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Why the UID project poses a danger to our sovereignty

July 02, 2013 21:58 IST

Why the UID project poses a danger to our sovereignty

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Gopal Krishna in New Delhi

Nandan Nilekani and his UID/Aadhaar project appear quite complicit in unconstitutional act of surrendering the country’s interest in favour of a global system led by ungovernable and undemocratic business enterprises not by democratic legislatures, says Gopal Krishna

"The cameras were all around. We've got you taped; you're in the play.

Here's your ID (ideal for identifying one and all.)

Invest your life in the memory bank; ours the interest and we thank you."

                                                                                   Jethro Tull: A Passion Play (1973)

Did anyone hear the chief of the world’s biggest database project take the oath of office for a cabinet minister?

What will be the consequences if Nandan Nilekani subverts the Constitution?

Four years have passed, Nilekani has refused to reveal whether or not he has himself enrolled for biometric unique identification (UID)/Aadhaar number. Can we expect him and his bosses Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Dr Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Pranab Mukherjee and cabinet ministers to enroll before his terms expires next year?  This information has been denied under the Right to Information Act.   

How will Nilekani and likes of him be penalised if they formally hand over the Central Identities Data Repository of UID/Aadhaar numbers to foreign governments and companies?

What will happen to him if he does the same in the name of awarding contracts to biometric technology companies for de-duplication of CIDR?

His counterpart in Pakistan did offer the entire record of the National Database and Registration Authority to the United States as has been revealed by the diplomatic cables leaked by Wikileaks. 

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Nilekani appointed chairperson UIA in the rank of cabinet minister

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As per the communication from Unique Identification Authority of India, an attached office of Planning Commission, dated July 2, 2010 which states that “The decision for appointment of chairman was conveyed by the Cabinet secretariat”. 

The Planning Commission’s notification dated July 2, 2009, reveals that “the competent authority has approved the appointment of Nandan Nilekani, co-chairman, Infosys as chairperson, Unique Identification Authority of India, in the rank and status of a cabinet minister. Nilekani will hold appointment for an initial tenure of five years”.

Prior to this while presenting the Union Budget 2009-10, the then finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee announced the setting up of the UIDA to “establish an online database with identity and biometric details of Indian residence and provide enrolment and verification services across the country” in paragraph no. 64 of his speech allocating 120 crore to it. Coincidentally, immediately after this announcement, he underlined the need for “the modernisation of police force in the states” in paragraph 65 of the speech that dealt with “national security”.

In this speech of July 6, 2009, he informed Parliament about the arrival of Nilekani without naming him saying, “This project is very close to my heart. I am happy to note that this project also marks the beginning of an era where the top private sector talent in India steps forward to take the responsibility for implementing projects of vital national importance.”

This was before the UID Bill (The National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010) was introduced in the Parliament and rejected by the parliamentary standing committee on finance in its report to Parliament in December 13, 2011 raising serious national security concerns.

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Image: The Planning Commission's reply to an RTI application


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UIDAI has denied CIC copies of contract given to foreign intelligence companies

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Nilekani joined UIDAI not in person but in his role as co-chairman of the board of directors of Infosys Technologies Limited, which he co-founded in 1981 and served as director on the company's board since its inception to July 2, 2009. This appears manifestly incestuous. It was the chairman, Infosys Ltd, an artificial person who was asked to head UIDAI, and a not a natural citizen.

Why has Nilekani not informed those enrolling for UID database that their data is to yield profit for the UIDAI of Rs 288.15 crore a year?

Will Nilekani inform his only investor, the government as to who owns the data being compiled by the UIDAI?

On June 24, 2013, there was a hearing before the Central Information Commission in the matter of denial of copies of the contracts awarded by UIDAI to foreign companies like L-1 Identities Solution and Accenture.

The former has been a US company that admittedly worked with intelligence agencies of the US. It has since been bought over by French corporate conglomerate, Safran Group after the US Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States was convinced that there are no unresolved national security concerns with respect to the transaction. The latter is a US company that works with security agencies of US.

The next hearing will be after a month since junior UIDAI officials could not response to questions raised by Sushma Singh, the information commissioner at CIC. The UIDAI is citing Section 8 (1) d of RTI to deny the copies of the contract given to these foreign intelligence companies.

The relevant section of the act reads: “Notwithstanding anything contained in this act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen -- information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party, unless the competent authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information”. The CIC has asked UIDAI to file written submissions explaining the sensitive content of the text of the contract beyond merely quoting the act.

It may be noted that CIC in its order dated July 27, 2009, has already given its verdict in the matter saying, “Any agreement entered into by the government is an agreement deemed to have been entered into on behalf of the and in the interest of ‘the people’. Hence if any citizen wants to know the contents of such an agreement he is in the position of a principal asking his agent to disclose to him the terms of the agreement entered into by the agent on behalf of the principal. No agent can refuse to disclose any such information to his principal”. By withholding the information, it is clear that UIDAI is safeguarding the interest of foreign interest and not the public interest and the national interest.

As a consequence of Safran’s purchase of L-1 Identity Solutions, the de-duplication contracts of UIDAI’s Centralized Identities Data Repository and home ministry’s National Population Register, which was given to foreign companies on July 30, 2010, to three companies, now lies with two companies of French and US origin. 

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Image: An operator arranges the Unique Identification (UID) documents submitted by people for their enrolment in Rajasthan.
Photographs: Mansi Thapliyal/Reuters

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Where is the report of the independent committee that evaluated UIDAI's performance?

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When Nilekani was asked about the sensitivity of de-duplicating firms which are working for the US intelligence agencies having been shortlisted, he replied, “These guys are just there for the de-duplication. We just give them the data, they compare and answer back. The data is going to their engineers. It's going inside our software. It's inside our firewall.”

Will Nilekani explain whether or not Pentagon’s data leaked by Wikileaks and data leaked by Edward Snowden were not inside their software and their firewall?  

When asked about fears that the biometric UID databases could be used for profiling in the future. He claimed, “That's where laws come in, where parliamentary oversight comes in, where everybody else comes in. We have a provision for an independent committee to evaluate the performance of the UIDAI. A lot of checks and balances have been put in place,” in January 2011, in an interview with Hard News

Now that four years have passed since he took charge of UIDAI, it is about time he revealed how his work has been under “parliamentary oversight” and where is the report of the independent committee which evaluated his performance.

As of March 31, 2013, a total of 31.19 crore Aadhaar numbers have been generated by the UIDAI, which also includes the 5.2 crore Aadhaar numbers generated through NPR. UIDAI’s total expenditure up to January 2013 is Rs 2,369 crore. So far the Planning Commission has failed to reveal the total estimated budget of this illegal and illegitimate program. Is it surprising? Do we know the budget of intelligence agencies?  

In the backdrop of ‘radical restructuring of the security architecture at the national level’ that is underway, when Nilekani was asked more than two years back as to how tracking of citizens gets facilitated once different databases like NPR, NATGRID, National Technical Research Organisation, Crime and Criminal Tracking Network System, Multi-Agency Centre, Central Monitoring System, National Cyber Coordination Centre, National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre, Telecom Security Directorate, Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations and UID are converged, you can actually track all the information. He responded saying, “I don't want to talk about that.” His silence is deafening. 

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'Did Nilekani blunder in giving contracts to the mentioned companies?'

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Given the fact that under NATGRID, 21 sets of databases will be networked to achieve quick, seamless and secure access to desired information for intelligence/enforcement agencies, it is quite clear that the biometric databases under creation are meant for such agencies in India and elsewhere. The rules made under the Information Technology Act, 2000, in April 2011 provide access to any data held by any "body corporate" in India. This does not apply to body corporate of foreign origin.

Mark Lerner, the author of the book Your Body is Your ID, informs us that Safran, which is handling UID database is a French company, 30 percent of it is owned by the French government and it has a 40-year partnership with China in the aerospace and the security sectors too.

In the backdrop of his phone being tapped by the home ministry, Arun Jaitley, the Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha wrote, “This incident throws up another legitimate fear. We are now entering the era of the Adhaar number. The government has recently made the existence of the Adhaar number as a condition precedent for undertaking several activities; from registering marriages to execution of property documents. Will those who encroach upon the affairs of others be able to get access to bank accounts and other important details by breaking into the system? If this ever becomes possible the consequences would be far messier.”

It is evident that it has become possible but the opposition party continues to implement it in the states where it is the ruling party despite admitting gnawing concerns. Is it the case that they are too helpless in the face of intelligence agencies to disassociate their states from it? In UK, the opposition party did so and displaced the Tony Blair government.  

When asked “whether or not you think by the year 2050 there could be a global system … (which) would be a real influence on knocking down the nation state, which I think needs knocking down.” Nilekani admitted, “There is nothing technologically limiting in having the whole population of the world on the system.”

This poses a grave threat to sovereignty of the citizens and the country. He and his project appear quite complicit in unconstitutional act of surrendering the country’s interest in favour of a global system led by ungovernable and undemocratic business enterprises not by democratic legislatures. 

Will Nilekani and his patrons admit in the post Snowden era whether or not they blundered in giving contracts to the mentioned companies and initiating a biometric database project the way countries like UK, France, Australia and China did? 




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