In your interest.
Online Personal Finance Magazine
No beating about the bush.
Indians are accustomed to advertising and falsehoods. But when it comes to advertising by biometric technology companies, uninformed citizens and even the non-Congress leaders are willing to trust even the most untrustworthy of claims
Among other things, will the general elections of 2014 reveal whether or not Indians are willing to be guinea pigs for biometric technology companies? It will disclose the identities of those political parties who take donations from such companies or are beneficiaries or their shareholders.
Biometric identification will impact human civilization in a far deeper way than printing press, industrial revolution, light bulb, Internet and personal computers did. The introduction of these automatic identification technologies marks the beginning of a world where everything and every place gets imbedded with such spying identifiers.
More than four years have passed but opposition parties in particular and non-Congress parties in general are yet to consolidate their considered position vis-à-vis biometric data collection in the name of e-governance initiative of Indian National Congress led Government. Meanwhile, Nandan Nilekani, the chairman of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) under the Planning Commission boasts, “We have made India the tech capital of biometrics” He has disclosed, “We felt speed was strategic. Doing, and scaling things quickly, was critical. If you move very quickly, it doesn’t give the opposition the time to consolidate.”
Strategically, state governments led by opposition leaders like Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi too were conned into signing memorandum of understanding (MoU) with UIDAI before August 2010. Strangely, Modi who was categorically opposed to collection of biometric data submitted himself for 12- digit biometric unique identification (UID) number and launched it in Gujarat. Due to paucity of information even Admiral Nirmal Varma, Chief of Naval Staff and His Holiness Dalai Lama have already enrolled for UID number, which is linked to National Population Register (NPR), without the passage of Privacy Bill. It is incomprehensible as to who compelled Dalai Lama to enroll for it.
In a manifest case of inconsistency even Yashwant Sinha headed Parliamentary Committee on Finance was conned into recommending that the data already collected by UIDAI be transferred to the NPR after questioning the power of the union government to collect biometric data. The 48-page Report of Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) on Finance submitted to both the Houses of Parliament reads (in the section on Observations/Recommendations): “The collection of biometric information and its linkage with personal information without amendment to the Citizenship Act 1955 as well as the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules 2003, appears to be beyond the scope of subordinate legislation, which needs to be examined in detail by Parliament.” The Parliamentary Committee did not realise that both the Centralized Identities Register (CIDR) of UID number and UID number generating NPR is one and the same as per the terms of reference of the UIDAI provided in the Planning Commission’s notification dated 28 January 2009.
NPR, CIDR and National DNA data bank projects are going to do almost exactly the same thing, which the predecessors of Adolf Hitler did, else how is it that Germany always had the lists of Jewish names even prior to the arrival of the Nazis? The Nazis got these lists with the help of IBM, which was in the 'census' business, including racial census that entailed not only counting the Jews but also identifying them. At the US Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, there is an exhibit of an IBM Hollerith D-11 card sorting machine that was responsible for organising the census of 1933 that first identified the Jews. IBM has not disputed its involvement in it.
Nilekani’s book Imagining India describes the ‘Dividends of an autocracy versus a Democracy’ and contends that “In terms of implementing policies that are good for you, whether you like it or not, autocratic regimes are better than democracies”.
As part of World Bank's Tranformational Government initiative, the core idea is to ensure convergence of all the residents and institutions underway through Project UID. This is a Silicon Valley initiative (dominated by Biometric technology companies) passing off as “Planning Commission initiative” without consultation at district and panchayat level and within the political parties to create a central database of residents and generate a unique identification number for all such residents which is proposed to be “used as the basis for identifying and authenticating a person's entitlement to government services and benefits”. This initiative is being steered by the Department of Information Technology (as the Line Ministry) through National Informatics Centre Services Inc/ National Informatics Centre (NIC), as the technical solution provider and a consultant for “linking of existing databases, as well as providing for future additions, by the user agencies.” This entails tracking and profiling residents electronically through some 53 departments of the Government of India, 35 State/UT Secretariats and 603 District Collectorates. NIC was formed in 1975.
These initiatives are sub-sets of the universal set called Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations (PIII) for a National Knowledge Network that is being pursued by Sam Pitroda who is another Advisor to the Prime Minister in the rank of a Cabinet Minister without oath of office and secrecy. PIII reveals the plot emphasizing digital network to process all kinds of information at all levels saying, “For government, PII is very important to first identify all beneficiaries, essentially people. We also at the same time need to identify all our physical assets all over the country, like primary schools, railway stations, hospitals. Then, we also need to tag all our programmes-and government typically would have hundreds of programmes for public delivery systems. Once you tag people, places, and programmes, then it is easier to really organise information for delivering public services. Hopefully, with new focus on PIII, where we could essentially tag people, tag places, tag programmes, we will be able to structure delivery systems to get a lot better in terms of productivity, efficiency and reduced cost. The starting point for this nationwide network of fibre optics, wireless systems to connect 2.50 lakh Panchayats all over the country, especially in rural areas, where ultimately, information data gathering would begin. This is where beneficiaries are.”
All this information will be in the hands of a few ‘trustworthy’ people in the government and few select ‘patriotic’ companies. Such a situation is fraught with both unintended and intended consequences impacting monetary and non-monetary aspects of citizens’ life. It may be noted that the Land Titling Bill, 2011 makes a provision for linking UID Number with property as per its Section 10 and Section 36.
The gullibility of the non-Congress parties to these initiatives is intriguing given the fact that Government has admitted, “There is no data protection statute in the country.”
While UIDAI and the Indian National Congress-led Government have been misleading the citizens/residents and the media about the UID Number scheme being voluntary, the ‘Legal Framework For Mandatory Electronic Delivery of Services’ of Union Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, refers to “UIDAI – UID based authentication for services” as an enabler, thus making it compulsory.
Initially, it appeared puzzling as to why it was taking so long for UIDAI and its initiatives to get legislative sanction after Parliamentary Standing on Finance disapproved of The National Identification Authority of India Bill 2010 and its project on several counts. But this puzzle got solved on 10 October 2013, when Nilekani told people of Bangalore’s Koramangala, his potential political constituency for 2014 elections:
“See, the legislative sanction is not for Aadhaar. The government has ample legal opinion to say that they can do Aadhaar without legislative backing. The purpose of the law is to create a regulatory agency to manage the use of it and to manage penalties and fees […] It’s a common thing for the government to start an activity, and then pass a law because…Parliament and all that, so there’s nothing that prevents us from doing this, except that in the long run we want a regulatory status for autonomy purposes and to manage this whole thing. So the law will come.”
His ministerial statement about ‘Parliament and all that’ makes a mockery of Parliament, which has been subjugated by keeping Secretary Generals of both Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha on contract.
But it is inexplicable as to how 30 State Governments signed MoUs with UIDAI before August 2010 without realizing that it is a threat to the constitution as it erodes State’s autonomy for good. This is revealed from a presentation given by Nilekani to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance on 4 August 2010 even before the Bill was referred to it in December 2010.
When it is apparent for the Indian National Congress led Government that Supreme Court is likely to issue an adverse order on 22nd October after the Court on 8th October refused to modify its 23rd September order on the application of the government, the Union Cabinet approved a Bill on that very day to give statutory status to the UIDAI which provides biometric identifier numbers.
The Bill is likely to be re-introduced in the winter session of parliament during November-December. Its earlier version was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in December 2010 but was trashed by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance. Section 57 of the earlier Bill provided that UIDAI’s acts of omission and commission since 28 January 2009 be rubber stamped by the Parliament to underline that whatever it did had the consent of the Parliament. It remains to be seen whether the same has been retained by the Union Cabinet’s new version of the Bill. Union Cabinet’s approval of the Bill is likely to meet the same fate as its approval of the Bill to protect legislators from disqualification even after conviction in a criminal case.
Supreme Court is all set to pass a landmark ruling on the legality of UIDAI and its biometric collection akin to the judgment of 10 July 2013 that had struck down the legal provision that protects a lawmaker from disqualification even after conviction. The notification of Planning Commission dated 28 January 2009 is likely to meet the same as the ordinance that was meant to protect the disqualification of legislators.
All the political parties other than Congress seem to be deaf when it is admitted by Nilekani that “biometrics as a tool of surveillance”. He says, “So, like, you go to America today, you land at JFK airport and they take your fingerprint and your [iris scan]…and they do some…funny thing with it. So they have looked at biometrics as a tool of surveillance and…and all that. In our case, we said, let us use this technology in a very different way. We’ll use this technology to give a unique identity to everyone. And that is what we do.”
Admittedly, the biometric tool is for surveillance but the gullible seem to believe even what is unbelievable-it is for delivery of identity proof and social entitlements. Although Indians are accustomed to advertising and falsehoods purveyed by them but when it comes to advertising by biometric technology companies uninformed citizens and the non-Congress leaders are willing to trust even the most untrustworthy of claims. Nilekani, the vendor, has been on record for stating that success or failure of biometric identifier is dependent on marketing alone. Isn’t Nilekani a member of the Congress?
All the parties other than the Congress have a political duty to ensure that the enactment of Privacy Bill, 2011 precedes initiatives like Public Information Infrastructure, NPR and CIDR else the very purpose of the proposed legislation is defeated. Before the creation of Data Protection Authority of India (DPAI) as envisaged under Section 49 of the Privacy Bill and Central Electronic Services Delivery Commission (CESDC) under Section 8 of the Electronic Delivery of Services Bill, 2011 with proven impeccable judicial competence, the implementation of all biometric data collection related programs must be stopped both in private as well as in the government.
The 15th Lok Sabha in particular witnessed the wanton autocracy of the ruling party. In her address to both the Houses of Parliament, Pratibha Patil, the President, on 4 June 2009, said, “The Unique Identity Card scheme for each citizen will be implemented in three years overseen by an Empowered Group. This would serve the purpose of identification for development programmes and security”. The President disclosed that UID is meant for “security” purpose. It is something, which has not been disclosed by Nilekani. She also revealed that this is meant for “each citizen” even as the Government misled saying that it is meant only for usual residents. In an illustration of how ignorance rules the roost in the Congress led Government even the President was not informed that UID is a biometric identifier number and not a card. The President had informed that it will be implemented in three years. If that was the case why was Nilekani given tenure of five years since July 2009? By now it is clear that the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) that supervised UID initiative has attempted to make legislatures irrelevant and powerless in due course.
On 21 February 2013, in his address to both the Houses of Parliament, Pranab Mukherjee, the President said, “An important initiative that my Government has taken recently is the rollout of the Direct Benefits Transfer system. This would enable Government sponsored benefits such as scholarships, pensions and maternity benefits to flow directly into the accounts of beneficiaries, who can access them using their Aadhaar number. In due course, the Direct Benefits Transfer System will also cover wages and subsidies on food and LPG. This system will help cut down leakages, bring millions of people into the financial system and lead to better targeting of beneficiaries. It will be a trend-setter in the use of modern technology to bring benefits to our poorest citizens, especially in rural areas. However, the Direct Benefits Transfer System will not be a substitute for public services and will be complementary to the Public Distribution System.” The Supreme Court has put a stay on this illegitimate initiative.
Hasn’t the Congress become a marketing wing of ‘foreign’ biometric technology companies? How does one explain the ID Limelight Award given to Nilekani at the ID WORLD International Congress, 2010 in Milan, Italy on 16 November 2010 during the Conference sponsored by AB Notes, the key sponsor of the ID Congress and Safran Morpho (Safran group), a French multinational corporation? The award was given within less than one month of the launch of biometric UID/Aadhaar number by Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh on 29 September 2010. Nilekani joined UIDAI in July 2009 and got the award within 14 months. What miracle did he perform in such short span? How will the Congress justify the contract awarded by Nilekani to Safran’s subsidiary, Sagem Morpho Security Pvt Ltd for the purchase of Biometric Authentication Devices on 2 February 2011 after getting the ID Limelight award from them?
Non-Congress parties who seek votes against the Sonia Gandhi led (well indirectly) Government must be made to declare that they will abandon biometric data collection the way it has been done in UK, US, France, China and Australia. There is a compelling logic for the voters to reject those parties, which implicitly or explicitly support tracking, profiling, databasing and mortgaging of citizens’ rights and their sovereignty under the dictates of their donors and non-state actors.
You may also want to read…
(Gopal Krishna is member of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL), which is campaigning against surveillance technologies since 2010)
Citizens would face an unprecedented onslaught from the provisions of DNA Profiling Bill and other related surveillance measures being bulldozed by unregulated and ungovernable technology. Biometric profiling of any sort is dehumanising
The dangers of trusting identification technologies for determining social policies is bound to be consequential in a situation where “[A] warrant requirement will not make much difference to a society that, under the sway of a naive and discredited theory of genetic determinism, is willing to lock people away on the basis of their genes.”
The 21st century ideology of genetic determinism is being promoted through biometric identification. Such identification includes DNA profiling. DNA profiling is ‘undesirable particularly as forensic DNA developments are intertwined with significant changes in legislation and contentious issues of privacy, civil liberty and social justice.’ The argument which is often mouthed in defence of biometric National Population Register (NPR) and unique identification (UID)/Aadhaar number is that it is meant for social security akin to social security number in the US, which incidentally is not based on biometric data. This must be seen along with a similar argument being advanced for a DNA profile. They say such profiling is required because it “is very much like a social security number—though it is longer and is assigned by chance, not by the federal government”. Clearly, the ramifications of automatic profiling, tracking and surveillance is unfolding and trapping unsuspecting citizens in its ambit.
The 58-page Draft Human DNA Profiling Bill, 2012 which is the revised version of the 35-page DNA Profiling Act, 2007 appears linked to the emergence of a surveillance and database state using Union Home Ministry’s biometric NPR, National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID), National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), Union Surface Transport Ministry’s Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), Union Finance Ministry’s National Information Utility, Planning Commission’s Unique Identification /Aadhaar, Union Rural Development Ministry’s Land Titling Bill, World Bank’s e-Transform Initiative, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)’s identification policy and Sam Pitroda’s Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations etc.
Having initiated collection of biometric data like fingerprints and iris scan for NPR and UID number, the Draft Human DNA Profiling Bill takes the next step and provides for procurement of “intimate body sample” which means a sample of blood, semen or any other tissue, fluid, urine, or pubic hair, a dental impression; or a swab taken from a person’s body orifice other than mouth obtained through “intimate forensic procedure”.
A paper ‘Prelude to a Miss: A Cautionary Note against Expanding DNA Databanks in the Face of Scientific Uncertainty’ by Jennifer Sue Deck wherein a text of Office of Technology Assessment, US Congress, ‘Genetic Witness: Forensic Uses of DNA Tests’ reads: “DNA fingerprinting is all but foolproof, but some fool is going to use it”. This is apt about all kinds of biometric identification.
Profiling based on Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid (DNA) is aimed at examination of human biological material acquired through intimate forensic procedure. This biological material is coded with "the past history and thus dictate the future of an individual's racial and genealogical makeup, and influence an individual's medical and psychological makeup."
The intimate forensic procedure means the following forensic procedures, namely:-
(a)An external examination of the genital or anal area, the buttocks and also breasts in the case of a female breast;
(b) Taking of a sample of blood;
(c) Taking of a sample of pubic hair;
(d) Taking of a sample by swab or washing from the external genital or anal area, the buttocks and also breasts in the case of a female;
(e) Taking of a sample by vacuum suction, by scraping or by lifting by tape from the external genital or anal area, the buttocks and also breasts in the case of a female;
(f) Taking of a dental impression;
(g) Taking of a photograph or video recording of, or an impression or cast of a wound from, the genital or anal area, the buttocks and also breasts in the case of a female.
DNA Profiling is aimed at regulating the use of DNA analysis of body substance profiles and making provision for establishment of DNA Profiling Board consisting of eminent scientists, administrators and law enforcement officers to lay down standards for laboratories, collection of body substances, custody trail from collection to reporting and establishment of a databank and to create policies for use and access to information from such data bank, appointment of a DNA Databank Manager to supervise, execute and maintain the databank and for matters connected therewith.
A decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) about violation of the right to privacy and family life by DNA profile retention in criminal justice databanks is relevant here. The case was heard publicly on 27 February 2008, and the unanimous decision of 17 judges was delivered on 4 December 2008. The court found that the “blanket and indiscriminate nature” of the power of retention of the fingerprints, cellular samples, and DNA profiles of persons suspected but not convicted of offenses, failed to strike a fair balance between competing public and private interests and ruled that the United Kingdom had “overstepped any acceptable margin of appreciation” in this regard. This was before David Cameron became the Prime Minister in May 2011 defeating Tony Blair's Labour Party which had introduced identity card legislation and compulsory DNA recording.
The technique of DNA profiling was pioneered in the UK and it was the first nation to establish a criminal justice DNA databank. The decision is non-appealable. Unmindful of this, in India National DNA databank is being proposed.
Once the DNA databank is in place the enlargement of scope for its new predictive uses cannot be ruled out given scientific advancements underway. In such a situation a readymade DNA based inferences adversely impacts impartiality of the criminal justice system and other systems become questionable. Contrary to the existing legal provisions under Census Act and Citizenship Act, the Bill states that the DNA data will also be used for the "creation and maintenance" of population statistics that can be used for "identification, research, protocol development or quality control".
The Bill once it becomes a law will grant the authority to collect vast amount of sensitive DNA data of citizens merely on the ground of suspicion in a criminal case. The data will be held till the person is cleared by court. Under the Identification of Prisoner Act, there is a reference of collection of sensitive biometric data like fingerprints wherein biometric data of prisoners can be collected that too with the permission of a Magistrate but on acquittal the biometric data is required to be destroyed. The Draft Human DNA Profiling Bill is far more regressive than the colonial law. The provision of collection of citizens DNA data in the Draft Bill for DNA Database in effect treats the citizens worse than prisoners.
The preamble to the Bill admits that "DNA analysis offers sensitive information which, if misused, can cause harm to a person or society". It proposes the creation of a National DNA Data Bank which will be headed by an officer in the rank of a Joint Secretary to the Government of India. There is a section in the Bill that allows for "volunteers" to give their DNA profiles. It is quite strange that "volunteers" are expected to share their sensitive data with the government. It is noteworthy that Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) too had initially claimed that enrolment based on biometric data is voluntary. Subsequent events and official documents reveal that it is explicitly mandatory by implication.
The DNA Data Bank like other databases like Centralized Identity Data Register (CIDR) of UID/Aadhaar and NPR are saleable commodities but the Bill provides for the imprisonment of a few months or a fine of Rs50,000 for "misuse" of the DNA profiles. The Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Union Ministry of Science and Technology have circulated this Bill to other ministries for their inputs.
In all likelihood DNA Data Bank, CIDR, NPR and criminal database will get converged in furtherance of World Bank’s e-Transform Initiative unfolding in partnership with six transnational companies namely, Gemalto, IBM, L-1 Identity Solutions, Microsoft and Pfizer and two national governments of France and South Korea. Such convergence poses a threat to minorities and political opponents whose targeting is imminent.
It may be noted that US Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act (GINA), 2008 prohibits US insurance companies and employers from discriminating on the basis of information derived from genetic tests. The necessity of such law underlines that genetic information like DNA facilitates discrimination.
Manifesto of biometric identification promoters will read like the 1,500 page regressive manifesto titled “2083: A European Declaration of Independence” brought out by Norwegian gunman and neo-Crusader, Anders Behring Breivik who carried out the heinous attacks on his fellow citizens. It refers to the word “identity” over 100 times, “unique” over 40 times and “identification” over 10 times. There is reference to “state-issued identity cards”, “converts’ identity cards”, “identification card”, “fingerprints”, “DNA” etc as well in this manifesto.
These words and their imports merit attention in order to safeguard human rights of present and future generation of citizens which faces an unprecedented onslaught from the provisions of DNA Profiling Bill and other related surveillance measures being bulldozed by unregulated and ungovernable technology. Biometric profiling of any sort is dehumanising.
You may also want to read…
(Gopal Krishna is member of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL), which is campaigning against surveillance technologies since 2010)
While agreeing to give urgent hearing in the Aadhaar matter, the apex court refused to modify its earlier order
The union government and state-run oil marketing companies on Tuesday failed to get any relief from the Supreme Court over the unique identification (UID) or Aadhaar number. The apex court, while agreeing to give urgent hearing in the matter refused to modify its earlier order.
On 23rd September, the Supreme Court ruled that Aadhaar is not mandatory to avail essential services from the government. While hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by retired Karnataka High Court judge Justice KS Puttaswamy and advocate Parvesh Khanna questioning the legal sanctity of Aadhaar, the apex court said, "The centre and state governments must not insist on Aadhaar from citizens before providing them essential services."
The apex court will hear the matter on 22nd October.
Meanwhile, the Cabinet clears National Identification Authority of India Bill to provide statutory status to Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and legal backing to Aadhaar.