Is UID anti-people?-Part 4: Does the implementation smack of corruption and negligence?

Every year foodgrain worth thousands of crores rot due to lack of storage facility because the Indian government says there is no money. Where should the priority be—in spending whatever the little money available to build storage or embark on a fancy UID scheme? This is the fourth part of a nine-part series on the unique identification number scheme and its possible misuse by politicians, bureaucrats and foreign contractors

The impudence

It is inexplicable that sensible, highly qualified, experienced people would do things like this, especially when they are in responsible positions. Who in his (her) right mind would launch a project that encompasses the entire population of a nation, without careful investigation of the feasibility, pros and cons and without some study of costs and benefits? Even more incredible is that significant numbers of people, either out of fear, or faith in the government or the person heading it, with his media created image, have enrolled and still go for enrolment in the UID scheme.

 

Perhaps, those who launched it did bet on the ignorance of the masses or their herd mentality or their helplessness against the power of government. If so, they have a diabolical game plan. It cannot be that they did not know what the project entails or what it would achieve. The media too has played along. This is as expected.

 

When dictatorial leaders rise, either in a coup or metamorphose from democratic processes, as when Hitler or Mussolini, or Stalin, or Nasser or Sukarno and many others strode across their nations and the world, the media and the public acquiesced. The people who launched the UID scheme are thought to be good men. As the judge who sentenced Rajat Gupta said, "Good men do bad things". The manner in which the UID scheme was launched and is promoted now, is characterised by impudence, call it a kind of foolhardiness, if you will. They pretend that it is for giving people an identity.

 

They project it as a tool that would reduce corruption in welfare service delivery. Yet they are all in a government which has been rocked by one scandal after another over its entire second tenure. While they make these claims, they do not say how the goal would be achieved.

 

Did they look at alternatives? If, as is admitted, they did no study of the UID project, how could they have investigated alternatives?

 

For the past several decades, thousands of crores of rupees worth of foodgrain rots due to lack of storage. Government spokespersons say that there is no money. Where should the priority be in spending the little money available—to build storage or embark on a fancy scheme spending these crores?

 

Is the promotion of UID deceitful?

UID is promoted as a noble pro-poor program. The National Population Register (prepared under the amended Citizenship Act), on the other hand, is supposed to identify and counter illegal immigrants and prevent such immigration. Whether NPR would succeed in achieving its objectives is a moot question. A government decision resulted in sharing the work of capturing the data of the population on a 50-50 basis. UID is for all residents. NPR is only for citizens. This exposes the incongruity of the decision. NPR does not provide for capturing biometric data. It does not also have any provision for sharing the data with other agencies such as banks, insurance companies and so forth, whereas UID is promoting the sharing of data for all kinds of applications. The finance ministry questioned the duplication of work and waste of money with multiple agencies doing the same work. This led to the sharing of population decision. There is confusion on registering twice, once in NPR and again in UID.

 

One of UIDAI's foreign contractors is a US firm, L1 ID Solutions (L1). It is now a subsidiary of Safran, a company in France. It is now called Morpho Trust. It still has an address and operations in the US. L1 provides a host of intelligence services to US intelligence agencies, Defence Department and for commercial organisations. The services, which L1 provides are given in the annexure to the Monograph.

 

UIDAI has refused to disclose details of the contract with L1 in replies to RTI queries. An appeal has been led with the CIC. The refusal to furnish contract details gives rise to the suspicion that the UIDAI has something to hide and in all probability, L1 is providing intelligence services to the government, the disclosure of which, would take the lid of the fig leaf of UID being a pro-poor initiative. More about L1 and its background is given in another article in this series.

 

RTI queries to the UIDAI raise many questions and leads to misgivings and apprehensions of corruption and a cavalier approach to capturing, processing and handling sensitive data of people of the country. UID has a system of private firms UIDAI empanelled for field work of data-capture. Initially, the UIDAI website gave a list of 209 such companies. The empanelment seems to have been done in a lackadaisical way.

 

Among the empanelled firms are a tea estate, a printing press, a NGO in education, stock brokers, etc. Three of the empanelled firms have the same addresses and appear to be from the same family. The UIDAI also has registrars. The registrars are government departments, banks and public sector organisations such as insurance companies. The registrars are to contract out the field work of data-capture to the empanelled agencies (EAs). There are many instances of corruption, fraud and termination for such activities. With difficulty it was possible to obtain information on the criminal cases led against the EAs who indulged in fraud.

 

Although years have passed, nothing further is known about the progress of the cases. More importantly, the question of what is to be done with the data these firms captured prior to their termination and criminal cases is not answered. UIDAI and government registrars do not seem to be bothered about such trivialities. They are evasive regarding the responsibility towards data security. UIDAI says that they only empanel the EAs and have no further responsibility.

 

An RTI reply from the UIDAI, Bangalore giving details of a FIR filed in a police station with allegations of fraud in enrolments is placed in the annexure. A firm, Global ID Solutions, acting as a franchisee of Alankit Fin Sec is alleged to have issued fake ID cards with the UIDAI logo. The case was led 29 July 2011, even though the RTI reply states that information of the fraud was received on 29 June 2011. A newspaper advertisement in a Tamil daily on 2 November 2011 stated that the advertiser would issue national ID cards in seven districts of Tamil Nadu. A FIR was filed in Dharmapuri police station. A scanned copy of the RTI reply is in the annexure.

 

Alankit Fin Sec is one of three firms, which appear to have some relationship with each other. UIDAI says that this firm has not been re-empanelled.

 

Over a year has passed. Nothing is known about how the fraud was committed, who were the persons behind it, how many people have these false IDs, were their biometrics uploaded on to the UIDAI servers, etc. If these are just two frauds that were detected, how many might have gone undetected? Such frauds have been reported across the country. Neither the UIDAI nor the government seem to be bothered.

 

UIDAI's other foreign contractors

One of UIDAI's foreign contractors is Accenture Plc. The company has a history. The information given here is garnered from the Internet. The truth of the information could only be established through a proper investigation. The information is such as to warrant such investigation before the Government of India or the UIDAI enter into business dealings with the company. However, this does not seem to have been done. Even worse, UIDAI in a RTI reply, stated that they do not know the country of origin of its foreign contractors.

 

Accenture's partners were the same as those of Anderson Consulting. The partners split from Arthur Anderson shortly before it went into liquidation following the Enron scandal, whose auditors they were.

 

According to Wikipedia, in October 2002, the US Congressional General Accounting Office identified Accenture as incorporated in a tax haven country. Accenture was incorporated in Bermuda. In May 2009, Accenture changed its place of incorporation to Ireland. It then became Accenture Plc. Accenture is a prime contractor to US Defence Services. Accenture has been embroiled in several cases under US Laws of "The False Claims Act", "the Anti-kickbacks Act" and the "Truth in Negotiations Act".

 

According to a US Department of Justice release of 12 September 2011, Accenture paid $63.675 million to settle False Claims Act allegations. The laws under which Accenture was proceeded against in the US would constitute offenses under the Prevention of Corruption Act and would entail criminal liability in India. The website details from where the data about the company were gathered are in the annexure to this monograph.

 

Impudence, Imprudence, Corruption or Negligence

Impudence is characterised by offensive boldness; insolent or impertinent behaviour. Imprudence on the other hand denotes indiscretion or lack of wisdom, perhaps even common sense. The nonchalance of UIDAI and the Government in the face of such information about their contractors in so important a project that affects the entire population and costs several thousands or lakhs of crores of rupees is astounding. They dismiss any criticism with utter disdain.

 

The media, which has such information, is in a "Maun Virat" mode. There is a conspiracy of silence. What due diligence did the UIDAI do before appointing these contractors? The answer would be "None whatsoever," if the RTI reply stating that there is no way of knowing the origin of the contractor companies is to be believed.

 

The UIDAI chief being an IT honcho could not be unaware of the past history of Accenture. It is difficult to believe that the RTI reply was given by a junior official without knowledge or permission from higher-ups in the UIDAI hierarchy. Is this deliberate deceit? Deceit is always deliberate. It is neither accidental nor innocent. Could the denial of information regarding the contracts and contractors be induced by corruption or could it be sheer negligence. Only an impartial investigation would reveal the truth.

 

Meanwhile the nation and its people would have to stoically suffer the impudence and imprudence of those in authority.

 

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

Is UID anti-people?-Part 3: Tall claims and tomfoolery of UID
Is UID anti-people? –Part 2: A bundle of contradictions, misconceptions & mirages
Is UID anti-people? The database state –Part1

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    Is UID anti-people?-Part 3: Tall claims and tomfoolery of UID

    Neither LPG nor any other subsidy leakage would be reduced though the use of UID. All that would happen is untold misery for the subsidy recipient. This is the third part of a nine-part series on the unique identification number scheme and its possible misuse by politicians, bureaucrats and foreign contractors

     

    Tall Claims
    It is not possible to deal with all the welfare schemes here for which these tall claims are made. Hence, only the claims about reduction in LPG subsidy leakages are discussed here, as typical of other similar claims. Tomfoolery means absurdity. The adjective aptly describes the UID scheme. UID is a scheme that involves a lot of scheming and schemers. The "Tomfoolery Show" is an American cartoon comedy television series. A really funny and popular, oft-repeated scene in this comic is of a delivery boy running around trying to deliver a large plant shouting, "Plant for Mrs Discobolus". One could find it quite funny to imagine a LPG delivery boy running around shouting, "Subsidised LPG cylinder for Mrs Aadhaary; family line up for fingerprint authentication" in the real-life UID comedy show. Comedy shows provide comic relief.

    Unfortunately, while the UID scheme's objectives are laughable, they cannot be laughed off, since, before the scheme collapses under the weight of its own contradictions and falsehoods, it would have brought untold damage to the nation's social fabric and compromised personal security of millions of Indians.

    The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) chairperson made several tall claims about the UID scheme's potential to reduce subsidy leakages, in talks to media many times. Thus, he reportedly said that LPG subsidy leakages could be reduced by Rs12,000 crore using UID. He has never specified how this could be done. He hinted at authenticating the buyer/customer of the LPG cylinder. He did not mention when the authentication would be done. He headed a task-force on subsidies. The task-force submitted an interim report. A ministerial panel approved and accepted the report. The report recommends the use of UID for authenticating recipients of welfare subsidies. What else could one expect when the task-force is headed by the person who is spear-heading the UID project? This is like asking the accountant to check the veracity of the accounts he has prepared. More crudely, one could say, it is like asking the thief or the one who created a problem to suggest measures to prevent theft or prevent recurrence of the problem.

    It reminds one, of Edgar Wallace's novel, "The Joker". In the novel, a rich man gifts a jail to the city where he lives. Later he is caught for fraud and jailed in the same jail he had gifted. He had made a tunnel from the jail to the outside, when he had it constructed. He escaped through the tunnel, playing a clever joke on the city. Enough escape hatches have been built into the UID scheme for those who are indulging in this colossal waste of public money to deny responsibility when it fails, as it is bound to.

    A few of the task-force's recommendations on LPG

    The biometric authentication 'tamasha' is the fulcrum on which rests the assumption that subsidies could be prevented using UID. Let's look at how ridiculous this assumption and the task-force's recommendations are in just one welfare subsidy scheme-LPG. Here are a few of the recommendations...

    1.    Details pertaining to customers availing subsidised LPG would be published on the transparency portal of the oil company.
    2.    Call centres would be established to address customer complaints.
    3.    Distributors would be compensated for additional working capital they would need to stock non-subsidised LPG cylinders. (No one knows how much the compensation would be and how it would be paid. The task force does not deal with such trivialities.)
    4.    "Aadhaar numbers of all members of households would be seeded against customer data". (Such phrases intended to confuse abound in the task-force report. Why use words, like, 'seeded'? It probably means that since each LPG connection has one name on it, the names and UID numbers and biometrics of all members of his/ her family would be captured and stored in the UID and perhaps, oil company database. Imagine the problem when a member of the family would have if he/ she moves out and lives separately.)
    5.    The bank account numbers will also be collected and seeded! (Thus, if one wants to obtain a subsidised LPG connection, the bank accounts of all members of the family and their biometrics would have to be given to UIDAI.)
    6.    "De-duplication on Aadhaar to eliminate ghost connections will be done. Application software will be developed; (What will be the cost of development of this software?) hardware will be fully compatible with UIDAI standards. (What will be the hardware cost? Who all will need both the software and hardware-the oil companies, government civil supplies departments, dealers, etc?)
    7.    Subsidised LPG cylinders will be provided only to targeted/segmented customers. The process of identifying will be notified by government. (The Standing Committee on Petroleum and Natural Gas has recommended that subsidised LPG be given only to those with annual income less than Rs6 lakh per annum. I had written to the Parliament Standing Committee on Finance, which examined the National Identification Authority of India (NIA) Bill informing them that the frauds in welfare schemes are in decisions on eligibility and not caused by identity problems. The Parliament Committee accepted the same and wrote it into their report. So, how and who would identify those with less than Rs6 lakh annual income? Would your fingerprints reveal your annual income? What happens when one loses a job, receives a promotion, changes jobs, etc?)  

    The task-force then says that pilot projects to test whether their method would work would be undertaken in two districts in Hyderabad and Mysore. Conflicting reports have appeared in the press on these pilots. Some said that oil companies have rejected the method. Another press report said that the ministries of finance and petroleum and oil company executives accepted the method. I sent RTI queries to oil companies. They replied stating that the pilot trials are incomplete. The ministry of finance denied any knowledge of it. Replies from other, including UIDAI have not been received. The RTI replies are placed in appendices to this monograph.
     
    Ground realities

    Let's see how the recommendations would work on ground. It is incredible that such a scheme would be launched with imaginary uses and halfway through its implementation, the promoters would be running pilot studies to test its feasibility. Is this how a responsible government and a former business magnate are expected to launch projects?

    The logic of "authentication at delivery using UID numbers" proposed by the task-force is baffling. Are the intelligent people that staff the task-force not aware that it would be a simple matter to check diversions of domestic cylinders for commercial use? Cylinders of different colours are used for domestic and commercial purposes. The oil company delivers cylinders at the location of the customer. Does the task-force think that domestic customers then sell the cylinders to commercial enterprises? If, as the task force seem to say, large-scale diversions of subsidised LPG cylinders take place, are they suggesting that large number of people of this country are thieves? Do they not know that it is impossible to divert LPG cylinders without the connivance of the oil companies, their distributors and the civil supplies department officials?

    Recently, it was reported that a chief minister of a state had surrendered three of the four LPG connections he had. How many politicians and bureaucrats have more than one connection? During the 2G scam, it was reported that a former Central Government minister for telecommunications had a BSNL telephone exchange installed for his personal use with over 300 lines. Whatever happened to that revelation? The purpose of the analogy is to show that it is not the people who are misusing facilities, but those in authority.

    Why not use the customer number to detect diversion? Why another number, such as UID?

    Reverting back to the LPG issue, every customer has a number given by the oil company for his/her connection. Oil companies and their agents have databases with the number of cylinders consumed every month by each customer. Everyone knows that an average family would consume a cylinder in about a month and a half. If a customer is found consuming say several cylinders a month, is it not possible to check on such customers to detect diversions or commercial use?

    Recently, Karnataka government asked all LPG customers to provide their electric meter numbers to check if more than one connection exists in a household. This was an equally foolish exercise. A defence department layout had just one meter for 200 houses!
     
    Instead of looking at where the diversion and mischief is taking place, the task force, driven by the UIDAI chief are barking up the wrong tree, trying to fix a small leak in the dyke, when part of the dyke wall has caved in.
     
    Now look at the problems associated with authentication at delivery. The person in whose name the gas connection exists would have to be present at the time of delivery to authenticate him/her. To get round this stupidity, UIDAI has recommended linking the biometrics of all members of the family and their bank accounts with the LPG connection. Are they not able to visualize situations where no family member would be present, as when all of them would be working or at school/college and servant or neighbour collects the delivery?

    To authenticate at delivery, every sales truck would have to carry a scanning device. Are these delivery staffs capable of handling such devices with the care they need? What would happen if, for whatever reason, lack of connectivity or malfunction of the device, the authentication fails? How many undelivered cylinders are oil companies and their distributors willing to accept? How many trips are they willing to accept for such failed deliveries? Imagine the hardship the family would have to go through in such situations. What is the cost of all this? Has the cost of scanners for every truck, the cost of spare scanners, their maintenance cost, the training cost for delivery personnel and so on been accounted for? Why are UIDAI and the government persisting with this foolishness in attempting to find uses for UID?
     
    Authentication in other welfare schemes

    The task-force has recommended that every retail fertiliser shop be equipped with scanners. They say that there 2.3 lakh retail fertiliser shops (Paragraph 7.2.1 page 40 Task-Force interim report). There are over 5 lakh ration shops, as on 30 Jun 2011.
    PIB news release. All these shops would have to be equipped and the shop owners and staff trained in handling scanning devices. Only a fool would think that this is feasible. Almost all countries in the world subsidize goods and service to their people. How many of them have indulged in such stupidity?

    Take USA for example. How do they authenticate farmers who are given the subsidies? Our government and the UIDAI chairperson are ardent followers of the US economic system. In the US, $277.3 billion was distributed as subsidies to agri-businesses, between 1995 and 2011. Of this, the top 10% collected 75% of all subsidies, amounting to $172.2 billion. The rich farmer received $31,400 per year. The poor farmer at the bottom 80% got $594 per year. (Please see
    EWG Farm Subsidies website for details http://farm.ewg.org/region.php?fips=00000 ). This is what targeted cash transfers could do. Perhaps, this indeed is the purpose, to be able to send the subsidies to those whom the government in power wishes to favour.

    Cash transfers and changing power equation

    Once UID is in place, as far as welfare schemes are concerned, power will shift to the party in power at the Centre. Even though the parties in governments in the states may decide on who receives subsidies by identification of eligible persons, the control of distribution of the subsidies would be in the hands of the Central Government, since the authentication process is controlled by the UIDAI, which is a central authority. This would be especially true of centrally funded welfare schemes. For example, a village or electoral constituency that has not voted for the Central Government party could be discriminated against and subsidies denied on various pretexts.

    A World Bank report points to the cash transfers in Columbia wherein the people tended to vote for the party in power perceiving them as the giver of the largesse.

    Secondly, it is easier to swipe cash than goods. For example, for a customer to sell a LPG cylinder in black market or for an agent to divert a number of cylinders for commercial use is more difficult than to siphon off cash transferred to banks accounts.

    LPG cash subsidy could be transferred to non-eligible people, if eligibility criteria are stipulated, or people with fake IDs. It is possible to fake fingerprints with a cost as little as Rs30. This was demonstrated to an E-governance secretary of a state government. Today, LPG subsidy is universal. Hence, there is no need to fake eligibility.

    Thirdly, it would be much easier to divert the cash subsidy, even by eligible persons, since the subsidised cylinder need not be delivered at all, but instead, only authentication of the buyers done as if it has been delivered. To illustrate, assume that the LPG subsidy policy is that a household with income below Rs6 lakh per annum is eligible for six subsidised cylinders. Firstly, there is no way an oil company or government could verify the income of the household or the person in whose name the LPG connection is taken. Persons and households could fall into and come out of such income brackets. The 'eligible' household could merely be shown as having bought the cylinders, without taking delivery of the cylinders. The oil company's dealer merely obtains the scanned biometric to show the purchase. The cash is received by the household in the bank and cash given to the delivery boy/dealer in a mutually agreed sharing pattern. The cylinder is sent for commercial use where the subsidised cost is collected for payment to the oil company.

    The moral of the story is that any system is only as good as the people who manage it. For example, there are laws against depositing and withdrawing cash and paying in cash beyond the stipulated sums (Rs50,000 for deposits and Rs20,000 for payments).

    Akilesh Yadav, current UP CM deposited Rs44.67 lakhs in cash and paid the same amount through cash to a government department (Nazul department), as per media reports. Akilesh said that he received the sum as loan from his party. The I-T Appellate Tribunal ruled that there was no scope for introducing any black money for transfer of cash from one concern to another concern and that the genuineness of the transaction was beyond doubt. In a country where such rulings happen, how could UID hope to stop diversion of subsidies?

    India's welfare schemes under foreign company control

    Lastly, one should note that it is not the UIDAI that authenticates the person receiving the subsidy cash transfer, but a private foreign company and its official who manages the biometric database of all Indian residents. Thus, the social welfare system of the Nation would be run at the whims and fancies of private foreign companies.

    Who would be legally responsible for fraud or failure to authenticate or false authentication? Would the UIDAI or the foreign company be responsible? While the matter is being decided, how would the person who did not receive the LPG cylinder cook his/her food? Is it possible for the foreign company to either create discontent or discredit a government deliberately make large-scale errors?

    One could argue that it is unlikely that the foreign firms would not have any interest in who receives the subsidies. That could be true, though not necessarily so. They could have other motivations. The foreign company could be influenced or could on its own decide to sabotage the system. No nation would be idiotic enough to have its entire demographic database and welfare systems in the hands of private foreign companies, but the UIDAI seems to be doing exactly that. The UIDAI and the task-force on subsidies headed by its chairperson have been careful to hide this fact by showing the authentication in flow diagrams in its report as being done by UIDAI. At the same time the UIDAI has refused to disclose the contracts with these foreign companies.
     
    Neither LPG nor any other subsidy leakage would be reduced though use of UID. All that would happen is untold misery for the subsidy recipient. It is high time the people of this nation realise the charade played on them and stop it.   

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


    Is UID anti-people? –Part 2: A bundle of contradictions, misconceptions & mirages
    Is UID anti-people? The database state –Part1

     

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    COMMENTS

    P M Ravindran

    7 years ago

    I am not going to comment on UID but on the efforts I had to make to land on this page. I landed on the 9th part of this series first. It had links to the rest 8 and I could land on all 7 except this by just clicking on those links. Now curiosity took over. And copied the URLs of all those available links and studied the changes and learnt that what mattered, apart from the text, was the last 5 digit figure. Went back to the competitive exam days of the 1970s and worked it out successfully! In the bargain I also learnt that it is this figure that matters most. With same text but different figures I landed on a few reports which of course had no relation to the text in the url!

    Krishnaswami CVR

    7 years ago

    The article appears to be biased and highlighting hardships. Even though it talks about privacy, it does not highlight that privacy of details is highest danger in this scheme. The comments on the cash deposits and withdrawal is an indication that the author does not look into the matter dispassionately, but with biased mind. I stopped reading after the said lines. The lines are an indication of wordplay which the article alleges on the part of the government. Is it illegal to deposit cash in excess of Rs.20K? The article alleges so. I request the author to quote me the relevant law. My bankers accept cash in excess of Rs.50k in my account with the condition that i indicate my pan number in the voucher of deposit. They never told me it is illegal. Is it illegal to pay more than Rs.20K ? I am paying rent in excess of 20K and i get a cash reeipt? is it illegal. Dear author build arguments based on fact and not otherwise.

    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...

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