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No beating about the bush.
Industrialist Ratan Tata has the capacity to challenge a breach of his privacy in the Supreme Court. But what about the nearly 60 crore Indian residents who don’t know what will become of the biometric data being collected by UIDAI?
The leak of the Niira Radia tapes in India and thousands of US classified documents on WikiLeaks, has stirred up again the debate on privacy. Earlier this week, Tata group chairman Ratan Tata petitioned the Supreme Court to order the government to restrict the use of conversations contained in the tapes, on the grounds that making them public was a breach of his privacy. The WikiLeaks disclosures have exposed many decisions and processes in the US government that have become a serious embarrassment for its leaders. Some of these leaders are talking about punishing those responsible for the leaks.
It's all well for such influential business and political figures to argue in defence of their privacy. But do these standards apply to the common citizen anywhere, and more specifically in India? Many of such common people may not even be aware of this thing called 'privacy', leave the 'right to privacy'. Take the unique identification programme being conducted in India today.
In fact, according to some of the diplomatic files published by WikiLeaks, it is now known that some US officials had been trying to collect biometric and such other sensitive identification information about politicians and bureaucrats from the United Nations and some countries like South Korea, China, Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, Syria and even India.
In Mumbai last month, the US Consulate had asked for proof of identity and other details even from the Maharashtra chief minister and state deputy chief minister to be allowed to attend a programme with the US president during his visit to India. Of course, when the state government protested and threatened that the leaders would not attend the programme, the US authorities buckled down.
But that's a story about the powerful and famous. Besides, it's highly unlikely that the more than 60 crore Indians being targeted by the identification programme would refuse to be part of it, particularly if they were told that they stood to 'gain' from it. This is the tragedy of the unique identification (UID) number of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), headed by Infosys boss Nandan Nilekani.
This ambitious and expensive project uses biometric information like fingerprints, IRIS scans and face photos to create a UID number. The authority is roping in fat-profit organisations as its partners, which will very likely result in the database being used for targeted marketing. (Read: Fat profit institutions continue to board UID bandwagon http://www.moneylife.in/article/78/11136.html) In addition, many registrars have been roped in by UIDAI to undertake this enrolment. These agents are believed to be adding their own parameters while creating their own databases for business use. (Read: Is the UIDAI database vulnerable? http://www.moneylife.in/article/78/9594.html)
Normally this should have rung an alarm bell. But it seems there has been not reaction, let alone any action from UIDAI or the government. So, what is the control over these databases and what is there to prevent any unauthorised use of this data? There is a lighter side to this. An IT expert, who requested anonymity, suggested that it may not be long before the information collected in these databases comes out into the public domain, like in the case of the Radia tapes. "The interesting part is that once the fingerprints, pictures of irises and the DNA record of people become widely available, they will automatically lose their value for purposes of evidence or as a means of uniquely identifying anybody," he explained.
Another expert said, "Governments cannot be trusted with personal information. I think India will be better off with no ID cards as the whole world is becoming one seamless entity with just local governments focusing on local services. IDs are an intrusion into one's privacy. India should remain as it has been."
In an essay published at Forbes.com, security technologist and author Bruce Schneier, says, "As long as privacy isn't salient, and as long as companies are allowed to forcibly change social norms by limiting options, people will increasingly get used to less and less privacy. There is no malice on anyone's part here; it is just market forces in action. If we believe privacy is a social good, something necessary for democracy, liberty and human dignity, then we cannot rely on market forces to maintain it. Broad legislation protecting personal privacy by giving people control over their personal data is the only solution."
This means that unless the biometric data of the nearly 60 crore residents being collected by UIDAI is kept safe and the privacy of individuals' records is protected, the Aadhaar project could turn into a tool for Big Brother, the government.
The Supreme Court has issued notices to the union government as well as the two magazines on the Radia tapes asking for a reply in ten days. While matter of the tapes is not connected in any way to the UID issue, the outcome on the subject of privacy will be relevant. Repeated questions to UIDAI by email have remained unanswered.
Women are six times less likely than men to hold top ranks in the corporate world, according to a new survey. This despite the fact that companies with more women in the senior management have performed better. Will the divide ever change?
Talking about gender discrimination at the workplace, Bella Abzug once said: "The test for whether or not you can hold a job should not be the arrangement of your chromosomes." Years down the line, the world is yet to imbibe the thought.
According to a recent survey by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), members of the fair sex are six times less likely than men to hold top ranks in the corporate world. Does this come as a surprise? May be not-the findings don't say very much that's new. But when the pattern persists even after a millennium, it probably merits serious thought.
United Nations comprehensive statistics on women, titled 'The World's Women: Trends and Statistics', released on 20 October 2010, describes a dismal gender divide in almost all areas of life. It reveals that in 2009, out of the top 500 largest corporations in the world only 13 had a female chief executive officer (CEO). It is a known fact that women draw slimmer salaries and enjoy fewer privileges than their male colleagues in almost all countries-the post and level of experience being the same. The divide gets more pronounced after 10 years of service.
Ms Dnyanada, who has been a prominent journalist, says, "The divide I think is more pronounced in India, and it is a shame. Even if in some places where women do get promoted to important positions, it is debatable how much decision making powers actually rest with them."
What are the reasons? Of course, there is the question of balancing familial responsibilities with work, but there are other factors as well. The CIMA survey says women are less likely to seek a change of job, profession or look out for opportunities at some other location, thereby staying in the same place for long. Moreover, while men are more likely to highlight their achievements within the organisation, women often talk about getting help to develop leadership skills even when they are at par with their male colleagues.
But India is a land of contradictions. Some of the most prominent banking and financial positions in the country are held by women. The Reserve Bank of India-the country financial chest and regulator-has a woman as one of its deputy governors, the third woman to occupy this position. Indian Bank made a very successful turnaround during the tenure of Ranjana Kumar as chairman and managing director. ICICI Bank and Axis Bank are headed by Chanda Kochchar and Shikha Sharma respectively. Meera Sanyal of ABN Amro Bank, Kalpana Morparia of JP Morgan and Naina Lal Kidwai of HSBC India are among the most-respected names in the field.
Ms Mona Cherian, in HR at Ask Securities, says that ultimately it is the ability of an individual that determines his or her fate. But, there are others who are sceptical about this. Mrs Mahalakshmi DM, head of Professionele Consulting India, says, "The glass ceiling is very much there. Even when we speak of women achievers, most of the time, it is the success of the institutions which contribute to their positions. It is a case of power play, and it is unlikely that any company will see a woman as the boss. Government positions are no exception."
Women at management schools discover that they are left out during placement programmes. Journalism is another interesting field, where women often outnumber men in media houses, but are seldom seen as editors. So, this is very much the common picture.
An encouraging discovery in the CIMA research is that companies which have 30% or more women at the board level or in the senior management, have performed better financially. Women are more adept at conflict resolution, less likely to take high-risk decisions in times of crisis and they are also better participatory leaders.
If only companies would create a better working environment for women, they would have found that it is a worthwhile investment. It's up to the ladies as well, to assert themselves and take the top place that they deserve.
Neither the Niira Radia tapes nor the 2G spectrum scam is of any significant interest to net surfers, according to data available. But is it likely that there are many who are inadequately informed about these issues because a majority of the media has chosen to blank out the information to protect their own?
It's a strange world. The 2G spectrum allocation scam and the Niira Radia tapes have thrown the law enforcers in a tizzy, causing serious embarrassment to the government. But amidst this entire buzz, how much of this has the public taken in? Or rather, how much has the media really offered?
It may come as a shock, but many people-some of them from eminent walks of life-are only vaguely familiar with these issues that have dominated the headlines over the past couple of weeks.
A former diplomat, with an HR consultancy in Kolkata, says he knows that Niira Radia is a corporate lobbyist and that she was in touch with some prominent people; but he was not aware that she is being investigated. A financial analyst, this journalist spoke to, had no idea how Ratan Tata was connected to Ms Radia, and he was equally vague about what the two have to do with the 2G spectrum case.
There are some more examples, which only underline the question as to why so many people appear to be ignorant about such serious issues? Besides, they are not the sought who would be satisfied with cursory page 3 and cricket stories. So, what is it that has kept them from knowing?
The answer might be the very medium that's responsible for disseminating news-the media.
In India, much of the news consumption is through TV channels and an estimated 12-15% of news consumers depend on newspapers for information. A miniscule percentage read news online. As some prominent journalists figure in the conversations with Niira Radia, most TV channels and newspapers seem to have decided to leave out the sour part. If these journalists are seen to be guilty of misdemeanour, it would lead to a drop in viewership/readership and consequently, a loss in business. So it seems that many publishing houses simply chose not to write about it.
The most disappointing revelation is from the internet where, according to Google, during the last 30 days the number of web/news searches for "Nira Radia" or "2G spectrum" have been very low-apart from Delhi, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, the search volume for the rest of India has been miniscule.
Searches for "Outlook Radia" and "Open" have increased, but the volume has not been enough to generate trend results. And what have been the most searched items during the past month? "Cricket" and "Pamela Anderson"! (Outlook and Open magazines have published transcripts of some of the conversations on the Radia tapes.)
Why is it that internet users, despite the vast potential for the media and availability of the tapes online have not been looking for this news? A representative of the Internet and Mobile Association of India says, "Generally, on the internet, people go for the kind of news they like. Today, many follow their friend's recommendations and likes on Facebook and Twitter, and read only select pieces. Also, many information portals online track the readers' preferred pages, and offer them customised news content, which is more suited to readers' tastes."
Ms Radia or Mr Tata is not the issue. But when media houses and publications, for their vested interests misinform or withhold information, where does it leave the public? Without an informed citizenry there is little hope for transparency and an even narrower room for change.