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No beating about the bush.
An exercise in rewriting and engineering the electoral ecosystem underlines that the use of biometric technology and electronic voting machines or EVMs is not as innocent and as politically neutral as it has been made out to be
As part of Government’s plan A, it appears that biometric-based Aadhaar/unique identification (UID) number was and remains an attention diversion exercise. The concerned authorities seem to have known that when its legality will be challenged, it will most likely be halted. This has happened in other countries. As part of their Plan B, the real work is being done by Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). What is happening is that one institution, MHA will have Census data, National Population Register (NPR) data, National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) data and the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) data-their integration is creating world's most powerful database since mankind came into existence.
Mere opposition to NCTC by non Congress governments is hardly sufficient because with NPR, NATGRID and UID alone they can do what Indian National Congress (INC) led Government wants without NCTC. NCTC is proposed in compliance with an illegal UN Security Council Resolution of 28 September 2001. India's cooperation was enlisted by co-opting Permanent Representative of India to the UN.
NCTC like a number of other related initiatives such as NATGRID, Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and Registrar General of National Population Register (NPR) is being established through governmental notifications or subordinate legislations rather than legislation passed in Parliament in manifest contempt towards legislatures, States and citizens’ democratic rights.
Even Julio Ribeiro, the Mumbai police chief, who has vast experience with both state-level and counterterrorism policing argues, “NCTC is not required. Improve whatever is there on the ground, get them to act, and co-ordinate”.
Ministry of Home Affairs notified the setting up of the anti-terror body called NCTC on 3 February 2012 through National Counter Terrorism Centre (Organisation functions Powers and Duties) Order 2012. NCTC is headquartered in New Delhi. It is supposed to have the power to carry out operations including arrest, search and seizure. It will draw its functional power of search and seizures under the provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967 and amendments therein. It is supposed to work as an integral part of Intelligence Bureau (IB). The notification mandates the terror-fighting agencies to share their inputs with NCTC and it also appoints the director and his core team. Director of NCTC will have full functional autonomy and he will have the power to seek information on terror from National Investigation Agency (NIA), NATGRID, intelligence units of CBI, National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) and Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) in addition to all seven central armed police forces including National Security Guard (NSG). He will report to the IB chief and the MHA. The notification was issued under the Article 73 of the Constitution of India.
Expressing concern about the conspiracy of the non-state actors that disturbs the confidence of ‘global investor’, the 121 page 2009 report of the Task Force on National Security and Terrorism constituted by the undeclared undemocratic political party of pre-independence times - Federation of Indian Commerce and Industry (FICCI)-refers to assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28 June 1914 by Gavrilo Princip, a Yugoslav nationalist, as a terrorist act that led to World War I. This war narrative runs all through the report that explicitly recommends the evolved framework of counter terrorism in the US, UK and Israel and commissioning of safe city plan by companies at page 96.
The fact is politically powerful members of the Serbian military armed and trained Princip and two other students as assassins and sent them into Austria-Hungary for the act. The reasons for the war goes deeper, involving national politics, cultures, economics, and a complex web of alliances and counterbalances that had developed between the various European powers since 1870, including previous economic and military rivalry in industry and trade. FICCI report is quite shallow and deals with selective historical facts. It refers to possible targeting of Indian, Western and Jewish installations as retaliation against ongoing North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), a 28-nation military alliance led operations in Afghanistan. It contends that the link between Afghanistan and Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) is permanent.
At page 70, the FICCI report argues for a secure E-network for connecting all district headquarters and police stations NATGRID under National Counter Terrorism Agency. It observes, “As Nandan Nilekani goes into operationalising the UIDAI, there is a case for factoring inclusion data as part of the national grid to assist in counter terrorism.” This is not the first time that NATGRID and UID link is underlined. Another joint report of the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (ASSOCHAM), an undeclared political party of companies and KPMG, Swiss Consultancy titled “Homeland Security in India, 2010” had revealed it. ASSOCHAM’s joint report of June 2011 with Aviotech, an initiative of the promoters of the Deccan Chronicle Group titled “Homeland Security Assessment India: Expansion and Growth” refers to the “The requirement in Biometrics for all the subsequent programs under the National Census will become significant. This shows where the NPR program which is linked to UID is headed.
It is noteworthy that the origins of the UID and Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) process within the US Department of Defense started under Michael Wynne, former Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (AT&L) from 2003 till 2005. Within NATO, two documents deal so far with unique identification of items. The first one is standardization agreement, which was ratified in 2010. The second one is a “How to “guide for NATO members willing to enter in the UID business. Is India a NATO member? It appears to be behaving like one.
In such a backdrop, the most recent proposal of both the Election Commission of India (EC) and the UIDAI to MHA “to merge the Election ID cards with UID” is an exercise in rewriting and engineering the electoral ecosystem underlining that the use of biometric technology and electronic voting machines (EVMs) is not as innocent and as politically neutral as it has been made out to be. This proposal makes a mockery of the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on Finance on UID Bill. It is noteworthy that all EVMs have a UID as well. Notably, proposed Land Titling Bill makes a provision for linking land titles to UIDs of Indian residents. These acts of convergence is undermining the constitutional rights and change the meaning of democracy as we know it.
It is an act of changing both the form and content of democracy and democratic rights in a new technology based regime where technologies and technology companies are beyond regulation because they are bigger than the government and legislatures.
At page 92 of the FICCI report, it is acknowledged that Government of US has made concerted efforts to leverage IT as a weapon against terror and has spent billions of dollars on IT related projects. These projects include common information exchange, systems for mining data from collection of unsorted documents and databases, biometric identity cards etc. Launched in April 2010, World Bank’s e-Transform Initiative that is working to converge private, public and citizen sector with an explicit ulterior motive to transform governments beyond recognition fit into the scheme of US IT efforts.
The report seeks role of private sector in fighting terror. It underscores a “National Counter Terrorism Architecture”. It recommends ‘National Counter Terrorism Agency with all India jurisdiction as a central system for intelligence gathering, analysis and dissemination of information’. It approves of the ‘formational of National Intelligence Grid as an integrated model of information sharing under the proposed National Counter Terrorism Agency’ as ‘an urgent imperative.’ At page 49, the report refers to UN Security Council Resolution 1373 adopted in September 2001 for initiating action if tangible evidence exists. It recommends intense attack should a Mumbai style attack happen again as a hard option and joint military interaction and economic free trade zone as a soft option.
A perusal of the report gives the impression that given the fact that objections of Chief Ministers and members of Parliament (MPs) are not rooted in concerns for civil liberties, they are simply interested in getting the MHA to stop the misuse of Intelligence Bureau, which has also been recommended by the FICCI report. Concerns of citizens and progressive political parties are based on the grave threat potential of NCTC, NATGRID, NPR, UID/Aadhaar, RFID and DNA Profiling Bill for democratic rights which are under assault from both the central and state governments. What else can explain the studied silence of most of the Chief Ministers in the matter of biometric profiling through UID/Aadhaar and NPR that has been rejected by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance. UID/Adhaar, NPR and NATGRID and NCTC are two sides of the same coin. They are two ends of the same rope. They pose an unprecedented threat to constitutional rights and the federal structure of the country.
MHA’s NCTC meets FICCI’s demand and is obstinately reluctant to pay heed to the demands of citizens, Chief Ministers and opposition MPs and even MPs from United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
The Indian NCTC is a poor imitation of USA’s National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC). US NCTC was formed in 2003. It is a governmental organization responsible for national and international counter terrorism efforts that advises government of US on terrorism. It works under USA’s Director of National Intelligence which operates on an annual budget of $49.8 billion and about 1,500 people. It draws experts from the CIA, FBI, the Pentagon, and other agencies, who try to ensure that clues about potential attacks are not missed. Matthew G Olsen was sworn as the Director of NCTC after his appointment was confirmed by the US Senate. He reports to the Director of National Intelligence and to the President of USA. In his earlier assignment, he has supervised the implementation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
USA’s NCTC is headquartered in McLean, Virginia. The precursor organization of NCTC, the Terrorist Threat Integration Center established on 1 May 2003, was created by the President of US by an executive order. It was established in response to recommendations by the ‘National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States’ that investigated the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001. The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 renamed Terrorist Threat Integration Center to NCTC and placed it under the US Director of National Intelligence. NCTC analyzes terrorism intelligence (except purely domestic terrorism), stores terrorism information, supports USA’s counter terrorism activities using information technology, and plans counter-terrorism activities as directed by the President of the United States, the National Security Council, and the Homeland Security Council.
India and US signed Counter Terrorism Cooperation Initiative on 23 July 2010. It was initialed on the sidelines of the visit of Dr Manmohan Singh to the US in November 2009. The then Union Home Secretary, GK Pillai signed for India whereas Ambassador Timothy J Roemer signed on behalf of the US. Nirupama Rao, the then Indian Foreign Secretary, was also present on the occasion. It seeks to further enhance the cooperation between two countries in Counter Terrorism as an important element of their bilateral strategic partnership. The initiative, inter alia, provides for strengthening capabilities to effectively combat terrorism; promotion of exchanges regarding modernization of techniques; sharing of best practices on issues of mutual interest; development of investigative skills; promotion of cooperation between forensic science laboratories; establishment of procedures to provide mutual investigative assistance; enhancing capabilities to act against money laundering, counterfeit currency and financing of terrorism; exchanging best practices on mass transit and rail security; increasing exchanges between Coast Guards and Navy on maritime security; exchanging experience and expertise on port and border security; enhancing liaison and training between specialist Counter Terrorism Units including National Security Guard with their US counter parts.
Within India, NCTC traces its genesis, objectives, structure and powers of the proposed NCTC in the recommendations of a Group of Ministers in 2001 that reviewed the internal security system in the aftermath of the Kargil conflict that made a case for the establishment of a Multi Agency Centre (MAC), a permanent Joint Task Force on Intelligence and an Inter State Intelligence Support System, which were broadly accepted by the NDA Government. It seeks justification from the 2008 report of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission that recommended a Multi Agency Centre should be converted into a National Centre for Counter Terrorism with personnel drawn from different intelligence and security agencies.
NCTC’s mandate is to draw up plans and coordinate action for counter terrorism. Its duties and functions are confined to counter terrorism. The Office Memorandum dated 3 February 2012 provides for a Standing Council consisting of the Director, NCTC, the three Joint Directors, NCTC and the Heads of the Anti-Terrorist Organisation or Force in each State. The Standing Council shall meet as often as necessary and may also meet through video conference. The Standing Council shall ensure that NCTC is the single and effective point of control and coordination of all counter terrorism measures. It is proposed to subsume the Multi Agency Centre in the NCTC.
It appears that there is complicity between Indian National Congress and Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). The latter appears more concerned about the form rather than the undemocratic and regressive nature of the proposals. Not surprisingly, in his key note address at the FICCI conference on national security and terror, former National Security Advisor, Brajesh Mishra opined that at least the political leadership of Congress and BJP should unite and not allow electoral politics to defeat in National Interest. He advocated Federal Counter Terrorism Agency even if requires constitutional amendments terming States right to the subject of law and order as a mere political excuse but revealed that IB is involved in the business of political intelligence. In such a situation, his recommendation for NCTC like agency which operates under IB is quite inconsistent.
In the case of US, the 9/11 Committee recommended, "The NCTC should perform joint planning. The plans would assign operational responsibilities to lead agencies, such as State, the CIA, the FBI, Defense and its combatant commands, Homeland Security, and other agencies. The NCTC should not direct the actual execution of these operations, leaving that job to the agencies. The NCTC would then track implementation; it would look across the foreign-domestic divide and across agency boundaries, updating plans to follow through on cases."
Both the US and Indian versions of NCTC empowers an intelligence agency with executive action. This poses gravest threat to democracy and civil rights.
In any case in the US, the NCTC is a legal institution set up through legislation after bipartisan consultations, without legal powers to arrest, detain, interrogate, search, etc. The Indian NCTC has been set up by executive notification under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act of 1967. This act of subordinate legislation does not have legislative mandate.
Parliamentarians and senior lawyers have contended that IB is used for harassing political opponents. IB is supposed to undertake clandestine intelligence collection. However, it is strange that while giving powers of search and arrest to the NCTC is unwarranted at the centre such arbitrary powers are uncalled for even for states.
Several Chief Ministers have expressed persistent opposition. They were not consulted before the notification of the NCTC. It violates the federal structure of the country. The potential of misuse of NCTC by the IB is immense and can create Emergency like situation. There was an unprecedented voting in the Parliament on this issue wherein President’s Address mentioned NCTC. In Parliament, 82 votes were against the government’s current proposal and 105 votes in favour. It is clear that there is massive opposition within the Parliament and outside it.
It has been argued in the Parliament that “in USA and the United Kingdom, there are Oversight Parliamentary Committees to look into the activities of the Intelligence Bureau, which is not here in India.” The opaque manner of MHA merited strong objection because it has chosen not to seek consent of legislatures, states and citizens. The IB has no legal basis for its existence nor legal charter to do any operations work.
It is noteworthy that a 20 page Private Members’ Bill titled The Intelligence Services (Powers and Regulation) Bill, 2011 has been introduced the Lok Sabha by Manish Tewari “to regulate the manner of the functioning and exercise of powers of Indian Intelligence Agencies within and beyond the territory of India and to provide for the coordination, control and oversight of such agencies.”
There is an immediate need for parliamentary scrutiny of the pre-existing intelligence agencies and mandatory legislative consent for the creation of security, surveillance and database agencies besides the agreement of the States and the citizens. At present there is no transparency and accountability of the working of intelligence agencies and in the creation of the proposed agencies. At a time when the constitutionality of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Act, 2008 itself is in question and found unacceptable by the States, the NCTC, NPR an UIDAI proposal was fated to meet stiff and bitter opposition from all.
It is noteworthy that Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), National Investigation Agency (NIA) and NATGRID are exempted from the applicability of Right to Information Act, 2005, the only transparency law of India. This exemption for CBI and NATGRID which are not governed by any law at all is quite bizarre.
Such exemptions are unacceptable given the fact that central monitoring system (CMS), a centralised mechanism that is meant to assist in lawful interception of communications from landline, mobile and Internet without any lawful interception law in India. India does not have any legal and constitutionally sound phone tapping and e-surveillance law. The birth of NCTC itself is illegitimate. The fact that it will rely on the databases of agencies which are themselves working without any legislative and democratic mandate is quite unnerving.
While States and citizens are concerned about their rights and are resisting efforts to turn them into subjects of centralized powers, the emergence of a regressive convergence economy based on databases and unregulated surveillance, biometric and electoral technologies remains largely unnoticed and unchallenged.
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(Gopal Krishna is member of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL), which is campaigning against surveillance technologies since 2010)
In our country, it is rarely noticed as to when the concept of massively organised information quietly emerges to become a means of social control, a weapon of war, and for the victimisation of ethnic groups. Aadhaar is trying hard to make us believe that the UIDAI would fulfil the constitutional promise of economic equality
"If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking” said George Patton, US General during World War II.
Indeed, “unfair share of highly educated people” in certain mega business enterprises, countries and automatic identification technologies based on digitalization of human biology is having a disruptive impact on human civilization and democratic rights.
After the adoption of National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP), a Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by AK Antony, defence minister, is deliberating on the issue of resident identity cards to all usual residents of the country of age 18 years and above under the scheme of National Population Register (NPR). As per the terms of reference given to the GoM, it is supposed to “examine all aspects relating to the proposal for issuing resident identity cards to the usual residents of the country keeping in view all relevant issues and finalize its recommendations at an early date.” There is no news about what this GoM has done since its creation January 2013. It seems they are waiting for the judgement of the Supreme Court given the fact that Aadhaar/Unique Identification (UID) Number and NPR are one and the same as per the documents on record.
The creation of this GoM must be seen along with a letter of Ajit Seth, cabinet secretary, Government of India dated 18 July 2012, which was sent to all secretaries stating that “There is an urgent need to bring rich data assets into the public domain for the use by civil society for scientific, economic and developmental purposes.”
In an interview, Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks informed Imran Khan about the grave act of omission and commission. Assange said, “…we discovered a cable in 2009 from the Islamabad Embassy. Prime minister Gilani and interior minister Malik went into the (US) embassy and offered to share National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) – and NADRA is the national data and registration agency database. The system is currently connected through passport data but the government of Pakistan is adding voice and facial recognition capability and has installed a pilot biometric system as the Chennai border crossing, where 30,000 to 35,000 people cross each day. This NADRA system is the voting record system for all voters in Pakistan. A front company was set up in the United Kingdom – International Identity Services, which was hired as the consultants for NADRA to squirrel out the NADRA data for all of Pakistan. What do you think about that? Is that a…? It seems to me that that is a theft of some national treasure of Pakistan, the entire Pakistani database registry of its people.” The interview is available here.
It must be noted that NPR is being prepared by C Chandramouli, census commissioner & registrar general of India, is meant to create resident identity cards is exactly like Pakistan’s version of biometric exercise for citizens’ identity card which was completed by NADRA, ministry of interior, Government of Pakistan and their database has been handed over to US Government.
Was NADRA made accountable for this theft of national treasure of Pakistan? Will census commissioner & registrar general of India be made accountable if “rich data assets” are stolen or sold? Has anyone been made accountable till date?
In an interview James Manyika, a director in McKinsey’s San Francisco office, and Eric Schmidt, Google executive chairman explored the phenomenon of technological disruption, which is likely to have the greatest impact on economies, business models, and people. This interview was conducted in February 2013.
Eric corroborates what has been apprehended all along that “There are now firms and foundations building databases of DNA to use, to move to a model of individual diagnosis of disease, where you literally just press a button, the sequences occur, and it tells you what’s wrong. So the use of analytical tools in a historically analog world is a very big change.”
He prophetically states that we are entering into a situation where the computer knows, “Well, we kind of know what you care about.”
Eric Schmidt says, “We’re going, in a single lifetime, from a small elite having access to information to essentially everyone in the world having access to all of the world’s information. That has huge implications for privacy, communications, security, the way people behave, the way information is spread, censorship, how governments behave, and so forth.”
Eric underlines the existing situation of “a small elite having access to information”. He is making a prophesy that we are amidst a technological era, which is going to create a situation wherein “essentially everyone in the world having access to all of the world’s information.” This prophesy hides an essential pre-condition to the possible access to “all of the world’s information”. The pre-condition is purchasing capacity.
To reveal the true colours of such sophistry, paraphrasing George Orwell’s contention from his book, Animal Farm, in this context would not be inappropriate. All men did not have access to all the information in the past. But all men will soon have access to all the information if they can afford it. Essentially, all men are equal in the digital world if they can afford equality.
In the second part of his statement, the Google official is telling the official from McKinsey that when all the people in the world will have all the information then it have “implications for privacy, communications, security, the way people behave, the way information is spread, censorship, how governments behave, and so forth”.
Even if one takes this part of his statement on its face value, the core issue is that whenever either “a small elite” has access to information or all the people who can afford to have access to information there are implications for privacy, communications, security, human behaviour, information dissemination, censorship and governments.
Eric will have us believe that when the analog world of biology—how genes work, how diseases work is put in a digital framework, calculate for a while, do some machine learning on how things happen, these seemingly disruptive technologies will be able to make one become a better human being and predict what’s going to happen to human beings in terms of health etc.
While States and citizens are concerned about their rights and are resisting efforts to turn them into subjects of centralised powers through their opposition to National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), the emergence of a regressive convergence economy based on databases and unregulated surveillance, biometric and electoral technologies remains largely unnoticed and unchallenged. Political clout of technology based companies seems to be creating a property based rights regime through financial surveillance making national boundaries redundant. But surprisingly, non Congress governments in states and at the centre are acting like unthinking obedient boys.
If one takes cognizance of the claim that “UID system is a civilian application of biometrics”1 and compares it with current practices, one finds that such a claim is quite misplaced. In the report there is reference to a Study commissioned by the US Department of Homeland Security to International Biometrics Group.2 Is it too difficult to comprehend the implications of the “civilian application” of a military tool?
In our country, it is rarely noticed as to when the concept of massively organized information quietly emerged to become a means of social control, a weapon of war, and for the victimisation of ethnic groups.
It has emerged that it all started rolling in the aftermath of a meeting of the Empowered Group of Ministers on 4 November 2008 and a meeting of the prime minister's council of the UID Authority on 12 August 2009, wherein it was decided that there was a “need for a legislative framework.” The legislative framework is unlikely to take birth but the citizens have been framed and biometrically profiled awaiting post dated endorsement from the legislatures.
The 13th Finance Commission has made a provision for an incentive of Rs100 per person (Rs400-Rs500 per family) to bribe citizens below the poverty line to register for the UID/Aadhaar and recommended a grant of Rs2,989.10 crore to be given to the state governments for the same. The deafening silence of the state governments appears to be influenced by this financial allocation.
As per an office memorandum dated 29 September 2009, “The main objective is to improve benefits service delivery, especially to the poor and the marginalized sections of the society. To deliver its mandate, the UID Authority proposes to create a platform to first collect the identity details and then to perform authentication that can be used by several government and private service providers.”3
The reference to “private service providers” is inexplicable for the work is meant to be an exercise for public purpose and for the poor and the marginalized. The promise of service delivery to the poor and the marginalised hides how it will enable access to profit for the IT industry and the biometrics industry. Such claims are quite insincere, misleading and factually incorrect. It reminds one of the pledges in the preamble of the Constitution of India; it will have us believe that UID Authority would fulfil the constitutional promise of economic equality. Such objectives are bad sophistry at best.
“Biometrics data are national assets and must be preserved in their original quality.”4 It is noteworthy that the cabinet secretary refers to “rich data assets” and government’s committee on Biometrics refers to database of citizens’ biometric data as “national assets.”
1 Biometrics Design Standards For UID Applications, Planning Commission, prepared by: Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) Committee on Biometrics, p. 9, Version 1.0, December 2009
2 Study titled “Independent Testing of Iris Recognition Technology, Final Report, May 2005” referred in the report of the Biometrics Design Standards For UID Applications, Planning Commission, prepared by: Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) Committee on Biometrics, p. 56, Version 1.0, December 2009
3 Biometrics Design Standards For UID Applications, Planning Commission, prepared by: Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) Committee on Biometrics, p. 25, Version 1.0, December 2009
4 Biometrics Design Standards For UID Applications, Planning Commission, prepared by: Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) Committee on Biometrics, p. 5, Version 1.0, December 2009
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(Gopal Krishna is member of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL), which is campaigning against surveillance technologies since 2010)
Acting like a modern day ‘Robert Clive’, Nilekani has managed to somehow take the Nawabs of Indian National Congress and his loyalists into confidence. The battle of 2014 elections is likely to decide whether 'Clive and his loyalists' will win once again or not
Before joining Indian National Congress (INC), Mahatma Gandhi had opposed biometric identification—fingerprint based registration of Asians in general and Indians and Chinese in particular. In his book, ‘Satyagraha in South Africa’, he describes Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance of 1906 and the Transvaal Asiatic Registration Act under which finger printing of Asians was attempted as a "Black Act". The Black Act was resisted on the grounds of the safety of Indian and Chinese community of South Africa and to resist an intolerable humiliation. The Act was repealed by the British government after years of struggle.
Do political parties in India endorse Mahatma Gandhi’s first Satyagraha in opposition to British Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance of 1906 and Transvaal Asiatic Registration Act of 1907? Under the Act, every male Asian had to register himself and produce on demand a thumb-printed certificate of identity. Unregistered persons and prohibited immigrants were to be deported without a right of appeal or fined on the spot if they fail to comply with Act.
If the parties endorse this political struggle of the Mahatma then how is it that they are complicit in endorsement of the notification of Planning Commission akin to an ordinance meant for biometric identification? There is a logical compulsion for them to seek the withdrawal of this notification dated 28 January 2009 and to oppose even the introduction of The National Identification Authority of India Bill re-approved by the Union Cabinet on 8 October 2013 in the upcoming winter session of the Parliament in the light of the wisdom gained from the freedom fighters.
On 22 August 1906, the South African government published a draft Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance. The Ordinance required all Indians and Chinese in the Transvaal region of South Africa, to register their presence giving their fingerprints and carrying passes. Knowing the impact of the Ordinance and effective criminalisation of the entire community, Gandhi then decided to challenge it. Calling the Ordinance a 'Black Act', he mobilised around 3,000 Indians in Johannesburg who took an oath not to submit to a degrading and discriminatory piece of legislation. This was the first time the world witnessed 'Satyagraha' or a non-resistance movement that later become a phenomenon in India's freedom struggle.
By this yardstick, no political party In India qualifies to be deemed an opposition party unless they burn, boycott or bury the scheme that issues biometric identification slips carrying unique identification (UID)/Aadhaar number.
It appears that the Chinese have remembered their historical lessons not only from their subjugation through opium wars but also how as community of shared fate they had opposed finger printing together with Indians in South Africa. Dr M Vijayanunni, former Census Commissioner and Registrar General of India underlined other reasons for China giving up a similar exercise on Rajya Sabha TV on 2 February 2013. Indians, on the other hand, appear to be forgetting lessons of their consistent defeats (in the battle fields and off the battle fields).
Among the defeats, the date of 23 June 1757 stands out. In his book, Imagining India, Nandan Nilekani provides ‘A Time Line of Key Events’ in India. Under the title ‘Seeds’, the first date he mentions is 1757. He describes the event of the year saying, “The Battle of Plassey, where (colonel) Robert Clive, commander of the (English) East India Company’s army and renegade (he would later be tried in Britain fort looting Bengal treasury) overthrows the Nawab of Bengal (Siraj-ud-daulah, the last independent Nawab of Bengal). It is a battle won through both money—bribing the Nawab’s loyalists—and the military.”
It seems that acting like a modern day Clive, he has managed to somehow take the Nawab of INC and his loyalists into confidence. The battle of 2014 elections is likely to decide whether Clive and his loyalists will win once again or not.
By 1750, the Indian empire was in a state of collapse as a result of a permission given by Indian emperor Jahangir to an ambassador of English emperor King James for setting up of a base by English East India Company in Surat, Gujarat in 1615. By 1690, this company had factories all along the west and east coasts of India with the main centres at Chennai (erstwhile Madras), Kokata (ersthwhile Calcutta) and Mumbai (erstwhile Bombay). The company started to protect its trade with its own armies and navies.
History repeats itself in simple ways. Capt Raghu Raman, the chief executive officer (CEO) of National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID), the Union Ministry of Home Affairs had proposed creation of private territorial armies by commercial czars in his earlier incarnation with Mahindra Special Services Group. But the State seems to have gone ahead and has started providing Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), the world’s biggest industrial security force, to commercial czars on rent. At this rate how long will it take for the commercial czars to hire Indian Army, Navy and Air Force? In any case, they are hiring them post retirement or poaching them in their pre-retirement phase itself. Unless the political and the informed citizenry is alive to the writing the writing on the wall its ramifications are bound to unfold and make their democratic rights redundant.
In an interview on 24 January 2012, NDTV's Sreenivasan Jain asked Nilekani about the patronage his biometric identification project enjoys from Rahul Gandhi. He asked, “And it helps to have Rahul Gandhi's backing?” Nilekani replied, “Yes definitely it helps, and we think the promise of this is being seen; that this can transform services to the people.”
Nilekani said, “Of course they are uncharted waters. The world's largest biometric database is of 120 million. We are talking about 1.2 billion. So that's 10 times anything else in the world. We are the only project that's doing on that scale using fusion biometrics, because we combine iris and fingerprints.”
It is the Indian citizens who are the master of the elected people that are being taken into “uncharted waters” by an unelected person. Unlike our indirectly elected prime minister, this person is not even indirectly elected.
Sreenivasan Jain asked, “But overall you feel that this project still has legs?” Nilekani replied, “Of course it has legs. 170 million have voted with their feet.” Indeed UID-Aadhaar and related schemes are meant to engineer the electoral system for good.
But this boastful claim was made before the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh (UP). The election to the UP legislative assembly was held in seven phases from 8th February to 3 March 2012. Through their verdict the electorate of Uttar Pradesh rejected the proposal of the INC to allow themselves to be identified with their biometric data like iris scan and thumb impressions. Rahul Gandhi had campaigned in UP using the UID/Aadhaar as an election agenda. After his party’s dismal performance, he took the responsibility of his party’s defeat.
The UP legislative assembly has 403 seats. Samajwadi Party (SP) won 224 seats and INC won 28 seats. Eight of the 10 assembly seats in the parliamentary constituencies represented by Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi, respectively, were won by the Samajwadi Party. Nilekani’s party did not just lose 17 of the 20 segments in these four parliamentary seats which it holds, it did not even come second in 13 of these assembly segments.
Supporting Home Ministry’s and Planning Commission’s scheme of unique identity, the INC had showcased UID/Aadhaar and related National Population Register (NPR) to influence the electorate but voters have given their verdict against these schemes. Nilekani’s party had claimed that the UID-Aadhaar/NPR will address the discrepancies in controversial below poverty line (BPL) list by hiding violation of the provisions of Census Act with ulterior motives. It was used like a fish bait to entrap citizens against democratic and legislative mandate. The message for Rahul Gandhi, P Chidambaram, Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Nilekani was that UP electorate who were promised UID-Aadhaar/NPR has rejected it.
The surveillance regime based on UID-Aadhaar/NPR has been proposed by INC for the people but not for biometric and other intrusive technologies. It has reliably been learnt that officials from Infosys Ltd have been giving leadership training to leaders of INC. This may have impacted decision making with regard to UID-Aadhaar/NPR but it has clearly not worked in UP elections.
Reports of efforts to put even finance minister and defence minister under surveillance reveal that there is paucity of capacity to monitor or regulate these technologies within the government. If this is the plight of the ministers and technologically challenged political class, the threat for citizens can easily be understood.
Post UP elections, government must review its capacity to regulate an emerging technology regime that is undermining democracy and sovereignty and should not be misled by unelected cabinet ranked officials who say, “Technology has no history and no bias, it treats everyone the same way.” History of technologies reveals that it is their owners who are true beneficiaries especially when it is used for social control. There is a compelling need to urgently assess the claims and risks of biometric and surveillance technology and how some companies made UID/NPR politically persuasive for the ruling party and intertwined the systems of technology with crying need for governance.
Samajwadi Party won the battle in UP but they are bound to lose the war unless they scrap and disassociate themselves from UID/NPR scheme. Imagine a situation, when one agency is not letting the party play its legitimate role as an opposition party in the national politics, what would be their plight, when they are likely to be blackmailed by several surveillance companies and non-state actors.
As an electoral lesson, Rahul Gandhi should have stopped his support for UID/Aadhaar project because the verdict was against it. Is it the case that the biometric databases of Indians have already been sold in the futures market and the powers that be have got their shares in the booty which makes it ‘irreversible’ as is being claimed, despite electoral reverses? How it is that Akhilesh Yadav, Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi are busy implementing UID-Aadhaar number scheme?
Two advertisements of Union Ministry of Home Affairs dated 24 August 2013 and 14 August 2013 in Hindustan Times and Hindustan, respectively merits attention. It signals a very dangerous trend for democratic rights and sovereignty of citizens. The former deals with biometric collection of usual residents of India for which camps are being organized, the latter dealt with Socio Economic & Caste Census (SECC) 2011 wherein it was announced that unless the usual residents covered under SECC sent a letter in a given format requesting for non-disclosure of the information collected from them within 15 days of the publication of the advertisement, their information would be made public. The latter is in violation of the Census Act, 1948 under which Census of India functions and the former is in violation of the Citizenship Act, 1955. SECC application format also reveals that there is something called family identification number which has been created. It merits examination whether it is legal.
According to the manual of instructions for filling up of the National Population Register (NPR) Household Schedule, 2011 prepared by the Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner (ORG&CCI), Union Ministry of Home Affairs, the objectives of NPR involves “Collection of personal details of all residents of the country and capture of photograph and finger prints of all residents who are of age 15 years and above in villages/urban areas.” The data collection for preparation of NPR was undertaken along with the house listing operations of Census 2011. The manual categorically states that “NPR will contain the details of all the ‘usual residents’ of the country regardless of whether they are citizens or non-citizens.” If that is the case, how can it qualify to be an act under the Citizenship Act and Rules given the fact that the register will have both citizens and non-citizens?
As per the manual, NPR’s utility lies in creation of “a comprehensive identity database in the country. This would not only strengthen security of the country but also help in better targeting of the benefits and services under the government schemes/ programmes and improve planning.” It further states, “It may be noted that nationality declared by respondent does not confer any right to Indian citizenship”. In such a case isn’t census itself quite sufficient for it?
In fact, Census Commissioner is supposed to gather the data of population under the Census Act, 1948 on the pre-condition that it would be kept secret and it will not be revealed even to the courts.
Unlike the data collected under Census Act which is confidential as per Section 15 of the Act, the provisions of the Citizenship Act and the citizenship or nationality rules that provides the basis for creation of the register of citizens do not provide for confidentiality. The fact is that there is no mention of capturing biometrics in the Citizenship Act or Citizenship Rules. It is clear that the collection of biometrics is not a statutory requirement. This is not permissible under also Collection of Statistics Act. But both Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and the Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India (ORG&CCI), which are creating the NPR are collecting biometric data as well. It is not a question of duplication alone; it is a question of treating citizens worse than prisoners.
Providing for a dignified treatment of the citizens of India, section 15 of the Census Act establishes that “Records of census are not open to inspection or admissible in evidence”. It reads: “No person shall have a right to inspect any book, register or record made by a census-officer in the discharge of his duty as such, or any schedule delivered under section 10 and notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, no entry in any such book, register, record or schedule shall be admissible as evidence in any civil proceeding whatsoever or in any criminal proceeding other than a prosecution under this Act or any other law for any act or omission which constitutes an offence under this Act.”
Union Home Ministry and UIDAI are undermining the dignity of the citizens by according them a status inferior to that of prisoners.
As per ORG&CCI, NPR process include collection of details including biometrics such as photograph, ten fingerprints and iris information for all persons aged 15 years and above. This is be done by arranging camps at every village and at the ward level in every town. Each household is required to bring the acknowledgement slip to such camps. In the next step, data is printed out and displayed at prominent places within the village and ward for the public to see. After authentication, the lists are sent to the UIDAI for de-duplication and issue of UID Numbers. The cleaned database along with the UID Number will then be sent back to the ORG&CCI and form the NPR.
It is evident that ORG&CCI has amalgamated its two independent mandates using two forms for each household in India. The first form relates to the house listing and housing census that has 35 questions relating to building material, use of houses, drinking water, availability and type of latrines, electricity, possession of assets etc. The second form relates to the NPR that has 14 questions including name of the person, gender, date of birth, place of birth, marital status, name of father, name of mother, name of spouse, present address, duration of stay at present address, permanent address, occupation, nationality as declared, educational qualification and relationship to head of family. There are 10 columns in the Aadaar/ UID enrolment form.
ORG&CCI admits that “all information collected under the Census is confidential and will not be shared with any agency—government or private.” But it reveals that “certain information collected under the NPR will be published in the local areas for public scrutiny and invitation of objections. This is in the nature of the electoral roll or the telephone directory. After the NPR has been finalised, the database will be used only within the government.” While dual work of census and NPR has blurred the line between confidential and non-confidential, UIDAI has gone ahead to seek consent for “sharing information provided…to the UIDAI with agencies engaged in delivery of welfare services” as per column 9 of the UID/Aadhaar enrolment form.
The way census bodies are linking biometric information with identification of citizens it is apparent that a permanent emergency-like architecture is unfolding. The electoral database is also sought to be converged. The idea is to make citizens transparent before the all mighty government so that government, their servant can remain opaque to safeguard the interests of undemocratic and ungovernable social control technology companies.
In such a backdrop, the key questions facing Indians of all ilks are:
What would Government of India and Parliament of India do when cyber and biometric invasion into the privacy of Indians happens by foreign entities?
What will citizens, legislators and political parties do when they have sufficient evidence to infer that Government of India is colluding with cyber and biometric invasion into the privacy of Indians happens by foreign entities?
Did the citizens’ database that was handed over by Hosni Mubarak regime to the Government of USA prior to its fall facilitate the overthrow of Morsi regime in the recent coup by the military in Egypt and the repression of Egyptians there after?
UP verdict of March 2013 is a mandate against assault on democratic rights and diluting federal structure of the country. It is against turning India into a market democracy where executive and legislative decisions are driven by profit mongers not by public interest. Will the verdict of 2014 general elections be any different?
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(Gopal Krishna is member of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL), which is campaigning against surveillance technologies since 2010)