UK scraps National ID project; Will India's UID face the same fate?
Moneylife Digital Team 31 May 2010

According to some experts, the least that needs to be done is that UIDAI should make a comprehensive case to justify why what was rejected in the UK is good for India

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has been busy assembling bits and bytes for its ambitious citizen identification (ID) project. However, in another part of the world, a similar identification project has now been scrapped by none other than the UK government. This has given a boost to pro-privacy architects in India who are worried about the privacy implications of the UID project.

The scrapping of the National ID programme by the new government in the UK was not unexpected.  Many people, organisations and even some politicians were questioning the viability of the NID project. According to a BBC report, the NID scheme was aimed at tackling fraud, illegal immigration and identity theft—but it was criticised for being too expensive and an infringement of civil liberties.

Theresa May, UK's home secretary, was quoted as saying that the NID will be abolished within 100 days with all cards becoming invalid. The new government would put legislation to this effect before Parliament with an aim to make it a law by August. Around 15,000 people who voluntarily paid £30 for a card since the 2009 rollout in Manchester, will not get a refund, the BBC report says.

What’s interesting is that the UK government has cited higher costs, impracticality and ungovernable breaches of privacy as reasons for cancellation of the NID project. These reasons may have a similar kind of impact in India as well.

According to some experts, the least that needs to be done is that UIDAI should make a comprehensive case to justify why what was rejected in the UK is good for India. They feel surprised about why the media has not publicised the reports that the UK has rejected the UID primarily because of concerns regarding civil liberties.

"One hopes that the UID-related contracts awarded already to E&Y and MindTree do not have any lingering after-effects, should commonsense (we don't have a great track record in commonsense, especially where money is concerned, but it's never too late to hope) hit our government and the UID agency be asked to pack up its tents," said one expert.

While announcing the abolition of NID in the UK, Ms May said, “This Bill is a first step of many that this government is taking to reduce the control of the state over decent, law-abiding people and hand power back to them. With swift Parliamentary approval, we aim to consign identity cards and the intrusive ID card scheme to history within 100 days."

Back home, according to UIDAI, the first UID numbers will be issued from August 2010. Over five years, the Authority plans to issue 600 million UIDs. The numbers will be issued through various ‘registrar’ agencies across the country, UIDAI said on its website.

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee had sanctioned Rs1,900 crore for the UIDAI in his budget for FY10-11. According to a document on UID numbering available on UIDAI's site, systems that are to be as widely used and for multiple different applications as UID, tend to be very sticky in the sense that these systems would be in active use for centuries. Once a billion plus people have been assigned a UID, and applications using the UID to conduct their transactions are evolved, anything that requires modifications to existing software applications and databases will cost a lot.

Over eight years, the UK government spent around £250 million on developing the national ID programme. However, its abolition means the government will avoid spending another £800 million over a decade. The NID was launched in July 2002 and as of February 2010, its total costs rose to an estimate of £4.5 billion.

The Cost of the UID project may not be a hindrance for the Indian government, whose accounts are flush with money from the 3G auction, but what about its impact on civil liberties? Will there be a comprehensive discussion on the subject? One can only hope that the Indian government and the UIDAI closely study the reasons for the UK government’s decision to scrap its National ID project and then provide compelling reasons for India to go ahead with its UID project.

6 years ago
Stop mandatory ADHAAR*
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7 years ago
UIDAI is on one of the most important one: It is going to be revolutionary in India. And, I'm pretty sure that, this is going to be as single ID for all the users in Inida, you track check here here
1 decade ago
Two projects that the UK government really needs to implement is a National Healthcare program that will bring down healthcare costs. Increase competition as well as reduce paperwork!
The other a National Online ID system that police can use to cut crime as well as benefit agencies being able to cut fraud!
1 decade ago
1 decade ago
After reading several interviews, blogs & posts regarding this projects my impressions are:
1. This project is absolutely needed.
2. One the greatest challenges of this project will be people who do not want their ID to be revealed for justified reasons. Consider this example:
Suppose someone ran away from a home in a village area in India because of caste related violence. Suppose this person is now living in a big city with a new (false) ID. And suppose exposing the true ID will risk his/her life, or the life of family members. Having this project, there will be only two options:
Lying about ID to get the number. Or, not getting the number and being, eventually, excluded from having a bank account, medical care, and so on. Having false identity will mean danger of police abuse, and the severe laws of misusing the number will make it worse.
Possible solution: have another project within the UID project to solve this problem. Suppose, 'IDP' or 'ID protection program', where the person will be allowed to give a false name, only in court it could be revealed that the name is false.
Mitun Chowdhury
1 decade ago
I am proud of UID card project. India will be one step ahead many counties in coming years. I lived in Japan, Australia, USA, Canada, Ukraine. I have seen many id related problems and few solutions. I believe, UID is a just and clever solutions of all Indians.
1 decade ago
This country is attacked from all sides. Its very eistence is at?? People talk of civil liberties and all that stuff. But to whaT EXTENT? It has become a fashion to talk about these things. I am not advocating a police or oppresive regime. What about Social Security Number assigned to everyone in US? Is it in anyway infringing freedoms and liberties? UK Govt might have seen only from the 'affordability angle'. We do not know. It requires wide discuasion among the masses. Not only among politicians, govt. servents and intelegentia. - Arthachakra
1 decade ago
if it does not work for england, it probably won't be good for india!! what kind of logic is that ... the only objection raised by the author is about civil liberty .. the US has the social security number which does not perturb anyone .. you should present more valid arguments rather than churning out this banal stuff
Naresh Mani
1 decade ago
In my humble opinion the author seems to have gone completely awry with interpretation of the UID. The author’s dogmas (for the lack of a better word!) are completely misplaced about the UID and its best that he/she puts it to rest.
United Kingdom, unlike India already has a comprehensive identification process through the National Insurance and NHS. Each and every citizen of UK is accounted for, unlike the case in India.
For the UK it is the case of making no sense to add another large scale biometric identification program when one already exists. Further, UK do not have more than 40% (official) illiterates, making it impossible to identify one from another.
The UIDAI program tries to satisfy the very basic and fundamental need of an Indian, to have an identity. I would applaud Mr. Nilekani to have chartered on such a difficult path and I would wish him the very best in his endeavours.
Privacy concerns though not completely irrelevant, are secondary. Google collects much more information about individuals, but I have not seen anyone in India raising a hue and cry about the same.
K B Patil
1 decade ago
Our people are used to being treated like cattle. That is the reason why no hue and cry is being raised over the issue of privacy and rights of citizens. With our HM known for his advocacy of strongarm tactics, is there any chance of a thorough discussion? The only silver lining is that Nandan Nilekani is a sincere man.
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