Aadhaar: Time to end it without further ado
by Rijul Singh Uppal on 19 Oct 2015 4 Comments
The Hon’ble Supreme Court must shut the door on Nandan Nilekani’s ill-conceived brain child, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), and order the overseeing of the destruction of its entire biometric and related databases as the government proposed opt-out/lock-out policy (as mentioned by Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi) is not realistic.


This is essentially because successive governments have been stretching Aadhaar on two fronts, inventing and reinventing the project along the way. Both the UPA and now the NDA, and at their instance, various state governments, are forcing Aadhaar down the throats of reluctant citizens. At the same time, the Supreme Court is given an entirely different picture about the purpose and functioning of Aadhaar.


It would appear that the Supreme Court is being misled by the Centre regarding the applicability of Aadhaar. Worse, many popular media outlets support Aadhaar and project it as some kind of saviour. Though out of office, Nilekani seems to continue to mentor the project, and the intelligentsia (as they like to be called) blithely supports a project that is a direct threat to India and its future.


Nilekani and his fellow travellers managed to convince two successive Prime Ministers (Dr Manmohan Singh and Mr Narendra Modi) and various law makers and financial “advisors” to support this project. The only glimmer of hope is that so far the Hon’ble Justices of the Apex Court have not been swayed by such propaganda and are standing against the entire Aadhaar nexus to preserve the rights of the citizen vis-à-vis the State.


There can be no doubt that the Centre and States have, since 2012, gone on a war-footing to erect a structure which in coming years will render a non-Aadhaar registered citizen homeless, penniless and without an identity. When the idea was first mooted before the country, we were told that an Aadhaar database was being created for BPL families (that would receive state subsidy) and a National Population Register (NPR) database would be created for all citizens, under the auspices of the Ministry of Home Affairs.


Inexplicably, it was said Aadhaar would not be connected to citizenship so illegals could also register for subsidies. Yet it is now being said that Aadhaar has helped weed out illegal subsidy seekers and is a gross national saving!


Early on, the UPA’s plans were perceived as dubious. Citizens became nervous when the NPR turned out to be Aadhaar and muscularly took their biometric data for no possible decent use, since even police states have not gone so far. When it was suggested that thumbprint identification be taken at PDS shops, why were iris scans included as part of the process? This is something Nilekani and both governments have singularly failed to explain. And why any kind of biometric data for population that was not included in subsidy at all?


During the enrolments some years ago, middle class colonies were called to join NPR which was said to be a Home Ministry project whereas the UIDAI was under the then Planning Commission. At that time, P Chidambaram was telling the nation that Aadhaar is voluntary and NPR is compulsory, because it was supposed to be the badge of citizenship.


There followed an array of services that the government would let people avail only after prior registration of Aadhaar. In Delhi, then Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit made Aadhaar mandatory for any property registrations, including registrations of rent lease. Many Congress ruled states followed this policy and made Aadhaar compulsory for getting LPG and other services.


Thus, in lieu of a database aimed at subsidies, the UIDAI enabled State Resident Database program is actually a program aimed at collection of financial and economic data of all citizens, in a centralised manner, which is dangerous because it is so easy to official abuse. Despite the interim order of the Hon’ble Court limiting Aadhaar to subsidy schemes, the fact is that Aadhaar is being made mandatory by states and now even the IT department seeks Aadhaar details!


It is pertinent that despite the hullabaloo around subsidy, LPG subsidies were directed through DBT even for those without Aadhaar, and the government managed to save leakages, which is a euphemism for its own corruption.


Various State governments are asking educational institutions to collect and furnish Aadhaar numbers of all enrolled students. Universities have advised all colleges to collect Aadhaar numbers and enrol those who aren’t in the database. The UIDAI is clearly intended to be a consolidated databank of all financial and personal aspects of an individual’s life. Those who felt George Bush’s Patriot Act was bad should take a look at Aadhaar.


In the Supreme Court, the government has been painting a completely different picture, misleading the Court while silently forcing Aadhaar on the citizenry. The Right to Privacy is innate to any civilised society, and the argument that it is not specifically guaranteed in the Constitution is a human rights assault of the highest order.


One sincerely hopes that the Hon’ble Court will stand up for the ordinary man. If Government contends that privacy is not a given right, then there is also nothing mandating that the government keep our data private. In fact, it remains pertinent that the UIDAI still lacks legislative sanction and all data accumulated has not been guaranteed safe as it has been in private hands. In an age of easy cyber transfers, there is no assurance if any or all data has already been leaked. What is notable is that there has been sustained silence on this aspect, whenever it has been raised by concerned citizens.


Moreover, if Aadhaar was originally conceived to weed out illegal immigrants and to tackle crime, how effective can it be? The then Home Minister P Chidambaram had raised the issue of National Security as an excuse for collecting biometrics. But does this really help?


Tehelka in 2009 quoted former IB Director, Ajit Doval, as saying, “It was intended to wash out aliens and unauthorised people. But the focus appears to be shifting.” and that “Now, it is being projected as more development oriented, lest it ruffle any feathers. People would be unwilling to give up their right to privacy.” Doval was then referring to the National Unique Identity Project that was initially launched by the NDA government in 2003 and was rebranded in 2009 when Nandan Nilekani was made head of the project.


This raises doubts about the BJP protests while in opposition, because it immediately gave Aadhaar a boost when it came to power last year.


As to whether Aadhaar can help solve crime and be used as a criminal database, we are only fooling ourselves. Last year, the UIDAI petitioned the Supreme Court that the system has been developed “for civilian use and for non-forensic purposes.” This was when, after a gang rape in Goa, the CBI wanted UIDAI data to match fingerprints and the magistrate ordered it to do so.


The UIDAI challenged this in the Bombay High Court, but aggrieved with the High Court’s order, went to the Apex Court. The UIDAI, while boasting of the best biometric technology in the world, pointed out that a 0.057 per cent occurrence of false positive identification can occur. When applied to the UIDAI database, this can imply false identification of lakhs of citizens. In a database of 100 crore, that percentage would lead to 5,70,000 people with false matches!


UIDAI has partnered with various foreign entities such as L-1 identity solutions and another French company, amongst others, and had thus faced a call for cancellation by the CPI-M in 2013. The danger of having foreign companies handle such sensitive data hardly needs stating, yet successive governments have proved remarkably uncaring on this score.


A report in the Economic Times in December 2013 mentioned that the In-Q-Tel (CIA’s Venture Capital arm) funded MongoDB has been partnered by the UIDAI to provide Data analysis and related services.


In-Q-Tel’s website boldly states its purpose, “IQT identifies, adapts, and delivers innovative technology solutions to support the missions of the Central Intelligence Agency and broader US Intelligence Community.”


Coming to privacy, recently the government tried to compare Aadhaar with social media and other apps on smart phones in arguments before the Hon’ble Court, and claimed that Aadhaar is less intrusive!


Doubtless in today’s world of Big Data, many websites and others are pushing their apps on us. But this cannot be compared to a state-run “voluntary but mandatory” data program. For one, a person remove the apps from his/her phone; for another, many manufacturers today provide customised operating systems where one can block access to whatever information one wants to secure from an app.


More importantly, app collected data comes nowhere close to data collected by the UIDAI that creates a single number on a server containing a combined record of properties owned, bank balance and FDs, insurance and ULIPs, last IT returns etc.


The government has been arguing in the Apex Court for permission to force citizens to register Aadhaar with our bank accounts, stock trading accounts, etc. That means a database which is going to go over the internet! Un-confirmed reports state that this database might eventually be over Cloud, which means ONE number over the internet will give the state (or dubious characters and foreign intelligence services) access to every information about a citizen. Fear the worst as this cloud and the internet as a whole is undemocratic and owned by one intelligence service! It’s one thing for an individual or organisation to use the internet for communications and a very different thing when government decides to put critical data online.


The very act of allowing foreign Intel agencies access to critical data, threatens the future of India. Those in school today, who would by 2050-2060 be leading this country, could be compromised by foreign services without anyone being the wiser.


Perhaps the intent is to ensure that only certain sections of society are able to rise. In recent years there have been rumours and write-ups that political and corporate biggies had been warned to stay away from enrolment and have done so. A series of articles in 2014 stated that even the political class that envisaged and pushed this project has not got itself or its family enrolled. Clearly they knew or were warned of the dangers.


Thanks to Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, we know that our online exchanges are not safe as the CIA and US NSA routinely spy on email and social media servers. There are reports that the UK GCHQ does the same. Snowden’s files revealed global spying on political leaders, including Heads of States. Both Wikileaks and Snowden have revealed the US-UK keen interest and monitoring of India’s Aadhaar project, yet the government feigns ignorance.


Governments around the world dismantled their ID programs after understanding the risks of such data, yet India soldiers on. When LPG subsidies were successfully diverted to bank accounts without needing Aadhaar, government can surely find a system for PDS too.


Government can plug leaks by stopping political leaders from increasing PDS allocation of ration card holders in lieu of votes, and create a central policy of allocation. States announcing quantities such as 35kgs are the real culprits. No normal family of five can consume so much in one month. The extra simply goes back into the system!


Lock-out/opt-out is no solution. If Aadhaar is only meant for PDS subsidy, then the biometric and related data of those who aren’t taking any subsidies must be completely destroyed and every state issued directions not to make Aadhaar mandatory to of avail services such as property registrations, IT returns or school admissions.


The Supreme Court has the opportunity to save India and its future from getting its citizens made vulnerable. It should not bother about the government’s argument that a lot of money has been spent on the project. This only shows that there is no real justification for the project.

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