Friday, December 30, 2011

After Parl. Panel rejection of UID bill, activists require it to be stopped

A panel of eminent citizens, which includes jurists like Usha Ramanathan and Deep Joshi member of the National Advisory Council (NAC) among others, has called for the Unique Identification Number (UID) card project to be immediately stopped after the Parliamentary Standing Committee rejected the National Identification Authority of India (NIDAI) Bill, 2010. They also asked the government to also start a CBI enquiry and CAG audit of the scheme.

In its report which was presented to the Parliament on December13, 2011, the Parliamentary Standing Committee asked the government to stop the UID project. Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is leading this project to issue UID cards to all the Indians

The Standing Committee which rejected the biometrics data based identification of Indians said that the UID project is “directionless” and has been “conceptualized with no clarity of purpose.” The Committee found the biometric technology ‘uncertain’ and ‘untested.’ There were several other reasons why the committee rejected the UID project. For instance, the Committee also noted that the government has “admitted that no committee has been constituted to study the financial implication of the UID scheme; and 9b0 comparative costs of the aadhar number (UID number) and various existing ID documents are also not available.”

Unique Identification Number later renamed as Aadhaar number, is an initiative of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) of the Indian government to create a unique ID for every Indian resident. Aadhaar is a 12-digit unique identification (UID) number, stored in a centralised database and linked to the basic demographics and biometric information – photograph, ten fingerprints and iris – of each individual.

Several leading activists have been opposing the UID card because of several serious reasons. For instance the UID project seeks to gather data of all the citizens of India at such a huge scale when there is no data protection law in place in the country. More importantly there have been several cases where the data collectors of the UID cards are anti-social elements, who have reportedly sold the data to local stakeholders.

Activists have been opposing the UID scheme also because it has the potential to become a tool for ‘exclusion’ particularly in the case of date misuse. For instance, if the date gets leaked, it can be misused to identify and target a particular group like religious or linguistic minorities. For instance in case of any communal riot, there are apprehensions that the data can be misused to identify and target a minority group.

Even though the government had recognized the need for a law to deal with security and confidentiality of information, imposition of obligation of disclosure of information in certain cases, impersonation at the time of enrolment, investigation of acts which constitute offenses and unauthorized disclosure of information, the Unique Identification (UID) project was allowed to march on without any such protection being put in place. This disdain for the law has been characterized by the Standing Committee as ‘unethical and violative of the Parliament’s prerogatives.’

That’s why the Standing Committee also noted that while the UIDAI was constituted on January 28, 2009 without parliamentary approval, and the UID numbers were began to be rolled out in September 2010, the Detailed project Report of the UID Scheme was done much later in April 2011.

The Parliamentary panel also noted that the government had no business going ahead with the UID cards when it didn’t have the legal as well as parliamentary mandate to do that, a fact which Chief Ministers of several states highlighted in their letters written to the Prime Minster Dr. Manmohan Singh.

Importantly according to the government and Nandan Nilekani, who is heading the UID project, the UID card promises to give the poor their identity, it is a tool for profiling the beneficiary in the PDS, streamlining payments to be made under the MGNREGS and enabling the achievement of targets under the Right to Education or any such government scheme. Service delivery is what it guarantees. But serious doubts have been raised about its being able to rationalise the PDS.

Another aspect being voiced in favor of the UID is its efficacy in streamlining direct cash transfer to the poor by effectively segmenting the poor and the needy. Nilekani has also been saying that the UID card will make all the other cards irrelevant and the citizens of India won’t have to be concerned about other cards. But leading activists and the entire civil society has been saying that there are several other issues like safety and security of the data and thereby the citizens of India among others which are too important to be ignored. At present Indian citizens have 15 cards including ration card, voter ID card, Permanent Account Number (PAN) card.

But the Parliamentary Standing Committee and leading activists of the country like Aruna Roy and Jean Derez, want the project to be put on hold till a feasibility was done, a cost; benefit analysis undertaken, a law of privacy put in place, and various concerns of surveillance, tracking profiling, tagging and convergance of data be addressed. The Standing Committee asked the government that the project can’t carry on till all of the above mentioned issues are sorted out.

Interestingly the Parliamentary Committee also accepted the concerns expressed by the activists that the UID project authorities should acknowledge that several developed countries like UK, USA, China, Australia, and the Philippines have abandoned identity schemes like UIDAI. For instance studies on identity scheme were done in UK but were later withdrawn in May 2010 because of the reasons ranging from “(a) the huge cost involved and possible cost overturns (b) too complex (c) untested, reliable and unsafe technology (d) possibility of risks to the safety and security of the citizens.