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Proposal To Put Indian Residents Under Surveillance Forever

By Gopal Krishna

14 December, 2010

Besides UID Number Bill, several other related Bills on the horizon

New Delhi/14/12/2010: The National Identification Authority of India Bill (NIAI), 2010 has been introduced in Parliament after the constitution of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and appointment of Nandan Nilekani as its Chairman in the rank and status of a Cabinet Minister. The Bill introduced in Rajya Sabha onDecember 3, 2010 seeks to provide statutory status to the UIDAI which has been functioning without backing of law since January 2009.

Prior to the introduction of the Bill on 29 th  September 2010, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh distributed Unique Identification Numbers (Aadhaar) among the villagers of  Tembhali village  in Nandurbar District of Maharashtra.  “The Aadhaar number will ease these difficulties in identification, by providing a nationally valid and verifiable single source of identity proof. The UIDAI will ensure the uniqueness of the Aadhaar numbers through the use of biometric attributes (Finger Prints and Iris) which will be linked to the number,” according to the  Press Brief for National launch of Unique Identification Numbers (Aadhaar) issued by UIDAI.

It admitted that “India will be the first country (in the world) to implement a biometric-based unique ID system for its residents on a national scale.” Neither the Prime Minister nor the Planning Commission has taken cognisance of abandonment of such UID Number scheme in countries like the US, Australia and now in the UK. In the UK, their Home Secretary abandoned the project because it considered it `intrusive bullying' by the state, and that the government intended to be the `servant' of the people, and not their `master'. In the late 1990s, the Supreme Court of Philippines struck down the President's Executive Order A.O 308 which instituted a biometric based national ID system calling it 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. The statement of concern issued by the eminent citizens including former judges, jurists, educationists stated, “UIDAI has been constituted on the basis of a GoI (Government of India) notification and there is a fundamental risk to civil liberties”.

It is claimed that the UID Number will “substantially improve the efficiency of the delivery systems by ensuring that the leakages are reduced and the benefits reach the right people.” It also claims that “electronic transfers of benefits and entitlements can be enabled through Aadhaar-linked bank accounts of the beneficiaries.”

It is noteworthy that even before the passage of the National Identification Authority of India Bill from the parliament, the authority has embarked upon:

·          taking biometric and demographic data of Indian residents

·          entering into MOUs with multiplicity of institutions including Banks, LIC, State governments to acts as Registrars,

·          setting a process by which a large amount of data about the individuals will be collected and aggregated on the files of these Registrars,

·          entering into contracts with corporations predominantly from the technology and biometric industry including those with close links with intelligence agencies in other countries: for instance, Accenture (which is working with US Homeland Security in their Smart Borders Project) and L1 Identity Solutions (whose main market, and recruitment ground, is the Central Intelligence Agency) . Their website reads:  “ American and foreign military services, defense and intelligence agencies rely on L-1 solutions and services to help determine ally from enemy”. The same US company was hired for “Implementation of Biometric Solution for UIDAI” from 30 July 2010

·     another US company, Accenture Services Pvt. Ltd., has been hired for the “Implementation of Biometric Solution for UIDAI”. This company is “committed to helping the (US) Department of Homeland Security”. Its “solutions include developing prevention tactics, streamlining intelligence gathering and maximizing new technologies.”

There is a convergence of all the residents and institutions underway through Project UID, a Silicon Valley initiative (dominated by Information Technology companies) passing off as “Planning Commission initiative” without consultation at district and panchayat level and within the political parties to create a central database of residents and generate a unique identification number (UID) for all such residents which is proposed to be “used as the basis for identifying and authenticating a person's entitlement to government services and benefits”. This initiative is being steered by the Department of Information Technology (as the Line Ministry) through National Informatics Centre Services Inc. ( NICSI )/ National Informatics Centre (NIC), as the technical solution provider and a consultant for “linking of existing databases, as well as providing for future additions, by the user agencies.” This entails tracking and profiling residents electronically through some 53 departments of the Government of India, 35 State/UT Secretariats and 603 District collectorates. NIC was formed in 1975. While UIDAI has been misleading the citizens and the media about the UID Number scheme being voluntary, the ‘Legal Framework For Mandatory Electronic Delivery of Services' of Union Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, refers to “UIDAI – UID based authentication for services” as an enabler, thus making it compulsory.   

This proposed NIAI Bill must be looked at along with other Bills in the offing such as Draft Land Titling Bill, 2010, Draft Paper on Privacy Bill, 2010, Draft DNA Profiling Act, 2007 and Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations (PIII) for a National Knowledge Network. Besides this National Intelligence Grid (Natgrid), meant to integrate existing 21 databases with Central and state government agencies and other organisations, and National Population Register (which is quite different from Census) will end up undertaking surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting of Indian residents.

Sam Pitroda's PIII reveals the plot emphasizing digital network to process all kinds of information at all levels saying, “For government, PII is very important to first identify all beneficiaries, essentially people. We also at the same time need to identify all our physical assets all over the country, like primary schools, railway stations, hospitals. Then we also need to tag all our programes-and government typically would have hundreds of programs for public delivery systems. Once you tag people, places, and programs, then it is easier to really organise information for delivering public services. Hopefully, with new focus on PIII, where we could essentially tag people, tag places, tag programs, we will be able to structure delivery systems to get lot better productivity, efficiency, reduced cost. The starting point for this nationwide network of fiber optics, wireless systems to connect 2, 50, 000 Panchayats all over the country especially in rural areas where ultimately information data gathering would begin. This is where beneficiaries are.” All this information will be in the hands of a few ‘trustworthy' people inm the government and few select companies. Such a situation is fraught with both unintended and intended consequences impacting monetary and non-monetary aspects of citizens' life.  

Notably, the Land Titling Bill makes a provision for “Unique property identification number”, linking UID Number with property.

Admittedly, the Draft Privacy Bill states, “There is no data protection statute in the country.” On UID Number, the Draft Paper on Privacy Bill states, “Data privacy and the need to protect personal information is almost never a concern when data is stored in a decentralized manner. Data that is maintained in silos is largely useless outside that silo and consequently has a low likelihood of causing any damage. However, all this is likely to change with the implementation of the UID Project. One of the inevitable consequences of the UID Project will be that the UID Number will unify multiple databases. As more and more agencies of the government sign on to the UID Project, the UID Number will become the common thread that links all those databases together. Over time, private enterprise could also adopt the UID Number as an identifier for the purposes of the delivery of their services or even for enrolment as a customer.”

Quite menacingly, the Draft Paper on Privacy Bill asserts, “Once this happens, the separation of data that currently exists between multiple databases will vanish.” This poses a threat to the identity of citizens and the idea of residents of the state as private persons will be forever abandoned. 

UIDAI started working in the month of August 2009  to deliver Unique Identification Numbers (Aadhaar) to every resident in the country and to establish a cost-effective, ubiquitous authentication infrastructure to easily verify these identities online and in real-time. The UIDAI has been set up unmindful of grave concerns expressed in the government's own Draft Paper on Privacy Bill, and NIAI Bill appears to be meant to justify UIDAI'S acts of omission and commission. The NIAI Bill and its critique both in Hindi and English will be released shortly.

Meanwhile, UIDAI has also hired a public relations agency with an objective to “Provide consistent flow of information across all mediums to create the right perception of UIDAI and Aadhaar throughout the country”; one such agency has created a stalemate in the Parliament. This is an attempt to convert a resident into a number, Indian population into a market and then citizens in to subjects.  

For Details: Gopal Krishna, Member, Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties, Mb: 9818089660,

E-mail: krishna2777@gmail.com