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No beating about the bush.
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)