Moneylife's Fight Against Aadhaar Goes Back to 2010, and It Continues
The fate of the Aadhaar will be decided after a marathon hearing that was also historic, because the arguments and proceedings in the Supreme Court of India (SC) were avidly followed and commented by tens of thousands of Indians on with the same fervour and interest as a cricket match. For the first time ever, the proceedings were live-tweeted by a few intrepid lawyers. (Read: Historic Aadhaar Hearing, Second-longest in SC history, Concludes)
 
Unlike the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which had done an about-turn on the Aadhaar identification and then brazenly flouted a Supreme Court stay order, Moneylife has been among the earliest publications to take a strong stand against this identification system. In fact, as far back as nine years ago, when discussions happened in small e-mail groups that our managing editor participated in.
 
Moneylife Foundation organised a workshop by pro-privacy activist and IITian, Vickram Crishna, who was among the many petitioners in the recently concluded hearings. Crishna made the point that Aadhaar’s biometrics based identification  would not address and of the structural issues that lead to chronic poverty (Read: A workshop on Aadhaar / UID with Vickram Crishna).  This is now established by innumerable reports of citizens being deprived food at shops run under public distribution system (PDS) scheme due to failure of Aadhaar biometrics authentication. (Read: Starvation death highlights flaws in Aadhaar-bank linkage https://www.moneylife.in/article/starvation-death-highlights-flaws-in-aadhaar-bank-linkage/52610.html)
 
Moneylife followed it up with a series of articles and seminars and hundreds of articles on the many problems with the biometrics based Aadhaar and the international experience with such identification. 
(https://www.moneylife.in/public-interest/aadhaar ). Those days, the involvement of billionaire technocrat, Nandan Nilekani, gave the project its star status, but the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) the main opposition party was strongly against it, with current Prime Minister Narendra as well as Dr Subramaniam Swamy and others speaking out against it in the run up to the elections. 
 
 
Moneylife followed up the talk with a series of articles from July 2010 on Aadhaar or UID by social activists, technology expert. This series dissected issues related with identification, biometrics as well as highlighted several lacunas in the functioning of Unique Identification Authority of India, (UIDAI). (Read: UID Issue: Numbers Game -1)
 
The Aadhaar project was supposed to eliminate corruption in welfare schemes and provide the poor with an identity. It is, however, clearly spreading into areas that dangerously intrude into our lives and rights. We organised a talk by Colonel (retd) Matthew Thomas, a former defence veteran and missile scientist on 12 January 2013 in Mumbai. He spoke on the evils of the Aadhaar project. Col (retd) Thomas, said that Aadhaar was conceptually flawed, deceitfully promoted, dangerously structured and ignorantly applied. For the first time, he exposed how the project give access to highly sensitive Indian data to foreign countries and contractors with dubious antecedents. One of UIDAI’s contractors, for example, is L1 ID Solutions, which was formed by merging two entities, one of which was under investigation by US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for certain offences. (Read: UID/Aadhaar – Medicine better than Disease?) Col Thomas is one of the petitioners in the Supreme Court in the Aadhaar case. 
 
At that seminar in January 2013, technology expert Jude Terrence D’Souza, an expert in design and development of microprocessor-based embedded electronic systems, conducted a live demonstration of how a simple Fevicol mould, created either in collaboration with another or under deceitful circumstances, can be used for authentication. 
 
 
Unfortunately, both the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and UIDAI were in such a hurry that they neglected basic principle of pilot testing and size of sample. UPA promoted UID as a pro-poor initiative to gain political mileage and acceptance. UID was projected as a device that would prevent corruption in welfare schemes. Both were plain deceitful. 
 
For over 1.2 billion UID numbers, they used data from just 20,000 people, in pairs, as the sample and have on the basis of the results gone ahead with the UID number through the 'Aadhaar' project. According to test results of UIDAI’s biometrics-based Aadhaar project, there could be up to 15,000 false positives for every Indian resident. Moreover, this figure was just for identification and not for verification at that time. 
 
Mr D'Souza, also analysed the pilot study conducted by the UIDAI, and felt that given the well-known lacunae in our infrastructure and massive demographics, biometrics as an ID will be a guaranteed failure and result in denial of service. "The sum of false acceptance rate and false rejection rate (EER) reveals only part of the problem, which is rejection or acceptance within a short duration of enrolment. The bigger problem is ageing, including health and environment factors, which causes sufficient change to make biometrics completely unusable and requires very frequent re-enrolment," he said. (Read: How UIDAI goofed up pilot test results to press forward with UID scheme)
 
In September 2013, Moneylife Foundation bought together bank employees union, several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) as well as prominent activists and citizens to raise voice against Reserve Bank of India (RBI)'s move to install biometric enabled automated teller machines (ATMs). These NGOs, activists and citizens were startled at the complete lack of clarity on the huge costs involved in complying with RBI’s diktat on e-KYC. Also, lack of clarity on the issue of whether each biometric based transaction would involve a transaction cost to UIDAI – who pays this cost? Will it be distributed among all? These NGOs, activists and citizens then submitted a memorandum to the then RBI governor Dr Raghuram Rajan (Read: ATMs with biometric readers: Who will bear the cost: Round-table discussion)
 
Later in December 2016, Dr Usha Ramanathan, an independent law researcher, called the UID project as an attempt by technocrats to turn everyone into a customer for their financial technology-related products. We published a series of her articles (Read: Aadhaar: Private ownership of UID data- Part I  and Aadhaar: Who owns the UID database? –Part II) . “These days, we often hear the term ‘disruptive change’. However, in the case of UID, this is disruption for destruction, where ambitious persons are using every means to allot a random number to every Indian citizen whose profiles, once created, can be exploited for offering a number of services or products,” she had said.  (Read: “Aadhaar is an attempt to turn everyone into a customer”) 
 
In the meanwhile, Moneylife continue to publish several articles that pointed out several serious issues with Aadhaar and its enforcement by the government. 
 
On 28 January 2009, the then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh headed Planning Commission issued a notification creating UIDAI, which failed to get Parliament’s endorsement despite repeated attempts. It functioned with Ram Sewak (RS) Sharma as its Director General from August 2009 to March 2013 under whose tenure Narendra Modi as Chief Minister of Gujarat was biometrically profiled for Aadhaar in spite of the fact that he himself had categorically questioned the legality and legitimacy of biometric data collection by Dr Manmohan Singh-led UPA government. (Read: Is Narendra Modi right in going back to Aadhaar? https://www.moneylife.in/article/is-narendra-modi-right-in-going-back-to-aadhaar/38576.html)
 
UIDAI was a creation of a Congress government under Dr Manmohan Singh and it gave UIDAI enormous power and resources without even the pretence of statutory safeguards. Mr Modi was against Aadhaar, until he became Prime Minister. After that, it took him a 15-minute meeting with Nandan Nilekani, the first chief of UIDAI, to do a sharp about-turn without so much as an explanation to the people.
 
Ironically, BJP supporters were prominent attendees at our Aadhaar seminars before 2014. But after the government did an about-turn, many of these have remained mute spectators to the government forcing it upon citizens for almost every activity from sports, to exam, birth, death, property registration, insurance or stock market transactions.  The Modi government has been pushing Aadhaar on the pretext of ‘Digital India’.  
 
Aadhaar, which is used as a tool under the Digital India movement, is ending up excluding rather than including eligible beneficiaries of government subsidies and programmes and has the potential to unleash undetectable financial crimes, was the broad conclusion of Prof Dr Usha Ramanathan and Dr Anupam Saraph. They were speaking at a seminar on “Legal issues that will arise if individual identity and biometrics are compromised” organised by Moneylife Foundation at Mumbai. (Read: How fool proof is Aadhaar? Does it serve the purpose that was claimed?)
 
On 3 March 2016, the Aadhaar Bill passed as money bill by side lining Rajya Sabha, which can only make recommendations unlike the Bill that UPA tried to pass in 2010. Aadhaar now has the much-needed legislative backing. However, unlike UPA, which passed it as a regular bill, got it reviewed through the Parliamentary Standing Committee, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government decided to completely bypass Rajya Sabha. All the concerns raised by the Parliamentary Standing Committee headed by Yashwant Sinha at that time, are still valid.
 
Even before Aadhaar had the backing, it had been linked to direct benefit transfer (DBT), used to check attendance in Government offices, made mandatory for matrimonial sites, added to PDS, used for passport verifications, EPFO, and sim cards by the current Government.     
 
Be it birth or death, the government had tried every trick to make Aadhaar (which still is issued to ‘residents’) mandatory for citizens. Also this was not limited to subsidies, or benefits given to the citizens. The government even tried to force Aadhaar on private services like mobiles, investments and many others. 
 
Despite the matter reaching the Supreme Court, the Modi government continued with its mission to mandate Aadhaar for everything. In fact, as stated in the apex court, the government had issued as many as 144 notifications to make Aadhaar mandatory for over 200 services or benefits. This includes those services or benefits totally unrelated with Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act for which money needs to be spent from the Consolidated Fund of India.
 
While citizens were raising several issues about Aadhaar, in a remarkable move that exposes the deep rot within the Aadhaar enrolment process, UIDAI, the agency assigned to issue Aadhaar numbers has rejected renewal request of another government company Common Services Centres (CSC) e-Governance Services India Ltd for its Aadhaar services. Interestingly, both UIDAI and CSC e-Governance Services, a special purpose vehicle (SPV) work under the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MeitY). According to a 2 February 2018 newsletter from CSC, its 11,280 permanent enrolment centres (PECs) have generated 18.09 crore Aadhaar numbers with total enrolment of 26.83 crore. It has updated demographic and biometric information of 5.16 crore people. (Read: Enormous number of complaints of corruption and enrolment process violations against Aadhaar enrolment and update centres under CSC e-Gov, says UIDAI while asking its sibling to close Aadhaar services business)   
 
Unfortunately, even today, the harassment caused to citizens for not having Aadhaar or fingerprints not matching shows no sign of abating, even as the government vociferously denies any problems with the Aadhaar scheme and stoutly defends this extraordinarily invasive programme. (Read: Aadhaar’s Unabated Harassment and Disempowerment
 
All eyes are now on the five-judge Constitution Bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justices AK Sikri, AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan. The Bench will decide whether Indians can continue to live as citizens with a right to privacy and dignity or be turned into digital slavery under the pretext of an unverified and unaudited number (Aadhaar) issued by third party vendors. 
 
 
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