How can Aadhaar be deemed 'voluntary' if service delivery is being made dependent on it, asks Gopal Krishna
Biometric data based 12-digit Unique Identification -- Aadhaar number -- linked welfare schemes are being bulldozed with 2014 elections in mind with the ulterior motive of altering voter's behaviour by creating a 'universal identity infrastructure' linked to 'unified payment infrastructure'.
Ahead of the next parliamentary elections, the launch of the 21st crore UID-Aadhaar number and Aadhaar enabled service delivery on October 20 contemptuously ignores Parliament, parliamentary committees, the National Advisory Council and eminent citizens and the lessons from the belated report from the Planning Commission's group of experts on privacy dated October 16. What is evident is that there is an open war declared on sensitive personal information like biometric data which includes fingerprints, iris scans, voice prints, DNA samples etc. The fact is a centralised electronic database of citizens and privacy, both are conceptually contradictory.
The launch exercise of October 20 stands exposed because it is officially admitting that the UID is mandatory contrary to what was claimed at its launch in Maharashtra on September 29 last year. Making this compulsory by threatening to discontinue services has been roundly castigated by Bhartiya Janta Party leader Yashwant Sinha-headed parliamentary standing committee on finance.
On its website the Unique Identification Authority of India continues to claim that UID-Aadhhar is 'voluntary' and not 'mandatory'. The million dollar question which Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, P Chidambaram, Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Nandan Monohar Nilekani need to answer is: how can Aadhaar be deemed 'voluntary' if service delivery is being made dependent on it. This is a grave breach of public trust. This is a deliberate exercise in deception.
The proposed 'electronic transfers of benefits and entitlements' through 'Aadhaar-linked bank accounts of the beneficiaries' is crafted to make it mandatory. The claim was that each Aadhaar number will be unique to an individual and will remain valid for life. The Aadhaar number will help provide access to services like banking, mobile phone connections and other government and non-government services in due course" is fraught with creating a platform for convergence of government and corporate sector as is aimed by the 'transformational government' project of the World Bank's e-transform initiative launched in partnership with the governments of South Korea and France and six transnational corporations like Gemalto, IBM, Intel, L-1 Identity Solutions (now part of Safran Group), Microsoft and Pfizer.
This scheme is unfolding despite the fact that the Parliament has not passed the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010 proposed by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. It is noteworthy that the Sinha-headed parliamentary committee in its report to Parliament has rejected the UID and biometric data collection terming it as an illegal and an unethical project.
One day ahead of the launch of UID in the Nandurbar district of Maharashtra on September 29, 2010, the statement of eminent citizens had asked for the project to be put on hold till a feasibility study was done, a cost: benefit analysis undertaken, a law of privacy put in place and the various concerns of surveillance, tracking, profiling, tagging and convergence of data be addressed. None of this has happened till today. The parliamentary committee endorsed these concerns and recognised that the project cannot carry on till this is set right. Many countries -- the United Kingdom, China, United States, Australia and the Philippines -- have abandoned such identity schemes.
Nilekani, as a member or chairperson of multiple committees of several ministries, has been trying to push for the adoption of the UID, and for re-engineering of the current systems to fit the requirements of the UID. There have been attempts to withdraw services such as LPG and other essential commodities if a person has not enrolled for a UID.
The state governments and citizens have been kept in the dark about the harmful ramifications of the world's biggest data management project and how it linked with hitherto undisclosed other proposed legislations and initiatives. The UID number and related proposals pose a threat to both civil liberties as well as our natural resources like land as is evident from the Land Titling Bill and Nilekani's book that aims to create a common land market to reduce poverty.
Notably, such UIDs have been abandoned in the US, Australia and UK. The reasons have predominantly been: costs and privacy. In the UK, the home secretary explained that they were abandoning the project because it would otherwise be `intrusive bullying' by the state, and that the government intended to be the `servant' of the people, and not their `master'. The Supreme Court of Philippines struck down a biometric-based national ID system as unconstitutional on two grounds -- the overreach of the executive over the legislative powers of the Congress and invasion of privacy. The same is applicable in India.
Besides influencing the voter preference, once the Planning Commission's Central Identities Data Repository of 600 million citizens is ready by 2014 and the related National Population Register of the remaining 600 citizens is ready it will emerge as a potential threat to minority communities of all sorts by some regime, which finds them unsuitable for their political projects.
The only saving grace has been the parliamentary standing committee that has taken on board studies done in the UK on the identity scheme that was begun and later withdrawn in May 2010, where the problems were identified to include (a) huge cost involved and possible cost overruns; (b) too complex; (c) untested, unreliable and unsafe technology; (d) possibility of risk to the safety and security of citizens; and (e) requirement of high standard security measures, which would result in escalating the estimated operational costs.
It may be recalled that S Y Quraishi, former chief election commissioner, had sent a dangerous proposal to Union Ministry of Home Affairs asking it "to merge the Election ID cards with UID". Such an exercise would mean rewriting and engineering the electoral ecosystem with the unconstitutional and illegal use of biometric technology in a context where electoral finance has become a source of corruption and black money in the country.
The results of the October 2012 World Bank paper find that "voters respond to targeted transfers and that these transfers can foster support for incumbents". The UID-Aadhaar and unified payment infrastructure proposed is an act in designing political mechanisms to capture pre-existing schemes for political patronage in spite of the absence of 'legislative mechanisms'. It is apparent that non-UPA parties have been caught unawares into implementing the programme, which is designed to their political disadvantage.