chandrashekar's name 
4. Mr Narayana and Mr Chandrashekar may genuinely be two different people who happen to have similarly poor biometric quality of their fingerprints and / or iris or the scanner unable to distinguish between the two. 
 
When a false positive arises, it has to be investigated by a team of human beings. It can't be resolved by computer. How many false positives should India expect? In the results section of their report the UIDAI defines the false positive identification rate (FPIR) and they say "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%". At that point, UIDAI would get two and a half false positives on average for every 100,000 comparisons. 
 
Given that the UIDAI have to make 7.2x1017 comparisons, how many false positives should they expect? Answer: (7.2 x1017) x (2.5x10-5) =1.8 x1013. That's 18,000,000,000,000 false positives for people to investigate and resolve. 
 
Is this acceptable and will it ever happen? To prove uniqueness, every single Indian would have to investigate and to resolve 15,000 false positives. Long before they had finished, many of them would be dead, many more Indians would have been born, and the task would remain incomplete. Using UIDAI's own figures, India can be confident that the proof of uniqueness is not achievable. Not in the real world. 
 
How many more staff would UIDAI need? How much more would UIDAI have to spend on top quality biometrics equipment to make that improvement? If that is feasible, why didn't the UIDAI Biometrics Centre of Competence (UBCC) say so? Why did UBCC "look at the point where the FPIR. 0.0025 %" and not at the point where it's 1.4x10-12, which is what it would have to be to reduce the number of false positives to one million? 
 
If the sea-of-false-positives argument above is correct, then biometrics do not provide the foundation needed for UID, the false conclusions drawn by UBCC in the proof of concept trial report impugn everyone's trust in UIDAI and no-one can be confident that the benefits of UID will ever be achieved. 
 
Presumably the proof of concept trial report is the work of UBCC. They have to say why the sea-of-false-positives argument is wrong, if they can. And here are more questions which could do with a response from them: 
 
a) Over the years, the suppliers of biometric technology have been caught out repeatedly making exaggerated claims for the reliability of their wares. Their marketing material is now a little less gung-ho. UIDAI's suppliers, L-1 Identity Solutions Inc and Morpho among others; do not claim on their websites to be able to deliver unique identification in the case of large population registers. Given the sea of false positives, how could they? So why does the UIDAI claim to be able to deliver unique identification? It's easy to see why the suppliers don't object to being boosted in this way. But why does the UIDAI provide this unsolicited testimonial to the historically flaky products of the mass consumer biometrics industry? Is a field trial of 20,000 big enough to tell India what to expect when it comes to 1.2 billion people? 
 
b) Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the body representing 1,800 business schools in 110 countries, dropped fingerprinting as a way of verifying identity after a two-year trial. If the business schools don't recommend the technology, why does UIDAI recommend it?
 
c) Why don't Visa and MasterCard rely on biometrically verified payments anywhere in Europe and the US? If they're not good enough for Europe and the US, why should they be acceptable in India? 
 
As it happens, the UK made the same mistake. For years, between 2002 and 2010, the Home Office was in the undignified position of being quite unable to answer probing questions, whether posed by critics or supporters, about their UK ID card scheme. The facts simply don't support the claims the Home Office was making-see for example their document 'Safeguarding identity'-about being able to 'lock' people to a single identity and their fatuous promise that ID cards would "make life easier". 
 
Public money was wasted on a pipe dream. There were many problems with the UK scheme. Not just biometrics. But biometrics is the easiest problem to understand and to discuss objectively and on which to reach an agreed decision, it's quantifiable, there are no difficult value judgments to make, it's just technology. And not a very good technology-whenever there is a large-scale field trial, as opposed to the mere computer modelling exercises favoured by NIST, mass consumer biometrics prove to be too unreliable for the ID card schemes that depend on them. By the time the stillborn scheme was finally cancelled, the Home Office had lost all credibility, it was totally demoralised and it is now excluded from discussions of the UK's new, and still unspecified, Digital Delivery Identity Assurance project. 
 
Further the UIDAI collected 15 Identities that already exist viz: Passport, EPIC and Ration Cards. Therefore they couldn't claim it to be Unique. Whereas all these identities were provided only after eligibility criteria was fulfilled and with verification in each case to genuine citizens as per the provisions of the Citizenship Act. 
 
Thus the claim of it being 'unique' slowly gave way to the National Identity and became just another number, not card, which many confuse it to be. That is why it is the NIA Bill 2010 (National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010).
 
In order hasten the enrolment process incentives were given to even private enrolling agencies to mobilize applications. The floodgates were open. 
 
MOUs (memorandums of understanding) were entered with several government departments and banks as well as private agencies such as travel agents, stock brokers and even dubious institutions. Nearly 209 such operators were allowed and when we analysed the selection of such agents it gave rise to more doubts and suspicion. Some didn't even have the domain knowledge or experience to collect such vital information from people. 
 
It was astounding to know that such a valuable and precious data of citizens was handled in a haphazard way. Our doubts came true. Several bloomers and goof-ups surfaced. 
 
Some TV channels also went on an overdrive and exposed the unscrupulous methods and also corruption. A person languishing in Bengaluru prison, Ali got his UID number from Mysore without even visiting the place! 
 
We sent the media clipping to MN Vidyashankar for his comments, he immediately responded saying the culprits were arrested and FIR had been led. "This was just an aberration," he said. Without doubting his statement, we only asked some more questions which he didn't anticipate. He gave excuses and later after persuasive mails he passed it on to his subordinates to respond. Ultimately we never got any convincing fact or particulars that we sought from him. True, a FIR was led. Is that all? What about internal departmental investigations to find out the lacunae in the system and processes in order to prevent such fake IDs? No information was forthcoming on such questions.
 
We have vivid stories from our media friends who took up the issue and started to support us. Their experience was no better than ours. Media seems to have been strangely silenced. 
 
The Parliamentary Standing Committee examined all these aspects and also summoned the authorities for various clarifications. In a near unanimous decision they came to the conclusion that it is directionless and ill conceived. (Relevant to mention that there were only a couple of dissenting notes and these were not on the merits of the case, but extraneous political affiliations and compulsions and posturing) The report was submitted to Parliament for further deliberations. It is also very pertinent to note that the report deals with invasion of privacy and declares that unless there is a law that protects privacy, this can't be introduced. 
 
But the temerity and audacity with which the authorities are bypassing this report and still continuing to perpetuate the fraud is beyond anybody's imagination. Definitely it leads to the belief that there are some other extraneous considerations and also "hidden hand" that is continuing to perpetuate this programme for their own ulterior motives. Hence it has to be resisted tooth and nail.
 
Unfortunately we are still not a developed country that can afford this extravaganza and write off huge wasteful expenditure that has no guarantee of success on any basis. 
 
Government pursuing this discreetly without answering Parliament or doubts of citizens is leading to the fear that apart from sacrificing the interests of citizens, this humungous scandal when exposed and revealed will have dangerous consequences and unrest amongst people. The plight of those who have given their biometrics and iris to unknown persons will be haunting them forever. 
 
They have to live in the shadow of the "ghost that is hidden" and may strike in any form and from anywhere will linger in their minds forever!
 
Read the first part of the series here:

Is UID anti-people? The database state –Part1

 
(VK Somasekhar is active in civil society movements having distinguished in fighting for causes on environment, consumer movement and also civic issues. He is a triple graduate with post-graduation in Law as well as Diploma in Journalism, Diploma in Foreign Trade Management. He was also the president (vertical head) of a media entertainment company. He is also the managing trustee of Grahak Shakti, a voluntary Consumer Organisation of standing for over three decades now. A prolific freelance writer with accreditation by the state government and also appears on current issues on various news channels regularly both in vernacular and English media.) 
 
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    COMMENTS

    TIHARwale

    7 years ago

    1.The plight of those who have given their biometrics and iris to unknown persons will be haunting them forever.

    2.They have to live in the shadow of the "ghost that is hidden" and may strike in any form and from anywhere will linger in their minds forever!

    can u please explain. i have given finger prints and iris for National Population Register but i don,t see how my finger prints and iris can be misused.
    as regards to Bank account details law is clear then Banks have to provide complete transaction details when the information is sought by Tax authorities and law enforcing agencies . i find there are few like Somashekar who try to create mountain out of mustard

    REPLY

    Bikram Duggal

    In Reply to TIHARwale 7 years ago

    Instead of yapping against Mr Somashekar, who btw is trying his best to fight for everyone, you will be better advised to go on the net to further educate yourself. If you don't want to and instead choose to believe everything that is put in front of you then...
    Aother free helping for you- Read this article and hopefully it will goad you into reading and educating yourself a wee bit more! Also dont forget to read 1984 - a novel by George Orwell. Hope you wake up!
    http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9...

    Is UID anti-people? The database state –Part1

    Attaching numbers to people, digitizing their data, and storing these in databases is the modern IT way of branding people, so that those who ‘misbehave’ could be tracked and tackled. This is the first part of a nine-part series on the unique identification number scheme and its possible misuse by politicians, bureaucrats and foreign contractors

    Intolerance of criticism or politicians’ fear of loss of office results in their need to control people. They imagine, with some justification, that IT would enable them to do so. With advances in technologies, such as biometrics, they like to, and are led to believe that it is possible to control people using these technology tools. Thus, a popular misconception is that fingerprints and other biometrics would uniquely identify a person. This is far from true.

     

    The Economist” of 1 October 2010, said, "THANKS to gangster movies, cop shows and spy thrillers, people have come to think of fingerprints and other biometric means of identifying evildoers as being completely foolproof. In reality, they are not and never have been, and few engineers who design such screening tools have ever claimed them to be so. Yet the myth has persisted among the public at large and officialdom in particular. In the process, it has led— especially since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001—to a great deal of public money being squandered and worse, to the fostering of a sense of security that is largely misplaced.”

     

    It is difficult to manipulate people. Numbers are easily manipulated. IT facilitates number crunching. Hence, the logic of systems intended to manipulate people, so that they adhere to certain behaviours acceptable to rulers (politicians, bureaucrats and some business persons), is to attach numbers to people. In the ancient world, the Romans and others branded slaves. Attaching numbers to people, digitizing their data, and storing these in databases is the modern IT way of branding people, so that those who ‘misbehave’ could be tracked and tackled.

     

    Such attempts are packaged as meant for other purposes. For example, Bush in the US passed the “Real ID Act, 2005” to incorporate biometrics in driving licenses. Blair, in UK, brought the “National ID Card Act” also in 2005.  These were promoted as ways to control illegal immigration. Bush’s Act has been given a quiet burial and Blair’s scrapped.

     

    In scrapping the Blair Act, home secretary, Theresa May, called it, “The worst of government, intrusive bullying, and an assault on personal liberties.” She added, “We propose to do government business as servants of the people, not their masters”.

     

    Our politicians seem to think that they are rulers. They have come out with the Indian version of their people-manipulation tool. It is called ‘UID’, Unique Identification. Shedding crocodile tears, they say that it is for giving an ID to those who do not have an ID. The deceit is immediately exposed, in the UID enrolment form itself. 

     

    The Form accepts 14 other identities, like ration cards, driving licenses, PAN cards, etc. Is it not silly that no one calls this bluff? The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) claims that the ID it provides is, “a unique identification number that can be verified and authenticated in an online, cost-effective manner, which is robust enough to eliminate duplicate and fake identities.”

     

    UID—the ultimate ID theft

    Giving IDs or taking them?

    The UIDAI is not providing anyone, let alone those who do not have it, an identity, but it is giving each one of us a “UNIQUE IDENTIFICATION NUMBER”. Instead of giving us IDs, it is taking our existing Ids—passports, driving licenses, PAN cards, ration cards, etc—linking these to a number and giving each of us a NUMBER. We, the people, cannot identify ourselves or prove our ID to anyone. To prove one’s ID, the database has to be queried.  The database is controlled by the UIDAI and its foreign contractors carry out the authentication of the ID. Hence, UIDAI and its foreign contractors control our ID.

     

    This is why Prof Ian Angell, head of Informatics at the London School of Economics, called such central databases under government control, “The Ultimate Identity Theft”, in an article to “Times Online”. So, everyone is numbered, like the branding of Roman slaves. This subterfuge is lost on almost all people. Most people labour under the misconception that they would have a “portable ID”, which they could use to prove who they are - a convenient personal asset.

     

    Every ID we have, be it a driving license, PAN card or passport are all ‘Portable’. Anywhere in India, these are accepted as proof of our ID. Our passports are accepted across the world. UIDAI's claim that ration cards are portable IDs and that those holding these UID number-linked ration cards could draw their rations anywhere is a lie. Even cash transfers, instead of rations, would not be possible when the ration card holder moves from one ration shop and state to which he/she is attached to another location.

     

    To repeat what was said above, for clarity and emphasis; people are not given an ID, but a number. The number is in a database. To establish one’s ID, the database has to be queried. Who controls the database? Obviously, it is not you. It is the government, meaning some politician, bureaucrat or company official who manages the database. In this case, the ultimate control rests with the foreign private company contractor of UIDAI who provides the biometric technology and authenticates IDs using it.

     

    A brand name for branding people

    The second deceit in the UID scheme is its promotion as a tool that would prevent welfare subsidy leakages, enable access to government services and make service delivery efficient. To promote this falsehood, UIDAI has given the UID scheme a brand name, ‘Aadhaar’. The brand name is deliberately not used even once in this article. Would it not be stupid of people to promote the brand name of an evil scheme intended to manipulate them? It is mentioned here to bring out the extent of deception being perpetrated on innocent people. Again, most people are taken in by such gimmicks.

     

    The database of all people, residing in India, with a unique number allocated to each person, is to be linked to their bank accounts, tax numbers, LPG consumer numbers, ration cards, insurance, health records, pension records and so forth. This is database state control at its worst. It reminds one of the ID cards for Indian indentured labour in apartheid South Africa and the list of Jews in Hitler’s Germany.

     

    The deceitful way in which the UID is promoted is diabolical. UIDAI claims that it is voluntary. Simultaneously, the UIDAI says, “Service-providers could ask for it”. Next, news is put out regularly in media, stating that the UID is being ‘linked’ to LPG, MGNREGS, KYC of banks, and so on. The gullible and the timid, not wanting to be left out of government's largesse rush to enrol in UID.

     

    Finding allies for tall claims

    Tall claims of huge savings in subsidy leakages are made through the media. Initially, the UIDAI made these claims. Now it has allies doing it for the Authority. NIPFP in a recent “research study” claimed savings of Rs1.10 lakh crore in subsidy leakages by 2018. A safe bet indeed. Who would remember this, six years from now? It is astounding how a hitherto reputed organisation has fallen for this ploy and sought to justify it with some arithmetic. The so called research is based on government data and the UIDAI's claims.


    The NIPFP research avoids mentioning how the UID would be applied in the field to any of these schemes. News had been leaked that "proof of concept" (PoC) studies for LPG and BPL rations were being done. On the LPG PoC, RTI queries receive responses stating that the studies are incomplete, but some news reports hint that the studies are successful. The UID is perhaps, the only project in the world in which PoC studies are undertaken well after the project is underway.

     

    Transparency—UIDAI style

    While the UIDAI claims to be transparent and media extols the virtue, RTI replies prove attempts to hide information. To illustrate, in Appendix 1 to this Monograph, are RTI applications seeking copies of UIDAI's contracts with foreign companies and their replies. The UIDAI has refused to provide copies of the contracts.  In a first reply, the UIDAI said that it has signed “Non-disclosure agreements” with the contractors. In another reply, the UIDAI cited Section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act, which says that information such as trade secrets, or intellectual property, which would compromise the competitive position of third parties need not be disclosed, unless it is in public interest to do so.

     

    It was pointed out that since the contracts have already been awarded and the competitive position of the contractor companies would not be compromised. Further, the proviso to the exception under Section 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act, states that information that cannot be denied to Parliament or a state legislature cannot be denied to the public.

     

    In spite of quoting the above proviso in the appeal against refusal, the UIDAI appellate authority has upheld the PIO’s refusal to furnish the information. The RTI applicant has appealed to the CIC. The First appeal also stated that since the expenditure for the contract payments are from the public exchequer, the public is entitled to know the terms of the contract. This too did not impress the UIDAI’s appellate authority.

     

    What has the UIDAI got to hide in these contracts? Everything. These contracts would reveal all. This leads to the question posed on the front cover. Very, very few people know or realize that to be identified as an Indian, a foreign, private company would have to verify and certify that the biometric images stored in their database matches that of the person being identified. Could anything be more insulting to us? The danger to our nation’s security posed by such database control in the hands of foreign private companies is the subject of another article in the monograph.

     

    (Col (Retd.) Mathew Thomas is a former defence services officer and missile scientist turned civic activist, campaigning against state database control of the people.)

     

     

     

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    COMMENTS

    Dr Pankaj Gupta

    7 years ago

    An eye opener article. Has made me uncomfortable regarding the actual motive behind the scheme. I cant be doubtful of the article as scuh because it is from such magzine that fights for people rigt and always put its weight behind the right people and right thing. And also as i am aging and getting experienced, I am coming to understand fully that Govt. ACTUALLY FOOLS its own people by boasting totally false claims about everything, Why cant it be different in UID also. My initial idea was that it would tackle the problem of illegal migrants esp Bangladeshis. But , i read almost all the time that these are the very people who have got their UID cards ready at the very first opportunity and flaunt it to all. so the very purpose seem to be lost and thus there cant be any other motives than those described in the article. Will surely read the full series. Kudos, to ur team for such an effort.. Thanks indeed !

    Dr Pankaj Gupta

    7 years ago

    An eye opener article. Has made me uncomfortable regarding the actual motive behind the scheme. I cant be doubtful of the article as scuh because it is from such magzine that fights for people rigt and always put its weight behind the right people and right thing. And also as i am aging and getting experienced, I am coming to understand fully that Govt. ACTUALLY FOOLS its own people by boasting totally false claims about everything, Why cant it be different in UID also. My initial idea was that it would tackle the problem of illegal migrants esp Bangladeshis. But , i read almost all the time that these are the very people who have got their UID cards ready at the very first opportunity and flaunt it to all. so the very purpose seem to be lost and thus there cant be any other motives than those described in the article. Will surely read the full series. Kudos, to ur team for such an effort.. Thanks indeed !

    Dr Pankaj Gupta

    7 years ago

    An eye opener article. Has made me uncomfortable regarding the actual motive behind the scheme. I cant be doubtful of the article as scuh because it is from such magzine that fights for people rigt and always put its weight behind the right people and right thing. And also as i am aging and getting experienced, I am coming to understand fully that Govt. ACTUALLY FOOLS its own people by boasting totally false claims about everything, Why cant it be different in UID also. My initial idea was that it would tackle the problem of illegal migrants esp Bangladeshis. But , i read almost all the time that these are the very people who have got their UID cards ready at the very first opportunity and flaunt it to all. so the very purpose seem to be lost and thus there cant be any other motives than those described in the article. Will surely read the full series. Kudos, to ur team for such an effort.. Thanks indeed !

    Bikram Duggal

    7 years ago

    Great Article. This scheme is reminiscent of the book '1984'. These lists that can be prepared using this data can be very harmful indeed.
    Ask any sikh who suffered in the 1984 riots - It is a known fact that Electoral lists were used to identify where in a colony were the sikh families living.
    In the right hands such data can be useful but in the wrong ones it will be disastrous and we have mostly wrong hands.
    Data is very powerful. In fact Walmart was not allowed to open a bank in US as the other banks said that the data that Walmart had on its customers would give it a massive advantage over the existing banks. The banks lobbied feverishly to get the proposal shot down.
    We must be vary at the least and absolutely distrustful especially when the govt is not willing to even share the terms and service level agreements signed with these firms who will be managing the back end!

    Public Interest   Exclusive
    UIDAI’s contracts kept hidden behind non-disclosure clauses

    How can any office of the government pay taxpayers’ money to private companies and not disclose the contracts to taxpayers?

    In response to a RTI (Right to Information) query seeking copies of the Unique Identification Authority of India’s (UIDAI) contracts with four private companies—two foreign and two Indian—the authority claimed that these could not be furnished since they have signed non-disclosure agreements with them. The UIDAI is set up and functioning without the sanction of law. It enters into contracts with private companies, including foreign ones, pays them out of the exchequer and refuses to furnish copies of the contracts. Are not these contracts illegal? How could the UIDAI sign contracts on behalf of Planning Commission? Assuming, but not admitting that the UIDAI is empowered to enter into the contracts, are not the non-disclosure agreements illegal? How could any office of the government pay taxpayers’ money to private companies and not disclose the contracts (purpose for which the money is paid) to taxpayers?

    The UIDAI has been informed that one of the foreign companies has links with intelligence agencies from a foreign country. This information failed to obtain any reaction from the UIDAI. The response to an RTI application seeking information on foreign company contractors was even more inexplicable. The UIDAI stated that it did not know the country of origin of these contractors and is not concerned about such facts. It added that as long as the bidding contractors had an office in India or an Indian partner and had sent a RFP, the Authority would not bother with origins. That is saying a lot about the kind of due diligence UIDAI has done in choosing contractors for “India’s prestigious world’s largest database project” of the country’s biometric and demographic information.

    In answer to another RTI query to furnish copies of contracts pertaining to three empanelled Enrolling Agencies (EAs), the UIDAI did not furnish the copies of applications submitted by these companies and minutes of decision to empanel them. Instead, the UIDAI replied stating that the companies “were empanelled as EAs during the year 2010-11 on the basis of eligibility conditions provided in RFE-2010 and subject to satisfying other terms and conditions.” Such obfuscation is characteristic of the UIDAI’s “transparency”. One of the three companies is a tea estate company. How does a tea estate company satisfy “eligibility conditions” for empanelment, as EA is mysterious, until one reads the RFE. The RFE states, “All organizations (single agency/consortium) interested in undertaking enrolment activities for the UIDAI project shall be empanelled under Level T1, provided they meet the general eligibility criteria”. It is a free for all; anyone and everyone can join the melee of the enrolment process to capture biometric and demographic data of the people of this country.                                                                     

    The UIDAI magnanimously added that the RFE-2010 runs into 74 pages and that the same could be provided at the cost of Rs2 per A4 size page. The UIDAI was careful to point out that it has not signed any contract with any of the EAs. It stated, “It is the sole responsibility of the registrar to assign work order subject to fulfilment of terms and conditions mentioned in Request for Quotations”. Originally, particulars of 209 EAs were published on the UIDAI website. The number has since reduced to around 180. EAs empanelment is renewed yearly. No reasons are available as to why the number of EAs is reduced.  

    Press and media have reported several instances of fraud and crimes by EAs. FIRs have been filed. Nothing is known about what happened to these cases. Police and media are equally silent on this, and strangely so. One would have thought that the stories on them would make juicy media stories. The UIDAI too, is not forthcoming on details of these cases. An RTI query elicited a vague response from the UIDAI, almost disowning responsibility for what the EAs do. The Authority claimed that this is the responsibility of registrars.

    Executive arrogance

    Several instances of the government, which is the executive estate of our democracy, acting contrary to constitutional and parliamentary norms happen with discomforting regularity. The government’s actions in the UID scheme are typical of political arrogance translating into the executive domain. Firstly, The UIDAI has been functioning sans legal mandate ever since it was set up through an executive order in 2009. The UIDAI claims that such executive action is justified through constitutional provisos; a claim, if tested, might wither in the light of judicial scrutiny. If the executive function unchecked by Parliament, spend public money, intrude into people’s lives and commercialize people’s data, then Parliament would become a redundant institution.

    The government’s logic is befuddling and sometimes, appears driven by expediency and political convenience. For example, when ‘Team Anna’ was pushing the Jan Lokpal Bill, the government, as well as several politicians of varying hues, waxed eloquent on the supremacy of Parliament. However, when it comes to the UID project, expediency takes over and Parliament propriety is conveniently forgotten. The executive has a highly selective approach towards such niceties as legality, honouring the institution of Parliament and accountability to the people.

    Contrast this with the action of the UK government, when it scrapped the National ID Card Act of that country. They have the problems of terrorism and illegal immigration, for which the Blair government thought that a biometric national ID card system was the answer. They passed the Act, appointed contractors and went ahead. The new government scrapped the Act and the project. In doing so, the UK government said, “We propose to do government business as servants of the people, not their masters”.

    Our “aam aadmi” government seems to imagine that they are feudal lords. It is time people reclaim sovereignty.

    (Mathew Thomas is a former defence services officer and missile scientist turned civic activist, campaigning against state database control of the people.)

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    COMMENTS

    R Vijayaraghavan

    8 years ago

    Brilliant article. Nilekani could easily have answered all the questions raised without embarrassment. They are hiding a lot: either arrogance or rank inefficiency

    param

    8 years ago

    "It is time people reclaim sovereignty." Take care of yourself & your family - I can see a charge of sedition knocking at your door. Jai Hind :)

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