Unethical, Extra- Legal Coercion In UID Aadhaar Project
07 February, 2013
The Aadhaar scheme of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is to provide India's billion-plus people with a unique identification number. Enrolling into the scheme was and still is not mandatory, though it was mentioned that it would be difficult for people to access public services in the absence of enrolment. The scheme requires individuals to provide their photograph, fingerprints and iris scan together with documentary personal information, for data capture by out-sourced operators. It is meant to bye-pass the corrupt bureaucratic system and deliver government subsidies and grants to the poor, and bring them into the banking system. (Sceptics however aver that it is an effort to capture the funds of hundreds of millions of micro- and nano-investors who are today outside the banking system, to bring them into the credit economy).
The scheme was introduced as a pilot project in Karnataka's Mysore district. Poor people and those who survive on daily wages were not enthusiastic about enrolling, because it meant losing 4-5 days wages to stand in queues to fill up forms, produce documents, provide biometrics, etc., and later to open bank accounts. UIDAI overcame the initial reluctance by wide advertisement of the benefits of enrolling. When this too did not achieve the target enrolment, the local administration informed the public that PDS ration and LPG supply would not be available without the Aadhaar number. This resulted in winding, morning-to-evening queues at enrolment centres, and UIDAI claiming that 95% of Mysore district population had enrolled into the scheme. Media reports indicate that commencing January 1, 2013, MGNREGS, Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojana (RGAY), Ashraya housing scheme, Bhagyalakshmi and the social security and pension scheme will be linked with Aadhaar in Mysore district.
This linking of the Aadhaar scheme with rights like salary and pension, and important entitled benefits and services, has raised hackles in some quarters because enrolment is not-mandatory. They argue that salary and pension rights, and benefits like PDS ration and LPG supply cannot be denied merely because an individual does not possess a unique ID Aadhaar number. Today, teachers in Maharashtra and government employees in Jharkhand cannot draw salaries, and apart from pro-poor projects like MGNREGA and RGAY, even jobs, housing, provident funds and registering a marriage now require enrolment. From being not-mandatory, the “poor-inclusive” Aadhaar scheme appears to have quietly metamorphosed into becoming exclusionary and non-optional.
UIDAI's own Biometrics Standards Committee stated that retaining biometric efficiency for a database of more than one billion persons “has not been adequately analysed” and the problem of fingerprint quality in India “has not been studied in depth”. Thus the technological basis of the project remains doubtful.
However, the severest critic of the entire scheme has been the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance (PSCF), which deliberated that the Aadhaar scheme is “full of uncertainty in technology as the complex scheme is built upon untested, unreliable technology and several assumptions”. It found Aadhaar to be “directionless” and “conceptualized with no clarity”. But UIDAI shelters under the Prime Minister's protective wing and continues to stonewall not merely public queries and criticisms, but the unequivocal verdict of PSCF.
Possibly more serious is data security, and consequent threat to privacy. UIDAI claims that access to its data base will be secure from intelligence agencies. This claim is hollow, because the Aadhaar project is contracted to receive technical support from L-1 Identity Solutions, a US-based intelligence and surveillance corporation with known links to the US intelligence community. Contracts are also awarded to Accenture Services Pvt Ltd., which works with US Homeland Security, and Ernst & Young to instal UIDAI's Central ID Data Repository. It is impossible to ensure database security when technical providers are US business corporations, and US law requires them to provide information demanded of them, to the US Homeland Security. But UIDAI is in denial.
If biometric data and other personal information falls into the hands of unauthorized agencies, privacy is unequivocally compromised. Compromise of an individual's personal data affects only that person, but when personal data of many millions of people is compromised, it would be a national disaster. The fact that UIDAI has no answer to the security hazards pointed out and is silent or evasive on the subject, does not inspire confidence in the capability of UIDAI or the Aadhaar system to maintain personal privacy rights.
Though the Aadhaar project is “not mandatory”, enrolment by threat of exclusion from availing benefits and services, and threat of denial of rights like salary or pension makes it non-optional. This kind of deviousness is unbecoming of a democratically elected government. Coming on the top of many huge scams, the present government may suffer electorally if it persists in using unethical, extra-legal coercion to force the security-defective, technologically unproven, very expensive UID Aadhaar scheme on the public.
Major General S.G. Vombatkere retired as the Additional Director General, Discipline & Vigilance in Army HQ, New Delhi. The President of India awarded him the Visishta Seva Medal in 1993 for distinguished service rendered over 5 years in Ladakh. He writes on strategic and development-related issues. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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