Many Indians have raised data security and privacy issues over the ambitious UID number project. Now, even the US is concerned that the number could be issued to terrorists through fake ID
While many citizens and privacy advocates in India have raised serious questions about the unique identification (UID) number, also known as the Aadhaar project, the United States is worried about security aspects of the project.
According to a report based on US diplomatic cables, accessed and published by The Hindu newspaper from WikiLeaks, the US was worried about the possible procurement of UID numbers by extremist groups and their effort to spoof or defeat biometric enrolment by alteration in fingerprints.
"The ostensible reason behind the interest in the US was that the project 'could present a vulnerable target for regional extremist groups-such as Lashkar-e-Tayyiba-who could obtain fraudulent Indian ID cards during the large-scale enrolment for use in travel or as breeder documents to apply for passports'. Hence, the State Department wanted to know what security features would be incorporated in the card, and anti-fraud measures adopted, and if any encryption method would be used," the report said.
The cables, sent on 17 December 2009 from the office of the Secretary of State under the name of Hillary Clinton, asked the US Embassy in New Delhi to find out the motivation behind the (Aadhaar) project and to collect as much information about it as possible.
"Specific instructions were given to Embassy officials to report on any efforts to 'spoof' or defeat biometric enrolment, such as fingerprint alteration," the newspaper report said.
Although, the US has raised apprehensions about the UID number project, there are chances that it may have changed its opinion since. For, at the time, let alone US authorities, many Indian officials were in the dark about how the project would be implemented. Also, today, numerous big-profit organisations-many of them 'influential' companies from the US-have partnered with the UID Authority of India (UIDAI). (Read, "UIDAI's not-so-'clean' partners and their tainted executives".)
Last year, the UIDAI selected three consortia-Accenture, Mahindra Satyam-Morpho and L-1 Identity Solutions-to implement the core biometric identification system for the Aadhaar programme. UIDAI had stated that the three agencies would design, supply, install, commission, maintain and support the multimodal automatic biometric identification subsystem. The three vendors would also be involved in the development of a multimodal software development kit (SDK) for client enrolment stations, the verification server, manual adjudication and monitoring functions of the UID application.
L-1 Identity Solutions, in particular, has names in its top management, or directors, who have been associated with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other American defence organisations. Over the years, particularly after taking some top-notch 'retired' intelligence and defence officials on board, L-1 Solutions has made rapid progress.
French aerospace and defence systems company Safran, bought L-1 Identity Solutions for about $1.6 billion. After the announcement last September, there was a furore in the US. At the time, one blogger from the US wrote, "Just think about how happy you can feel now knowing that your personal information including your social security number and biometric information (fingerprints, iris scans and digital facial images) may soon be available to a French company. The federal government must sign off on the deal before the deal can be sealed. All this brings us back to the topic of the revolving door that exists between government and corporations."
Interestingly, even as Safran was announcing the deal to buy L-1 Identity Solutions, the UIDAI gave a purchase order worth $24.5 million for fingerprint and iris biometric capturing devices in September 2010. The White House, however, announced the deal during the visit of US President Barack Obama to India in November last year.
Although the concerns raised by the US over the UID card for Indian residents are still valid, it leaves one wondering whether Uncle Sam would pursue these issues even after fulfilling its commercial interests.
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