Is UID anti-people?–Part 6: The foundation for incessant intrusion

Leakages in social welfare, for instance, are already being tackled successfully through both technological and social means, and the convenience of easy shopping can be achieved through much less dangerous and locally valid means than the creation of a national database. This is the sixth part of a nine-part series on the unique identification number scheme

 
The Internet has grown from a loose and repairable interconnect between individual computers at inception to a vast interconnecting network of smaller networks, sprawling across the world and providing an incredibly wide range of communication options. Largely self-governed, it has resisted the growth of corporate dominance until now, when even governments have been suborned into finding ways to collaborate and turn over control to a shadowy group of transnational players who owe no allegiance to any political or social grouping or influence.  Vickram Crishna looks at the implications for ordinary people in nations like India, where the penetration of pervasive control is both more rapid and more intense than has ever been experienced in the more advanced nations. The latest gambit is to force digitisation of personally identifiable information (seductively called 'Aadhaar', or foundation, signifying the basis for an enormous assault on personal liberty) upon poverty-stricken persons who cannot directly gain from the Internet's knowledge-enhancing benefits.
 
The Internet was born in the 1960s, with research from the UK being applied in the USA (through an academic collaboration), that resulted in the ability to allow computers to communicate with each other, connecting through self-healing networks. The real innovation was in the design of such networks, and the motivation for that probably lies in the fear psychosis of the Cold War, when nuclear strikes might disrupt traditional circuit-switched telecommunication networks.
 
However, self-healing networks are a facsimile of real-world organic networks, found in human bodies as well as most other living creatures, to varying degrees of sophistication. One of the serendipitous benefits of this new technology was that existing telecommunication networks could be used with far more efficiency. One characteristic of the new approach was that any circuit, even the smallest segment of a circuit, was used only for the precise amount of time that it was needed, leaving it free to be used as part of a different circuit at any other time. It was true of circuits that operated through physical wires as well as via electromagnetic radiation (typically radio, which had been developing in parallel with cable communication through most of the 1900s).
 
Needless to say, this facility was not welcomed with open arms by the telecommunication industry, which, at the time, was able to charge huge sums for the use of their exclusive networks. It hardly made any difference to the world as such computer networks were mainly used by a small number of highly specialised engineers, some of whom provided consulting services for academic researchers at universities.
 
In the late 1980s, one such researcher, Tim Berners-Lee, an academic working at the prestigious CERN laboratory in Europe, was keen to find a way to get around the need for anyone requesting a communication, particularly a document, presently residing on another computer, to know the complete and precise location and title of that document. Responding to the need to simplify this problem, he devised an elegant naming system involving a new kind of computer language, calling it the hypertext mark-up language, or HTML.
 
Documents created using HTML were in effect self locating, making it possible to request them easily from anywhere, without needing to route specifically to the actual storage point. It redefined the concept of a document as well, from the older 'page' basis to the new 'character' basis, where a transmitted communication might be a single character, or even a keystroke. 
 
Display devices using the same technology could actually display the document independently, without the need to store it locally or to use the same computer program needed to create it, using freely distributed display applications following this standard, called browsers.
 
The two characteristics of the new communication technology were thus closely related, self-healing and self-locating. It opened up a new era of public communication, the World Wide Web. And it opened up a war.
 
This war is one that has operated behind the scenes from the early 1990s till today, when it has taken on new and increasingly unpleasant dimensions. This is no longer a war for control of land, or of hegemony over nations, as was the practice of most traditional wars fought with weapons of violence, or with fear and ignorance, as was the Cold War that came to an end just as the Web ushered in a new era of knowledge for all.
 
The present war, one fought as grimly as any war of violence, involves nothing less than hegemony over the mind, minds of ordinary people that are today, due to the liberating presence of easily accessible knowledge and information, better able to make decisions for themselves than at any previous time in recorded history. The soldiers in this new war are no longer skilled wielders of violence, but masters of the honeyed word and diplomacy, fighting to maintain the hegemony of corporatised entities over the essentials of trade and commerce worldwide.
 
The essence of the new communications is decentralisation. This represents the greatest threat to the accumulation of power since it first became possible, with the organisation of humans into tribes, millennia ago.
 
The flip side of the coin of decentralisation is personal empowerment through knowledge. As anthropologists and linguists have noted, communication has always gravitated towards obscurity, in order to hoard knowledge in the grip of adepts. With modern communications technology using devices, this is less and less true or at least, less relevant. Information has never been so available, in theory as well as in practice, and with it, the seeds of knowledge. 
 
Personal empowerment is the single most critical threat to the extreme agglomeration of power, itself a natural outcome of the organisation of human activity into corporatised entities, far more than the earlier creations of feudal empires.
 
The weapons of the new war are therefore personal, to reduce the ability of the individual to assert herself. This is accomplished through diminution of the individual herself, by intruding into her most private spaces, her body and her mind. And of course, her personal communications with others, that give strength to her knowledge through its sharing.
 
The tools of this war are called "intellectual property rights" and "freedom of individuality". Crafted to give the impression of empowerment, IPR actually facilitates the transfer of the freedom to create to paternalistic holding corporate entities. This abstraction is not just theoretical, it is highly functional, and results in the inability of the individual to exercise any control over personal creations. The institutions created for this purpose are almost laughable in the hollowness of their conception, but given the passage of close to 150 years since their formalisation, have gained enormous in influence.
 
Freedom of individuality has been traduced by paying lip service to the tradition of personal privacy, through mechanisms purportedly aimed at protecting that privilege, but in fact drawing borders around it and making it difficult to discover when it has been breached. This subtle destruction of the concept of personal identity, by the gross misuse of power, is state-sponsored to impose state-defined identification methods upon ordinary people, directly impacting and virtually destroying their freedom of expression. Rather than recognising and enshrining the intrinsic value of personal privacy, it is given an extrinsic value through the creation of 
weak government-managed institutions (universal identity systems, privacy commissions, etc). These institutions are used to restrict the ability to exercise freedom of expression, and also to divide (and conquer) the communities of persons who organise themselves to safeguard these basic human values.
 
The latest salvo from the forces of power involves attacks on self-routing networks, a necessary advance in technology, forced by the extraordinary increase in pervasive surveillance and lack of respect for basic human values.
 
From the birth of electronic computing, involving huge machines shielded behind impenetrable layers of obscurity, communication technologies offering text, graphics, audio and video between individuals and groups as well are now available in handy devices at prices that make ubiquity almost possible, well beyond that of any earlier complex technology. In response, corporate entities have been handed extraordinary powers to survey and intrude upon users of these technologies.
 
In India, these powers have been given to the telecommunication companies that run most of the country's extensive circuit-switched networks, both wired, networks of which are majorly government owned, and wireless, the majority of which are privately held. Under the guise of simplifying operations, surveillance responsibilities are handled in practice by the companies, instead of by the state. Official requests for surveillance have crossed 10,000 in the past year, most of which have been without any form of oversight exercised, but there is no way of knowing the extent of unofficial surveillance.
 
For pure digital communications, such surveillance hardware is installed (again by mandate) on servers at all commercial network distribution points. It is difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain the extent to which surveillance takes place, as the law permits clandestine snooping without prior judicial oversight. Aside from surveillance of digital communications, control can be exercised by monitoring other aspects of civilised life - shopping, banking and availing of other public services. To facilitate this, the world's largest personal identification database is being built in India. 
 
Technically, the organisation doing this is an arm of the government, set up as an authority under the Planning Commission, but in actuality, its operations, supervised by a former private corporate manager, are being handled directly by independent corporate entities, two of them foreign-registered. One of them is shamelessly the largest surveillance company in the world, started by former spy and security chiefs from the world's biggest security agencies (CIA, FBI, etc). The identification number is branded 'Aadhaar', meaning foundation, an almost risible expression of Newspeak, coined by visionary George Orwell, in his dystopian world of '1984'. In the real world, it is set to be the foundation of constant and ceaseless surveillance.
 
How will this happen? The identification number was blatantly launched as a voluntarily registered system to be used for the delivery of state-guaranteed goods and services (and, increasingly, this is being translated into cash and services, funnelling business to the banking sector) to persons direly in need of assistance. Today, there is an almost hysterical urgency to the rapidity with which it is being mandatory for government employees, teachers, people who need to buy petrol, cooking gas, use credit cards, telephones, maintain banking accounts, obtain driving licenses... the list is endless, and it is beginning to cover every conceivable transaction of urban civilised society dwellers. The pressure of getting the number is far more upon relatively affluent and less needy persons than upon the deeply poverty-stricken, uncountable percentages of who are excluded from the social net, but for whom the unique identity number will provide no relief.
 
This means that the number, and with it, the biometric capture and recapture, will be fed into low cost point-of-sale devices across every level of transaction, even relatively high value items that have zero impact upon the subsidy systems whose cleansing is said to be the point of having such a unique identification system in the first place. The first pilot service, conducted with great fanfare a few months back, conceived portable devices to be carried by cooking gas cylinder delivery people.
 
It was a signal failure, which has not, for some reason deterred the people behind the scheme from proceeding.
 
The daily poverty line figure was recently set at around Rs28/32 for rural/urban dwellers. This adds up over a month to under Rs1,000, thus it is clear that such persons cannot buy unsubsidised cooking gas, which is going to be priced above Rs900 per cylinder. Thus the cooking gas scheme is clearly aimed at 'solving' a problem that does not concern the massively poor.
 
When low-cost devices are used for biometric capture and transmission of that data across public data networks, the scope for illicit tampering with identity becomes significant. Even though it is likely that such data might be encrypted before transmission, the machine itself might be tampered with (there will be hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of such machines, and it will be impossible to guard all of them, once they are out in the field). Even from non-tampered machines, data can be stolen by inserting data diverters in the network. Of course, this data will be encrypted, but it will be fairly straightforward to break the encryption given enough time.
 
Over time, many sets of digital fingerprints (and perhaps iris scans, although these have not at present been authorised for authentication) will be stolen, and matching such data to real names is possible with established data mining techniques. It becomes reasonably possible then to use falsified data to spuriously obtain a positive response from the authentication system, thus nullifying any advantage gained from a so-called unique identification system. 
 
It also becomes possible to monitor and track the transactions of registered individuals, whether this involves making a purchase or of using public markets. Worse, it enables such transactions to be followed geographically, thus allowing surveillers to accurately track individuals' movements.
 
Note that the linked security services (for which UID data will be immediately and directly available) are not, therefore, the only monitors. Illicit and predatory third parties will also have the ability to surveil individuals, something that is exceedingly difficult nowadays, unless the private and personal data is stolen by some other means, and all consumer services are interlinked for some other reason, not yet implemented.
 
Against this, how are individuals going to maintain their privacy and assure themselves the freedom necessary to express themselves without fear? With extreme difficulty, it appears.
 
Recent cases in the US reveal that even the most private email communications are liable to be surveilled by the government (with a total of 1.3 million official surveillance requests this year), and there is no guarantee that information privy to even investigations pertaining to the highest national security is freely leaked to the media, despite the fact that it involves private citizens who have committed no offense. 
 
The Indian identification authority is openly discussing and planning how to rapidly carry out (well before the data-gathering exercise is even halfway completed) data synchronisation linking banking, shopping and government exchange transactions to the individual, leaving very little private, since communications by telephone and computer (including smartphones) are already monitored closely. And a recent move by The Netherlands seeks to legally enable cross-border computer surveillance (including the ability to destroy and even disable the computing device, without warrant or permission from local authorities). This move takes place as the European Union officially pressurises other nations (including India) to concede to data sharing agreements before agreeing to allow lucrative data processing contracts to be concluded. 
 
The Dutch move is specifically aimed at disrupting technology designed to protect the privacy of individuals by obscuring network markers that might otherwise identify their computing devices.
 
Needless to say, this all forms part of an attack based on the external imposition of markers of identity, ignoring and oftentimes denying community-driven identity systems that have evolved over time. Since the late 1800s, the practice of 'recognised' identity numbers became commonplace, with the gradual introduction of national passports and related identity systems. These numbers have replaced names as critical identifiers, and one of the most egregious examples of how such systems can be misused dates back to the gigantic conflict commonly called World War II, when some six million of the tens of millions of casualties were civilians, incarcerated in "concentration camps", and systematically murdered in cold blood. As a crucial part of this exercise, each of these persons was dehumanised first by tattooing a number on the arm.
 
Possibly in macabre jest, the chairman of the UIDAI responsible for issue of similar numbers in India, Nandan Nilekani, also suggested that illiterate persons in India could tattoo themselves with the number his organisation has imposed upon them in order to remember their new identities. Somehow, this does not quite match the humour of comedians like Spike Milligan (Hitler: My Part In His Downfall) or Mel Brooks (History of the World Part 1), but then those two actually earned intellectual credentials in the course of their long and illustrious careers, rather than accumulate money through stock market valuations of outsource businesses.
 
Research by major world-recognised academics has established that the use of biometrics to underpin universal identification systems is fraught with danger. This arises principally from two distinct areas: risk of change of biometric indicators over time (aging) and risk of theft. The risk of aging has been established by large-scale testing by other national agencies researching the use of biometrics for this purpose. South Korea studied 50,000 individuals over two years, and concluded that the risk of biometric indicators changing in that period was too high to make a biometric identification system cost-effective (as so many people would need to get their identifiers repeatedly updated). The only pilot study conducted in India, a few months ago, examining authentication, concluded that it would fail for about 1 million Indians, a fact that was concealed by quoting percentages, naturally a very small-looking number in the context of the gigantic Indian population.
 
The risk of theft is far more subtle. A well-cited study by academic Paul Ohm (Broken Promises of Privacy) reveals that it is becoming increasingly trivial to analyse large data stores in order to extract personally identifiable information. The process of large-scale authentication of individuals, on the other hand, necessary for the use of universal identifiers in all kinds of transactions, such as delivery of social benefits, regular banking, shopping, lends itself strongly to illicit digital data gathering, which can then be decrypted at leisure. This process is much simplified when data is arranged in known patterns, as will inevitably happen at cash machines, card swipe devices, point-of- sale devices and so on. Such large-scale theft has already been noted from similar machines, which are rarely checked once installed (since both users and operators are barely aware that the devices are computer peripherals).
 
Once digital identifiers can be illicitly linked to known persons, it becomes a relatively trivial exercise to scam the system by assigning such identifiers to fraudulent persons, or even to non-persons. This is only trivial in the sense that it has already been done, and systems to accomplish it are sold in black markets created for the purpose. From the point of view of the thief, one identity thus misused may yield a small sum before being discarded (and the operation repeated many times over to earn huge sums), but for the individual who's identity is stolen, it is a nightmare. This person must now re-establish the link between the digital biometric markers (which incidentally may have changed since the last time of recording) and the self, which has already been subsumed into a compromised universal identification system.
 
To counter this, nothing less than the ceaseless vigilance of individuals is needed, to protect themselves from falling into traps of convenience to give away priceless information. Information that can be used to identify them, to sell them goods and services, conditioning them as surely as Aldous Huxley envisioned the genetically engineered humans of his brave new world. The first step is to resist the blandishment of illusory returns from universal identification systems, to ask those who seek to impose such systems to come back to first principles, and reveal why such universal identification is of universal benefit.
 
Leakages in social welfare, for instance, are already being tackled successfully through both technological and social means, and the convenience of easy shopping can be achieved through much less dangerous and locally valid means than the creation of a national database. Such a system (a local personal identifier) has been tried, for instance, by the Pune Municipal Corporation, working in tandem with local banks and other entities, but this successful exercise was completely and deliberately ignored by UIDAI while designing its own controversial 'universal' solution. Local personal identifiers (such as library and club cards) are also useful for many ordinary purposes, but lack of 'official' recognition, which itself is clearly part of the problem.
 
As Albert Einstein famously said, no problem can be solved using the same kind of thinking that created it. It is time we began thinking for ourselves, instead of outsourcing our thinking to the kind of government that creates problems by serving the narrow interests of business.
 
(Vickram Crishna is an engineer with nearly forty years of experience in industry, the media and independent consulting with grassroots organisations in India and elsewhere to provide communication-related technology solutions for everyday independent living. He writes and edits on subjects ranging from the use of technology in everyday sustainable living to the natural sciences, and works with children with special abilities in order to find ways to evolve equitable and inclusive ways of learning to live independently in the modern world).
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    Is UID anti-people?–Part 5: Why UID is impractical and flawed “Ab initio”

    No scheme or subsidy can be free and open-ended. The facts hidden are that there would be some fees levied for each transaction that would be a burden on the citizens without option of retracing as it is already introduced. This is the fifth part of a nine-part series on the unique identification number scheme

    Myth, false assumptions, illusions and imagination

     

    While some of our friends more competent to talk on technical issues would deliberate on the subject with much more competence and alacrity, I would like a lay man (aam admi) seek to respond to the doubts in my mind.

     

    The UIDAI has spun this as a “game changer” to tackle corruption that exists in reaching subsidy to the poor and the most deserving sections of our society. They are basically meant to handle pilferage and leakages in government schemes that are in vogue. (Remember Rajiv Gandhi stated that only 10 paisa of every rupee reaches the ultimate intended beneficiary!)

     

    This is not meant for security or protection from illegal immigrants as many would like to presume including our most distinguished Members of Parliament (MPs) who believe and also support it for that purpose.

     

    The socio-economic issue is to be handled through technology by collecting data, biometrics and iris. This is why it is so complicated that many are unable to understand and are even afraid of questioning an icon from the most successful information technology (IT) industry in the country—Nandan Nilekani. Incidentally many are unaware that Nilekani is a marketing man and would not know much about intricacies of information technology compared to those who have worked in IT as techies would know. However, his association with an IT major gives him an aura as if he were a technological genius. He could hardly be expected to know anything about biometric technology.

     

    Such ignorance could be the reason for his faith that this technology could cure the ills of corruption in our welfare schemes. Behind the success of any venture it is the marketing that contributes to selling or packaging a product with a brand name. Therefore we grant him that in abundance. He has been just doing this with great success and aplomb.

     

    Even a lay man would ask the question of where the data is going to be stored and the capacity to store this huge data base of over 1.21 billion citizens, not to include the 'residents' that are floating as also the increasing population on an ongoing basis. We are also eager to know on what platform this is going to be built. As the adage goes—it is wrong to put “all the eggs in one basket”. So multiple servers will have to be hired and therein lies another problem of security, safety of data and infringement. Well, the response is not satisfying and convincing. We have no official word on this.

     

    Now for the provision of infrastructure assuming everything else from the IT is handled. We are reminded by MN Vidyashankar, former secretary E-governance of Karnataka that the biometric machines are of far superior quality and therefore can be relied upon. Though he promised to give details, perhaps he forgot with his pressing commitments, we presume.

     

    Let us take the case of PDS, the elementary question is that there has to be a computer and a biometric, iris scan reader in each shop together with an internet connection that too in rural areas along with electricity to operate it. You also need internet connectivity in all the villages and towns.

     

    What about electricity? Though power sector reforms were mooted way back in 2003 and unbundling of the electricity boards have taken place, yet no major investments are forthcoming and there is an acute shortage of power all round the country. Therefore on what basis are they going to provide the accessibility and operational issues that follow?

     

    In most of the rural areas the power supply is just for 3-4 hours if not less and we are still struggling to meet the demand. So without addressing this in the first place how can they go for advanced technology: So the building is built without the foundation? How can it sustain?

     

    Therefore it is only in some urban areas where this can be introduced but what is the use? Roughly 300 million access the net in cities on a rough estimate but they are all not beneficiaries of the welfare schemes as they are above the poverty line. Also they don't need any fresh identity as they have plenty of them that too more than one that the government recognizes.

     

    Further all the equipments have to be sourced through proper procedure and these shops have to be equipped. How is it going to be done and by what time?

     

    Remember when electronic voting was introduced, the major public undertaking Bharat Electronics (BEL) couldn't supply all the machines that were needed. It took lot of time to meet the demand. Now, there are doubts about these machines and their reliability and use in elections have been questioned in courts.

     

    We haven’t even thought about the efficacy or the machine that can handle this efficiently because we are just collecting only the data that too not yet confirmed or duly verified (de-duplicated).

     

    Why will the state government implement a scheme that entails political mileage to the central government? Has there been any consultation with the state chief ministers before introducing this concept. No. Hence this is going to fail at as several indicators to this effect are already out in the open.

     

    So what is the budget? Where has this been reckoned? Sans answers.

     

    All searching questions but sans proper answers

     

    Yet another gas balloon without merit and floated on wrong assumptions...

     

    “The UPA government’s ambitious unique identification number project Aadhaar, would result in savings of about Rs1.1 lakh crore by 2020, around 58% of the expenditure of major public welfare schemes, a Planning Commission study released on Saturday said. The Prime Minister's Office had given April 2014 as a deadline for disbursing cash transfer through UIDAI platform for all major government schemes.

     

    A cost-benefit analysis done by National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP) says the savings for the government would be by plugging the leakage in implementation of government welfare schemes.”

     

    First of all the law is yet to be enacted and the UIDAI is operating with an executive sanction that has been questioned by the Parliamentary Standing committee as untenable and therefore cannot be continued.

     

    Even as it is the mandate of the UIDAI is only for 600 million until 2014 and cannot be extended to 2020.

     

    Therefore when the entire population is not covered how the study can consider such a proposition is itself awed. The UIDAI meeting the target set for 2014 is doubtful since there are several confusions within the government and the ministries as to who would be responsible for collecting the data. Whereas the home ministry has claimed that the National Population Register (NPR) would do this on its own. Hence the process has hit several roadblocks and may not completely achieve the desired target.

     

    In the case of the health insurance scheme—Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY)—the central government has it seems decided to go for Smart Card. This is one of the schemes that the UIDAI has included in its objective. Financial services secretary DK Mittal has asked his officials to work out a convergence plan between financial inclusion initiatives and the RSBY smart cards. The RSBY needs an embedded smart chip with 32kb of memory which can be upgraded further. Banks just need around 20kb space for different services and it is very practical and feasible for them to adapt to the UID.

     

    Some states have already adopted smart cards for various welfare schemes and the UIDAI is also aware about it.

     

    Government recently introduced a slew of changes in LPG schemes and put a cap on the subsidy. This is a welfare scheme that UIDAI claimed from the initial stage as an objective to check pilferage. So this is drastically reduced without the UIDAI. Though checks and balances are already in place with accurate data by the oil companies that is already in place and working well.

     

    Similarly, PDS is a state subject and several states have already introduced stern measures even without the UID and they seemed to be under control. Hence this too goes out of the ambit.

     

    All that is left would be the MNREGS, which is also strongly contested by those working in the field as far from claims of UIDAI.

     

    So the government is misleading the citizens by giving such false cures just to further its dubious design and nothing else.

     

    “A full edged cost benefit analysis of the UID is hampered by two problems. First, many of the gains from it are difficult to quantify as they are intangible. A main benefit of the UID is that it can make many of the existing government programmes more demand-led, empowering the beneficiaries to hold programmes accountable for their entitlement,” said the study released by Planning Commission deputy chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia and UIDAI chairperson Nandan Nilekani.

     

    Half truths and improbability are glaring in this statement. The huge cost on infrastructure and training which are necessary are not reckoned with the UIDAI. This is not only preposterous but cleverly packaged to hoodwink the masses. This is also clearly an escape route and a “red herring” to say later that they did caution in the beginning. Unless a comprehensive statement that includes all costs are clearly explained, these are mere “kite flying” and fictitious, imaginary claims that cannot be substantiated as benefits at all.

     

    Eleven major government schemes—Public Distribution System (PDS), LPG and Fertilizer subsidy, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee (MGNREG) Scheme, pensions and scholarships cost the government around Rs2 lakh crore annually.

     

    In PDS, once beneficiaries are enrolled within the system, it becomes easier for them to claim their benefits because they can authenticate their presence as beneficiaries. It also reduces leakages due to better matching of supply with demand, the Planning Commission study said.

     

    PDS is administered by the state government. In a federal structure like India, when there is already a hue and cry of infringement into the domains of the state by the Centre, this scheme will have to be fully accepted by the ruling party.

     

    State governments are already aware about the pilferage and also the concerns of the people and are already taking steps to address them. Huge amounts of money are also being spent by the state towards this hence it cannot be shelved or duplicated. The UID programme doesn't integrate but is a standalone programme that too thrust by the Centre, the states would prefer to go by their proprietary data and plans rather than accept some other that is untested and incomplete.

     

    Till now state governments have never complained of ‘identity’ or the lack of it as a problem but determining the beneficiaries and targeted groups.

     

    UID can never substitute the inspection, physical verification of applicants for issuing the ration cards to targeted groups such as AAY-BPL sections. Further the Centre has already devised the programme of Vigilance Committees and also Model Citizens Charter that go a long way to check corruption as it involves some guidelines and methods. Therefore UID is totally redundant to the scheme.

     

    Most important is the fixing of the criteria and monitoring rather than identity. The Planning Commission is yet to arrive at a benchmark on poverty and they have already stirred a hornet's nest by floating some funny ideas that has still not seen the light of the day. Therefore on what basis can the figures be touted?

     

    In the case of LPG, oil companies have devised scientific methods and stern measures including IVRS booking system that is fool-proof, further the LPG cylinders are delivered to the doorstep of the customer and hence clearly identifiable. UID in no way helps improve or make the scheme any better. Probably it will only complicate and confuse the mechanism as too many parameters may delay the process.

     

    In Gujarat they are supplying gas through pipelines and no LPG cylinders are required hence on what basis can you say that there would be pilferage?

     

    Other schemes are already working well and there is no need for another UID number to improve that too after spending huge amount of money.

     

    “UID will make the migration experience in search of jobs easier by giving an identity to migrants in their destination locations. Similarly, rights and entitlements can be decoupled from the location of the resident,” the study said.

     

    The study also said that Aadhaar-enabled system will reduce transaction costs involved in enrolling for a ration card in a new towns and villages, especially for migratory labour. “Such costs are expected to be driven down with a national identification mechanism and Aadhaar can play this role effectively,” it said.

     

    This is clearly propaganda as no scheme or subsidy can be free and open-ended. The facts hidden are that there would be some fees levied for each transaction that would be a burden on the citizens without the option of retracing as it is already introduced. This is also indicated though in whispers otherwise administrative costs may go up to intangible heights defeating the very purpose of saving somewhere and loosing elsewhere.

     

    Will the UIDAI give a guarantee that no such thing will be done in the future? Just like banks that allowed ATMs to be freely used and later on introduced a cap of five transactions not specifying what a ‘transaction’ means and now customers are bearing the brunt when they use debit cards for transactions! This is how they complicate the schemes on the gullible public.

     

    (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.)

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