The Dark Side of UID-II: Why the west dumped biometrics

UK scrapped in 2010, its The Identity Cards Act, 2006, that was Aadhaar’s equivalent and aimed to capture 50 key data about each individual, including fingerprints, facial scan, iris scan and more. It did enough deliberations on the issue almost around same time as India. Reason for scrapping—“to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties”

Identities like Social Security Number (SSN), or National Insurance Number (NI) in the west, or Aadhaar now in India, promise to validate not just identity. Through identity as the master-key (index field in database technology), the respective security agencies can relate identity to past, present and future personal data. For example, PDS querying the Aadhaar database for identifying a citizen then digs into its own database to validate, if the said recipient had availed the benefit before.

To access The Dark Side of UID-I, please click here.

It is important to know that all such validation means and requires more data capture of all kinds for all seemingly legitimate purposes, so that such validations can be done against it. But each custodian of data—from front-end shopkeepers to ministries and more—also starts keeping copies of such data for validation, commercial use, corruption, stalking or just like that for the future. More data and more copies of data mean a death knell for privacy. Why create such targets of interest for vicious minds. Can the creator of such a Frankenstein monster absolve itself of such consequences merely because it was not the original intent but the creator failed to see the possibilities?

Both USA and UK had a huge hue and cry over possible ramifications of such invasion of privacy despite relatively mature, trusted, independent agencies, unlike India. Australia attempted national ID cards way back in 1985 but withdrew them in 1987 after severe opposition from all quarters.

UK scrapped in 2010,  The Identity Cards Act, 2006, that was Aadhaar’s equivalent and aimed to capture 50 key data about each individual, including fingerprints, facial scan, iris scan and more. It did enough deliberations on the issue almost around same time as India. Reason for scrapping—“to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties”. Opinion polls and public reaction were opposed by the majority. 500 hard disks were shredded to destroy all data captured as part of the brief period of restricted implementation of the scheme. As a British politician said, “This marks the final end of the identity card scheme:
dead, buried and crushed…What we are destroying today is the last elements of the national identity register, which was always the most objectionable part of the scheme.”


On a similar note, there is a public outcry in the USA, in the aftermath of the Petraeus scandal. NSA whistleblower William Binney in a TV interview, said on the surveillance by US government, “They are building social networks on who is communicating with whom… social network of every US citizen is being compiled… .they are taking from one company alone 300 million records a day (for storage)…over time accumulated to close to 20 trillion every year… the original program that we put together to handle this was to be able to identify terrorists.”  He also said that the original plan was to encrypt all mails and decrypt only those that met certain criteria of security risk. It is actually a lot easier and efficient for the intended purpose, but now it is much worse. (

Every single tweet from twitter is archived in the US Library of Congress. Big data and the world’s best processors and servers run algorithms to not just identify terrorists but for all political purposes. It is at best a poorly kept secret.

There are eerie similarities between the ways the US government agencies track personal information, how it came into being quickly after 9/11 fears, how it was intended and where it is now at. The immense power the state gets through controlling such information is enough temptation for any ruler. We have seen through mass exposes on corruption in recent times that there is enough power-sharing between powerful elite of politicians. This includes the opposition, big businesses, bureaucrats and policing agencies. They buy out any resistance from any quarter.

The US attempt to have stronger identification systems (“Real ID” linking many IDs from driving license to SSN and more, in the aftermath of 9/11) was defeated as 25 of 50 states opposed it. Some of the irrefutable objections were:

  • “It went against Jeffersonian principles of individual liberty, free markets and limited government”.
  • “There is no practical way to make national identity document fraud-proof”.  “Costs of identification—in dollars, lost privacy and lost liberty, are greater than security provided”

Electronic Healthcare Records (EHR) in the US too aimed to create unified personal database of health history. Despite obvious efficiencies, it is not finding favour with the masses.  The people do not trust corporate entities (who lobby with the government) with personal health histories.

Many argue that even without UID, it was not difficult for the state to ferret details of any individual. The whole point now is the ease, speed and volume of such actions. And the ease, speed and volume are not altered by increments but by order of magnitude. Getting the political dirty tricks department to scour files of activists opposed to government is so common today. Ramdev, Kejriwal, Anna, VK Singh, Vinod Rai, have all had possibly true, half-true and even false witch-hunts launched based on information dug up on them selectively and viciously. How can one trust such state with omnipotent powers of handling all personal data?

A lot has been said in the media criticizing the Aadhaar on multiple lines. I desist from repeating issues of risks with process, technology, costs, promised chimera of zero corruption in PDS and more (a complete and logical argument can be made on what to expect on the PDS front—and believe it or not, it makes no dent into corruption levels in PDS. Only form changes). It is not just the one-time costs either. It is a maintenance monster on the budget.

But I restrict and further extend arguments on privacy issues that are the most serious of the risks.

Aadhaar and its aftermath


Apart from the state using information selectively against political opponents whether to buy votes in parliament, silence political opponents or power-mongering over citizens, corporates and global MNCs also have sufficient interest in prizing information of citizens.

An insurance service provider would be keen to get all personal information and then base its decision on them. This can be done with, or without, revealing the source of such information. Illegal or unethical, motives for such actions would be created by Aadhaar. Motives established, such acts are only a matter of time.

Similarly, any marketer would love to obtain such information to do targeted marketing. Companies want it and when demand exists, through bribery or legal means, such information would be public. Attending one such govt-industry event where entrepreneurs showcased their proposed business models riding on UID data, was, to say the least, scary in terms of threats to personal data privacy. Even today, most civil/ criminal cases in courts are fought on evidence of illegally obtained telephone bills, call records and bank/credit card details. Tomorrow there will be more and easier availability of proofs and a larger grey market trading in private information would emerge.

Moneylife is conducting a seminar on “Why UID/Aadhaar is a medicine worse than disease”, with no cost to you, in Mumbai, on 12 January 2013. Register now! For details on registration and the event, please click here. 

The corporate sector has vested interests, short-sighted though, in supporting UID for the moolah it generates through the projects. That some of these companies/ partners working on projects have CIA directors on board and gather crucial biometric data is already voiced as a risk in itself.

It is also argued with good reason that by having such a lucrative database, we are creating incentives for wrong interests—from hackers to enemy nations. Probability is low or high is a premature question and not of primary concern. But given the risks, it is enough to worry about.

The way ahead is to raise public awareness and stall this costly and dangerous experiment by over-riding the vested interests of a few. Step by step, adding data agency by agency, and integrating link by link we are headed towards an Orwellian state that wishes to control all aspects of our lives. The benefits of not having such controls over our lives far exceed the restriction on our freedom. The world has studied, debated and moved on from the idea of unified personal ID. Indians should not allow ourselves to be the guinea pigs of the world.

Moneylife recently published a 9-part series on how and why Aadhaar is a bane more than a benefit. To read the complete analysis, click here.


(Sandeep Khurana is an independent consultant and researcher. Views expressed are personal. He can be reached at his twitter Id @IQnEQ.)

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    uttamkumar dubey

    7 years ago

    Another Feather in the CAp for UID lovers.Even dogs and chairs can have UID !!!!

    jai hind!!!

    Firdaus Khan

    8 years ago

    Big Data, petty intent
    WorldWideWeb's clear portent.

    "Tis not the gun but the man behind the gun"
    Poverty enthusiasts, technocrats...all cannot be won.

    UID ain't unique after all!
    Western philo - eastern brawl.

    Why oh why do we patch India's wounds with a UID band-aid?
    What it needs is real solutions, genuine and staid.

    Thank you for an interesting read Mr. Khurana.
    Best wishes!
    Firdaus Khan

    Dr Paresh Vaidya

    8 years ago

    Much has been talked about the 'privacy'. Not much exists like privacy since we have entered privatization boom. Every day we receive phone calls from Credit card companies, insurance companies etc. Who gave them our numbers? Our emails get trash meaning our mail ID and our interests are known to unknown devils. Some even kn ow which Water Filter we use and enquire if we want to get it serviced.
    Unlucky among us have their Credit Card Pins and Bank Account also hijacked. Google knows what kind of friends I have and what I read.

    What else do we want to protect so as to foresake a national scheme?

    Mukesh kamath

    8 years ago

    The author of this article does not see one crucial difference and that is poverty. India is very,very poor. It is improper to compare ourselves with UK or USA. Here due to poverty we already are compromising on privacy. People watch porn in theatres rather than their homes alone. They stay five in a room to save on rent. Aadhaar provides a means of coming out of poverty. Please stop this unholy awareness campaign.


    Sandeep Khurana

    In Reply to Mukesh kamath 8 years ago

    If civil liberties are good for US and UK, they are good for India too. Fighting poverty by sacrificing civil liberties and privacy, just because Indians are poor, seems acceptable "compromise" to you on behalf of those poor. Many would disagree in that they want to end poverty without sacrificing civil liberties. Constitution is tough to administer precisely because we balance difficult extremes, not aim to get one freedom to lose other rights. Then we all can see where this down spiral of compromise will end.

    U say that "Aadhaar provides means to come out of poverty"(I stayed clear on purpose from that debate in this article) but many economists have already quashed that myth. If you are right, let UIDAI set a target of reducing people below poverty line by even 10% and one could see govt seriousness, not in just words that sound noble- that Aadhaar will end poverty. If poverty reduction be the aim of Aadhaar, many other actions should have been done too, especially around ending corruption that sucks PDS money. Aadhaar will be no magic wand.

    Ashok Kalbag

    8 years ago

    Extract from UIDIA website:
    ―There are significant differences between the UK‘s ID card project and the UID project and to equate the two would not be appropriate. The differences are as follows:- a) The UK system involved issuing a card which stored the information of the individual including their biometrics on the card. UID scheme involves issuing a number. No card containing the biometric information is being issued. UK already has the National insurance number which is used often as a means to verify the identity of the individual. b) The statutory framework envisaged made it mandatory to have the UK ID card. Aadhaar number is not mandatory. c) The data fields were large and required the individual to provide accurate information of all other ID numbers such as driver‗s license, national insurance number and other such details thereby linking the UK ID card database to all other databases on which the individual was registered. UID Scheme collects limited information and the database is not linked to other databases.
    d) In UK, the legislative framework and structure approached it from a security perspective. The context and need in India is different. The UID scheme is envisaged as a means to enhance the delivery of welfare benefits and services‖.



    In Reply to Ashok Kalbag 8 years ago

    Mr Kalbag knows very well that UID data will be used to drive the NPR card, and will be shared freely by UIDAI. The way things are going, UID is not necessary or mandatory for anyone who wishes NOT to get married, drive a car, buy a house, use cooking gas...who exactly is he fooling? Is he being fooled and wishes the whole country to join him in his fool's paradise?

    Public Interest   Exclusive
    The dark side of UID-1: Weaving a web of worries around U, I and Destiny of the nation

    By creating a lucrative database under UID, we are creating incentives for the wrong interests—from hackers to enemy nations. The world has studied, debated and moved on from the idea of unified personal ID. Indians should not allow ourselves to be the guinea pigs of some thoughtless “thought leaders”

    “The public distribution system would have zero leaks.”

    “Terrorists would be identified even if they are like needles hidden in a haystack.”


    These are two big-ticket promises that originally sold Aadhaar to the common man. Many signed up for a seemingly harmless 12-digit number and believed the promise that Aadhaar would help solve two of the biggest curses on Mother India—corruption and terrorism. So all ye patriots, you ain’t one till you have one—Aadhaar card.

    For those pressed for time and money, UID is free and it came to your doorstep. You are a techie? Oh, how can you be away from the best thing to happen to the country? Nandan Nilekani drives it and he sure knows it all, man. You can build apps on the Aadhaar platform. C’mon, let us join hands. If the entrepreneurial among the literate and urban middle-class were wooed thus, the biggies had their own reasons to cheer. After all, the multi-billion dollar unique experiment for the world has all sorts of tech companies salivating for a share of the pie. Some more resistance thus taken away by getting some more to join the bandwagon.


    Different things were promised to different people and at different times. It was said in the initial days that Aadhaar is not mandatory to buy gas cylinders or for any civic activity. It was optional. The situation today is such that even to get married one may need Aadhaar card. (Keep your UID cards ready to get married, buy house). The Delhi government is thinking of making Aadhaar card mandatory for all government work

    (  But it is still not enough. So, next to follow—cash to your accounts through UID, gas cylinder discounts only through UID, and more. Now this is where it hurts the most. The Aam aadmi cares for nothing as much as his shrinking wallet. No Aadhaar, no gas cylinder subsidy. Sign up or pay more!

    Cash to accounts will get the poor to have their Aadhaar ID. Gas subsidy refunds, shaadi and dream home would get middle-class to sign up. What more? Divorce or kids or treatment in hospitals ONLY through Aadhaar? What is the law on such boundaries on the usage of Aadhaar, if there is such law? Sorry. No such law. The tipping point achieved, nothing stops the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) from getting every resident under its scanner. Literally.

    In whose hands is your personal data today?

    PAN card links all your credit card, banking, income tax returns, house and other cash or immovable assets data.

    Mobile number can track you down to your location. It can reveal your network of friends and expose your affiliations to activists or NGOs. It is not too difficult to get tower level data and call records for any number in India. Just requires a suitable price to the right person and a pen-drive.

    Your Facebook and twitter data is at a click for regulators. Recent policy changes by both social networking giants mean they would reveal anything at drop of a hat to government agencies. If not government, all such personal data is already released to commercial entities at a price. By the way, India ranks right on top, only after US, in government surveillance over internet, indicated by number of requests seeking data from Google. India's requests for web content removal, user details rise: Google

    Emails? Again, as L’affaire Patraeus showed, that be you ever so high, you would never be secure—given your digital footprint, even if mails were unsent and merely saved as drafts on a common shared account. (what-terrorist-trick-did-petraeus-and-his-mistress-use-to-cover-email-tracks) Anything on the servers of the world is within reach of a snooping government.

    CCTV cameras track your every moment in every mall, toll plazas on highways, public places. CCTV feed is stored for years now, given the near-zero cost of storage these days. Every other residential society today has CCTV cameras everywhere except your bedroom (and who knows?), from elevators to corridors to gyms and halls.

    Your office has RFID and other ID detecting systems that track all your movements.

    Your credit card company has all information on your travel, purchases, hospital payments, fine dining, personal habits like pubbing and more.

    Combine and contrast all the above with Wikileaks, RTI, social media, open data movement, data liberation, big data, high processing power and low data storage cost, etc, on the other side where citizens too have more access to establishment data. And that is not liked by the mighty. And hence the increased urge to get back at the citizens.

    Enter the Big Daddy of all IDs of the citizens—Aadhaar.

    Moneylife is conducting a seminar on “Why UID/Aadhaar is a medicine worse than disease”, with no cost to you, in Mumbai, on 12 January 2013. Register now! For details on registration and the event, please click here.

    Why should you worry?

    If you attended any Aadhaar presentations or speaker sessions, they do not tire themselves of stating that Aadhaar is fully secure technology, has validation checks, safe storage of records, secure biometrics that have 99.99% accuracy, etc. And then, their convincing arguments go further—Aadhaar is only a number, with your name, biometrics id and bare minimum information like address and the like. “We do nothing more at UIDAI than just validate your identity to the querying department of the government like PDS agencies. UIDAI would not store any of your data other than this.”

    And the UIDAI is right. But it is also being economical with truth.

    A number by itself is like a dot. A dot has no weight, volume, length, area. But what they do not tell is that these dots get connected to form a web. This web of worries is around you. Worried? Let me share few examples of things to follow. Before that, what is the state of affairs on other identification methods you have today? The same Indian ‘system’ will handle Aadhaar too. Let us see how safe your ID today is with the powers that control and use/misuse your ID.

    Aadhaar has the potential to link all that you have by way of multiple IDs today. Reach of Aadhaar through this web the centre of whose universe is Aadhaar itself as the master-index key to your full personal database that includes but is not limited to all that we just saw above in this section. Aadhaar links mobile, credit card, PAN number, employment, property, assets, address, family and through a two-step link all else like social media, travel data, health history and the rest. It has potential to track your entire school history and possibly then your grades and what remarks your class teacher wrote when you were in kindergarten and how many times you tweeted from a fake id as a teenager. Read this cbse-schools-get-uid-registration-noc-for-now

    NATGRID (National Intelligence Grid) proposes to link 21 databases and is a privacy nightmare. Telecom networks would be linked real-time and would be obligated to provide all subscriber information as feed to it. PAN, visa, passports, driving licenses, banking system, etc, all link up to it. UID enables it. What next? DNA profiling? Would that get us rid of all corruption and terrorism? Seriousness of the government’s stated goals to end corruption and terrorism/crime as its motive, if true, would have shown up in other areas like Jan Lokpal bill or police reforms, but we observe opposite stance there. Reality is UID is the state’s intent to control the subjects, and terrorism and corruption are convincing arguments to make people give up resistance. But they are just arguments, not practical steps in the direction.

    It does not matter to all of us if Aadhaar is made most secure or that it is a harmless dot. What worries is that in whose hands the web of connected dots that nets all personal information by using Aadhaar would be. It is the government and therein lies the worry. If the government builds in all laws and institutes systems and processes to implement them to secure safety of personal data, it may be acceptable to have Aadhaar. Such laws and processes would mean custodians, authorizing agencies for access, agencies with legislative powers are all distinct with iron walls. If the CBI or police or courts can authorize drawal of any data based on the Information Technology Act provisions as it is today, one would like all these agencies themselves to be free of possibilities of misuse, and incapable of being influenced. Any local politician can get your information through these agencies and any wealthy citizen can pay his way to get this information given the weak IT Act implementation. Credibility of all these, except redeeming few in judiciary, is abysmal. And abuse of personal information easy and rampant. In proposed NIAI bill, an authorized joint secretary can order release of information collected under national security clause.

    Whistle-blower on IIT-JEE irregularities, Prof Rajiv Kumar alleges his personal cellphone data is illegally taken over by IIT authorities, Ratan Tata complained of selective leakage of Radia tapes data, Facebook posts and twitter tweets led to arrests of citizens repeatedly, Pranab Mukherjee’s office had bugging controversy, CBI joint director VV Lakshminarayana's call data record (CDR) was leaked. It is all happening surreptitiously taking advantage of loopholes in the IT Act.

    One may also note that such data is selectively leaked, obtained through the back-door, selectively used, not shared publicly but lands up at media houses, allegations made without showing proof, etc—all to undermine political opponents and not just target terrorists or end corruption. It is a global phenomenon and Wikileaks is full of proof of all levels and classes of public figures from all nations indulging in such information abuse. The IT Act in India may have safeguards in making illegal any securing of your personal data but if your telephone call and location data is suddenly with all media houses, whom do you complain against? And who would have such access to your private information so easily? Government with Aadhaar. We need to just jog our memory on misuse of state powers through back door, on all recent challengers to governmental corruption in previous paragraph.

    Moneylife recently published a 9-part series on how and why Aadhaar is a bane more than a benefit. To read the complete analysis, click here.


    (Sandeep Khurana is an independent consultant and researcher. Views expressed are personal. He can be reached at his twitter Id @IQnEQ.)

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    8 years ago

    Lakh crore spent on UID card
    I have none
    MY family has none
    Ration card ;i do not have; too much corruption
    Voter id card;post 60 i am not enumerated or my family;needs too much follow up.
    CENSUS records of our family done twice;This is the only dept that works.CENSUS dept is british gift

    Ashok Kalbag

    8 years ago

    Today PAN, Passport, & Credit Card numbers can be used to collate most of the information of the financially significant part of the population. Aadhar is essentially for those who have not been able to get the benefits government provides due to lack of ID of the individual.
    Have the Aadhar protestors not acquired most of the existing identities and prospered, but want to deny similar benefits to those who cannot get them?
    Which system cannot be abused by a determined individual? Does it imply no system be introduced for the greater good?


    Sandeep Khurana

    In Reply to Ashok Kalbag 8 years ago

    You have a point in saying that even now govt is misusing its discretionary powers and access to information on public. It selectively targets and gets information against activists and politicial opponents- be it Radia tapes and Tata, or Anna's army records or tapping phones etc. That does not justify obvious increase in such power and potential after UID.

    However, it is not agreeable to suggest that some unknown protesters you refer to made it big in life because they have PAN, passport and credit cards. On the contrary, tax evaders are loathe to hold credit card and PAN

    Also, not true is the statement that benefits will be denied to poor. Subsidy distribution can be done through election I-cards too and enough economists have said about failure of Aadhaar to secure PDS. Why link all information of an individual in hands of govt? Law must have safeguards it does not have now.

    As for abuse by determined individual, we act to minimize such opportunities not maximize through creating an attractive database of interest to terrorists, enemies, marketers, politicians and wait for ticking time bomb to explode. Bring in division of power and authority over use of Aadhaar, build safeguards, make it voluntary like in US SSN etc- than just accept everything govt does without murmur.

    Ashok Kalbag

    In Reply to Sandeep Khurana 8 years ago

    Aadhar does not entitle you to any benefit. It is only a means to authenticate the individual.

    Benefits to poor are lost as they have no means to authenticate themselves in the absence of any documentation. Hence the denial to poor.

    Election I Cards need other documentary evidence for issue and no means to authenticate the holder as a unique individual. Fakes and duplicates are known to exist rampantly.
    "Bring in division of power and authority over use of Aadhaar, build safeguards, make it voluntary like in US SSN"
    That is exactly my point! It is voluntary, like US SSN (try opening a bank account in US without SSN!)
    UID does not have any database other than the biometric data and address for correspondence, etc. The data of different agencies who rely on UID is only for authentication of the individual, to eliminate fakes, and duplicates. Hence the data is distributed with the various agencies who need to maintain it.
    UID does not give any data, it only authenticates the biometric data submitted with the claimant in just a Yes or No to the query.
    Any one who wants to collate the data of persons of influence can do so in the existing system without recourse to UID (with PAN, Passport, etc.).
    Persons with only UID, and no other ID such as PAN, Passport, etc., are already on the margins of society and can only be exploited by diverting benefits accruing to them. Hence the benefit of UID to ensure they get benefits from the government directly.
    If there is a better means, it is yet to be considered for acceptance.

    Sandeep Khurana

    In Reply to Ashok Kalbag 8 years ago

    On election cards- if what you say is true, then you should be agitated. If it is not good to distribute subsidy, it is not good to elect government. Why not secure that than create more IDs.

    SSN is voluntary in US "by law". Await article part 2 for details.

    You have missed the point I make at very beginning of the article on UID being just a harmless dot. There is more to dots that can connect to be a web.

    240p FLV

    In Reply to Ashok Kalbag 8 years ago

    Aadhar is essentially for those who have not been able to get the benefits government provides due to lack of ID of the individual.

    Ok. So, why should you Aadhar be MANDATORY IN PRATICE for YOU & ME?

    Ashok Kalbag

    In Reply to 240p FLV 8 years ago

    Aadhar is voluntary (see
    Who has asked you for Aadhar number to state MANDATORY IN PRATICE?

    Sucheta Dalal

    In Reply to Ashok Kalbag 8 years ago

    Mr Kalbag.. you are obviously not reading the newspaper. Otherwise you would be aware that municipal unions are protesting against the drive to make it mandatory by withholding salaries.

    Also check what is happening at elite clubs etc.
    Better still, if you are in Mumbai, do attend the talk tomorrow at the Yacht club. See details at the top left of our home page!

    Akshay Iyer

    8 years ago

    Insightful article Mr. Khurana! It is indeed scary to believe that life can imitate art to this extent. This is very similar to what George Orwell wrote in
    "1984" when he envisioned "Big Brother". I believe we're gradually getting there. Unfortunately, we are not even realizing the implications of having an Aadhaar card.


    Sandeep Khurana

    In Reply to Akshay Iyer 8 years ago

    Dear Akshay,
    Your clairvoyance has me impressed. I have also mentioned of threat of becoming an Orwellian state in part 2 of the article that follows soon.

    Ubaldo C DSouza

    In Reply to Akshay Iyer 8 years ago

    It is not that we are not realising the implications of the AAdhar card. Do we have a choice when the card is being progressively and increasingly made mandatory at every step of the way?

    Sandeep Khurana

    In Reply to Ubaldo C DSouza 8 years ago

    You are right. Even today, TOI news says "Sheila Dikshit for Aadhaar numbers into university degrees, birth certificates". Please read part 2 of this article (to be published) for some answers to your query. Needless to say, public awareness and support is first step.

    Ubaldo C DSouza

    8 years ago

    Moneylife, Tehelka and Insight (CERC) are currently the best things on the Indian media scene.

    Is UID anti-people?-Part 9: Law makers as law breakers

    The Indian government, the PM and Nilekani have chosen to ignore the Parliamentary Committee's report on UID. They have continued to implement the UID scheme with greater vigour. Their disdain for the Committee report establishes their arbitrariness and they have given to the “Rule of Law”

    I am not an advocate. Hence, I make no claim to knowledge or expertise in law or on legal questions. However, I do enjoy the study of law and legality. Therefore, in this article, I give my views on the legality of the government’s actions in implementing the UID (Unique Identification) scheme from my ‘layman’s’ perspective. I have led a coir suit against UID.


    I believe in the “Rule of Law”. Let me elaborate it as I understand this phrase.


    Rule of Law and UID/UIDAI

    “Rule of Law” is a principle that governs modern civilised society. The principle behoves governments to act in accordance with the law and justice. It circumscribes governments from acting with any arbitrariness. No one, including the government itself or any of its officials, are exempt from the rule. They are all to abhor arbitrariness. Hence, no government functionary can act without a law or statute that permits his actions. (the word ‘his’ whenever used here, includes the feminine gender, is synonymous with the feminine form of the word and is used for the sake of convenience to represent both genders. It is not to be construed as having any bias.) The government did many acts, which are arguably outside the pale of law.


    Firstly, the prime minister appointed Nandan Nilekani as head of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and granted him the rank and status of a Cabinet minister. While it is the prerogative of a PM to appoint anyone of his choice to any position, this privilege or right, if you will, is not be a whimsical or arbitrary exercise. Not only must that be so, but the act (of appointment) be seen to be done with adequate reasonableness. Mr Nilekani is admittedly a successful business person in the IT field. There are many others equally successful, equally qualified and perhaps, even more qualified. Taking people from business into government through executive appointments is a peculiarly western, largely US, practice. It has not been successful. McNamara, appointed from being president of Ford Motors to the Kennedy cabinet, as Defence Secretary, led the disastrous Vietnam War. Cheney too as Bush's Defence Secretary during the Iraq war was anything but a success. Nilekani's appointment was non-transparent. It is not known how or why the PM chose him.


    Granting him a Cabinet rank and status makes it worse. Appointment to the Cabinet is also the PM's singular privilege. This too is governed by Article 74 of the Constitution. Art 74 (1-A) stipulates that the number of ministers is not to exceed 15% of the total number of members of the Lok Sabha. Art 74 (5) says that a minister, who for a period of six consecutive months is not a member of either House of Parliament, shall at the expiration of the period cease to be a minister. Art 74 (6) provides for salaries and allowances of ministers to be governed by Parliament. Nowhere does the Constitution or any law provide for the grant of rank and status of a Cabinet minister to any individual. I am told that Nilekani does not draw any salary. We do not know whether he is paid any allowances of enjoys any pecuniary advantages of the rank or status. If so, he and the government are in violation of the Constitution.


    Serious consequences follow when these Constitutional provisions are skirted. Art 74 (4) of the Constitution mandates that before a minister enters office the President shall administer the oath of office and secrecy to him. Nilekani has not taken the oath. As one with the rank and status of a Cabinet minister, it is reasonable to presume that he must have attended Cabinet meetings. Nothing prevents him from disclosing the proceedings of the meetings and he cannot be taken to task for such disclosure.


    NIDAI Bill

    The PM and his government are fully aware of the need for a law to authorize the implementation of the UID scheme. This is the reason why they brought a Bill before Parliament. The Bill, called “The National Identification Authority of India, (NIDAI) Bill 2010”, was placed before Parliament. It was referred to the Parliament Standing Committee on Finance. The Committee, in a near unanimous decision, rejected not just the Bill, but it also trashed the UID scheme.


    The Committee was scathing in its criticism of the UID scheme, calling it directionless, lacking clarity of purpose and raising serious concerns regarding national security. The Committee's report is with the government since December 2011. The government, the PM and Nilekani have chosen to ignore the Parliament Committee’s report. They have continued to implement the UID scheme with greater vigour. Their disdain for the Committee establishes their arbitrariness and go by they have given to the “Rule of Law”.


    Article 73 of the Constitution

    The UIDAI justified its implementation of the UID scheme during its appearance before the Parliament Committee that it could continue to implement the UID scheme without a law. The Authority justified this stand by quoting the Attorney General's opinion that the power of the Executive is coextensive with that of Parliament under Art 73. The Committee said that it is not satisfied with the position UIDAI took to continue its implementation of the UID scheme. The proviso to the Article makes it clear that the power of the Executive does not extend to matters with respect to which the legislature of the state has the power to make laws. All purposes for which UID scheme is ostensibly implemented, such as public services, public health, local government, etc, are in the “State List” to the Seventh Schedule under Art 246 of the Constitution.


    Hence, implementation of the UID scheme without a law violates the Constitution. The government and UIDAI have thus made a complete mockery of the “Rule of Law”. The scant regard that the government and UIDAI have for the “Rule of Law” is seen in the draft NIDAI Bill. The Bill legitimizes all acts that UIDAI has done before the law was passed. In other words, the government and UIDAI think that they could do anything and everything as they please and in the event their acts are questioned they could get away with it by brining a law to give legal sanctity to their acts. A principle of “Rule of Law” is that the government cannot give retrospective legitimacy to its acts.


    Right to privacy

    This is inherent in the right to life guaranteed under our Constitution. When the government proposes to gather personal and biometric data of the people it intrudes into their privacy. Such acts cannot be done without the sanction of law. Knowing this, the UIDAI and the government brought forward a law. Even after the Parliament Committee rejected it, they have continued to implement the UID scheme.


    Jeopardising national security

    One of the UIDAI's contractors is L1 ID Solutions (L1 for short). The company’s history, to put it mildly, does not inspire confidence. A lot of information trawled from the internet is in the annexure to the Monograph. The company was formed through the efforts of La Penta, which merged two companies, Viisage and Identix to set up L1. Viisage was under investigation by US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for certain offenses. According to a website “AxXiom for Liberty”, Louis Freeh (former Director of FBI), Admiral Loy (former head of Transportation Security Agency) George Tenet (former Director of CIA), Frank Moss (former program manager for the State Department's E-Passport program) and many others who held key positions in the (US) federal government joined Viisage/L1 as members of the board of directors or as paid employees.


    In a page on the website (AxXiom) titled, “The Revolving Door at Never Stops Turning—Look who's doing your Biometrics Now!”, the author, Mark Lerner, alleges, “It must be really sweet to sign off on contracts worth millions of dollars, tens of millions or more in fact and then turn right around and go on the payroll of the same company that you awarded the contracts to. Sure, Tenet, Freeh and the others may not have had to sign the actual contracts but certainly they are responsible for knowing who the contracts went to when they were in charge of their respective agencies and departments." The website also alleges that “Viisage is the same company that had a state driver’s license contract voided by the Georgia State Supreme Court for misrepresentation.”


    It is interesting to note that the UIDAI chief also came into government through a revolving door from business. This is the fashion today in some democracies that follow the US pattern.


    L1 is now taken over by another company, Safran, headquartered in France; but L1 still has operations in the US, with intelligence agencies and government departments. Is it prudent or even sensible to contract with such a company for biometric services for the entire population of this country? When Huawei, a Chinese company obtained a contract to supply modems to BSNL, there was a hue and cry in media, and by activists and politicians, raising security concerns. When the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) signed an agreement with Huawei for collaboration in research, again there were loud protests and IISc had to rescind the agreement. Why is everyone silent on the deal between UIDAI and L1? The Parliament Standing Committee on Finance, which examined the National Identification Authority of India Bill 2010, rejected the Bill as well as the UID scheme, they also expressed serious concerns about the effect UID would have on national security. Did they have in mind the contracts with companies like L1?


    Law-makers and law-breakers

    When the government and their collaborators wilfully ignore the law, they would be guilty of breaking the law. There is no excuse for breaking the law even for good purposes or with good intentions. Skirting of the law by interpretations of one’s choice, could never be condoned or ignored. When the acts of the law-maker also have elements of jeopardising national security, as is the case here—through contracting with companies of questionable backgrounds—when information relating to the contracts are denied to the people, the acts could be construed as brazen. It is time that all right-thinking people rise up to question such acts. This is exactly what some of us have done. We have approached the courts. We would agitate the matter through the judicial process, as well as on the political and social planes until success is achieved and diabolical machinations of those who indulge in such activities are exposed and halted. In this we, take inspiration from Roger Clarke who campaigned for twenty years to scrap the Australian ID card. Two of his writings from his website are in the annexure. One article gives the general issues relating to ID cards and the other on the specifics of the Australia ID card. He is our model to follow.


    Here is the UN review on Rule of Law


    The principle of the rule of law embedded in the Charter of the United Nations encompasses elements relevant to the conduct of State-to-State relations. The main United Nations organs, including the General Assembly and the Security Council, have essential roles in this regard, which are derived from and require action in accordance with the provisions of the Charter.


    “For the United Nations, the rule of law refers to a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards. It requires, as well, measures to ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural and legal transparency.”


    (S/2004/616) (Report of the Secretary-General on the Rule of Law and Transitional Justice in Conflict and Post-Conflict Societies)

    (Col (Retd.) Mathew Thomas is a former defence services officer and missile scientist turned civic activist campaigning against state database control of the people.)

    (This is the concluding part of a nine-part series)

    You may also want to read the earlier posts of this 9-part series of articles on how UID is anti-people.

    Is UID anti-people?–Part 8: UID’s security is flawed
    Is UID anti-people?–Part7: Incarnation of new geo-strategic tools, NCTC, NATGRID, UID, RFID and NPR
    Is UID anti-people?–Part 6: The foundation for incessant intrusion
    Is UID anti-people?–Part 5: Why UID is impractical and flawed “Ab initio”
    Is UID anti-people?-Part 4: Does the implementation smack of corruption and negligence?
    Is UID anti-people?-Part 3: Tall claims and tomfoolery of UID
    Is UID anti-people? –Part 2: A bundle of contradictions, misconceptions & mirages
    Is UID anti-people? The database state –Part1


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    Design and People

    7 years ago

    Very useful information. Thank you Moneylife.

    This is to bring your attention the Design & People "Aadhaar ka Anaadar" campaign launched recently in South Bangalore, the constituency chosen by Nandan Nilekani to contest the Lok Sabha election. Campaign details:

    Continue to publish such stories that benefit ordinary masses in this country.


    8 years ago


    Krishnaswami CVR

    8 years ago

    Appears to be logical thoughts. Would certainly go through the Australian case. appears to be sane article, deserves a legal probe. If we can emulate US in some cases, why not follow their law on privacy also?

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