'The most valuable personal sensitive information of present and future citizens has been made available to foreign data firms and governments and non-State actors for all time to come,' says Gopal Krishna.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
Contrary to the claim by Ravi Shankar Prasad, the minister in charge of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), in his article Aadhaar is a game-changer for India in the Hindustan Times (external link), Unique Identification (UID)/Aadhaar number has become an important technological instrument to empower the rich and to further impoverish and to cruelly oppress the poor.
It is subverting the most important objective of the Constitution of India: Fostering equality of status and of opportunity and to promote among them all fraternity and assuring the dignity of the individual.
UID/Aadhaar is fostering biometric and digital exclusion and financial exclusion.
The numerous testimonies of victims of UID/Aadhaar in this regard are available in the public domain. The same has been submitted to the Supreme Court. It is structurally disempowering the common Indian through its assault on citizenship through biometric identification of residents.
Out of nearly 130 crore Indians, some 119 crore Indians and other residents of India have been made vulnerable to non-State actors, foreign States and their domestic collaborators because their most personal sensitive data, the world's most valuable resource, has been parked with foreign data firms and governments through contract agreements between UIDAI and ungovernable technology companies like Accenture, Safran Group and Ernst & Young.
This information has come to light due to replies received under Right to Information Act.
There is no transparency about how much money these companies are making from the data assets of Indians to the detriment of India's supreme interest.
This initiative of the world's largest biometric-digital Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR) of UID/Aadhaar numbers has been bulldozed down people's throats by Machiavellian deceit, coercion and breach of trust.
CIDR has dwarfed the stature of Indian citizens by exposing them and the coming generations to an unscientific experiment. It has turned Indians into guinea pigs for clinical trials in labs.
One needs to understand the disempowerment of a poor farmer, a serving soldier, a pensioner, a student, an old woman, a child and the family of Santoshi Kumari who have been deprived of their citizens' entitlements because of CIDR.
With the oppressive linking of UID/Aadhaar of Indians, banks are exerting extraneous influence like money-lenders of old times.
The replies under the RTI Act have revealed that more than 99.99 percent Indians had pre-existing identity proof prior to the proposal of UID/Aadhaar.
It is apparent that it was a lame excuse to pursue this project whose total estimated budget has not been disclosed even after nine years of UIDAI's existence.
It is ridiculous to claim savings without disclosing the total cost of the project. The replies under RTI Act have shown that this project is a 'guaranteed revenue flow' for foreign and domestic private firms, which tantamount to squandering taxpayers' money.
In fact, in an unbelievingly strange situation, Indians are being made to part with their most valuable resource to these companies and they are also being made to pay for it at the rate of Rs 2.75/per enrolment and for each de-duplication forever.
In an exercise of irrationality of the worst order, value of digital transactions using UID/Aadhaar is being presented as savings due to the project.
All such claims of savings are an exercise in puffery. It has come to light and has been admitted that the World Bank study that refers to 'savings' from the project is based on a flawed footnote in its study.
Isn't such propaganda and misinformation campaign a cause of gnawing worry?
The most valuable personal sensitive information of present and future citizens has been made available to foreign data firms and governments and non-State actors for all time to come.
It is a cause of grave worry. In the face of documentary proof, the government's assurances ring as hollow as their words of consolation after every institutional disaster.
The CIDR of the UID/Aadhaar project continued without legislative approval from January 28, 2009, till September 12, 2016, without any backing of a parliamentary law even after the arrival of the BJP-led government in May 2014.
The first thing this government did was to act contrary to the democratic mandate against the UID/Aadhaar project. The Narendra D Modi-led alliance won an electoral victory by promising to scrap the biometric ID project.
Barack Obama and David Cameron too had made a similar promise. Both fulfilled their electoral promise of abandoning the biometric ID project of their predecessors, but Modi has gone against his own promise and betrayed the electoral mandate.
The cover of a Money Bill with which UID/Aadhaar was draped stood exposed and uncovered in the Rajya Sabha.
Notably, the Aadhaar Act came into force after more than 100 crore residents of India have been made naked without the protection of any legislative cover.
This project has been pursued by the BJP-led government under the presumption that the Right to Privacy is not a part of the Right to Life and Personal Liberty.
The Supreme Court's unanimous verdict of August 24, 2017, debunked this foundational basis of the project.
The Aadhaar Act and the project are in manifest contravention of the Right to Life, Personal Liberty and Privacy.
UIDAI's CIDR database of UID/Aadhaar numbers facilitates profiling of individuals utilising technology in the most imaginative ways.
The European Union regulation on data privacy defines 'profiling' as any form of automated processing of personal data consisting of the use of personal data to evaluate certain personal aspects relating to a natural person, in particular to analyse or predict aspects concerning that natural person's performance at work, economic situation, health, personal preferences, interests, reliability, behaviour, location or movements.
Such profiling can result in discrimination based on religion, ethnicity and caste. This has been noted in the Supreme Court's verdict on the Right to Privacy, which dismissed the government's submissions in this regard.
It is bizarre to witness the spectacle of the minister in charge of UIDAI paying insincere obeisance to the Supreme Court's verdict on the Right to Privacy, but continuing to parrot arguments which have been rejected and buried by the Court.
The minister contends that because citizens have shared their details with official agencies on social media, smart phones etc on different occasions without any objection, they should not raise 'serious objections relating to identity verification'.
The Court's verdict reads: 'If the individual permits someone to enter the house it does not mean that others can enter the house', implying that if information has been shared with one entity it does not create any compelling legal logic to share it with other entities too.
It further observed, '... if the posting on social media Web sites is meant only for a certain audience, which is possible as per tools available, then it cannot be said that all and sundry in public have a right to somehow access that information and make use of it'.
Rejecting the government's proposition, the Court's observation reads: 'Users of wearable devices and social media networks may not conceive of themselves as having volunteered data, but their activities of use and engagement result in the generation of vast amounts of data about individual lifestyles, choices and preferences'.
The Court's verdict cites Yvonne McDermott's paper, Conceptualizing the right to data protection in an era of Big Data, that speaks about the quantified self.
The paper underlines that 'The rise in the so-called 'quantified self', or the self-tracking of biological, environmental, physical, or behavioural information through tracking devices, Internet-of-things devices, social network data and other means may result in information being gathered not just about the individual user, but about people around them as well.'
'Thus, a solely consent-based model does not entirely ensure the protection of one's data, especially when data collected for one purpose can be repurposed for another.'
It is abundantly clear that the minister's argument has not been found acceptable by the Court because it is not rational to argue that just because someone has opened the windows of his house it does not create any sane logic to contend that he must open the doors of his house as well.
Giving one's digital arm for a handshake does not create any reasonable compulsion to surrender one's vital personal sensitive assets to UIDAI whose umbilical cord is linked to foreign firms and governments who have grabbed the citizens' database.
Under the garb of 'innovation' in the digital economy, the privacy of future Presidents, prime ministers, legislators, judges, soldiers, intelligence personnel besides citizens cannot be allowed to be killed and allow national security to be compromised for good.
By the government's own admission in the Supreme Court, it is clear that as far as UID/Aadhaar is concerned the proposed safety valves like virtual ID etc and the Data Protection Law Framework Committee's report after nine years of UIDAI's existence are stale, dated. cheques.
UID/Aadhaar creates a biometric-digital identity that subordinates the citizens' identity and makes her/him a subject and a modern-day slave.
It takes away the right of an individual to exercise control over his personal data and to be able to control her/his own life including his right to control his existence on the Internet.
This project provides the structural technique by which every person is being profiled to the nth extent for all and sundry to know using both demographic and biometric information.
As per the Aadhaar Act, UIDAI is empowered to collect voice samples and DNA profiles as well which will consequent into promotion of genetic determinism and biometric casteism akin to Eugenic thinking. Coincidentally, the official forms for collecting DNA profiles seek details about caste too.
The manifesto of biometric identification promoters will read like the 1,500 page regressive manifesto titled '2083: A European Declaration of Independence' brought out by the Norwegian gunman and neo-crusader, Anders Behring Breivik, who carried out the heinous attacks on his fellow citizens.
It refers to the word 'identity' over 100 times, 'unique' over 40 times and 'identification' over 10 times.
There is reference to 'State-issued identity cards', 'converts' identity cards', 'identification card', 'fingerprints', 'DNA' etc as well in this manifesto.
Biometric profiling of any sort is dehumanising.
These words and their imports merit attention in order to safeguard the natural rights of present and future generation of citizens which faces an unprecedented onslaught from unregulated and ungovernable biometric and digital technology vendors.
The abandonment of UID/Aadhaar like ID projects in countries like the US, the UK, Australia, China, France and Germany and their failure in African countries create a logical compulsion for India to heed the decision of these countries.
Gopal Krishna is a public policy and law researcher, and convener, Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties who had appeared before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance that examined the Aadhaar Bill, 2010 and trashed it.
He is also editor of www.toxicswatch.org