[Reader-list] Scrap Unique Identification Number (UID)/ Aadhar project involving biometric data collection linked to National Population Register (NPR): Gopal Krishna

Prakash K Ray pkray11 at gmail.com
Fri Jun 4 10:41:13 IST 2010

Following is an open letter addressed to the Citizens of India by an
activist Gopal Krishna. His contact details are given at the end of the
article. We must engage with the topic and debate.



*Open Letter to Fellow Citizens *

Dear Fellow Citizens,

*Subject- * Scrap Unique Identification Number (UID)/ Aadhar project
involving biometric data collection linked to National Population Register

Dear fellow citizens,

This is with reference to a privacy invasion project which is relevant to
India and all the democratic countries of the world. The very first Bill
that is to be presented by the new coalition government of UK in the British
Parliament is to repeal its Identity Cards Act 2006 even as Government of
India has chosen to give approval to Unique Identification Number (UID)
project that threatens citizens’ privacy. Clearly, what is poisonous for
civil liberties in UK cannot become non-poisonous in India.

If one takes cognizance of the claim that “UID system is a civilian
application of biometrics”1 and compares it with current practices, one
finds that such a claim is quite misplaced. In the report there is reference
to a Study commissioned by the US Department of Homeland Security to
International Biometrics Group.2 Will someone explain how reference to such
a study constitutes civilian application?

In our country, it is rarely noticed as to when the concept of massively
organized information has quietly emerged to become a means of social
control, a weapon of war, and a roadmap for the destruction of ethnic

Unique Identification Number (UID)/‘Aadhar' project that emerged from the
constitution of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) in January,
2009 reminds one of what happened from the period preceding Adolf Hitler’s
arrival to January, 1933 when he occupied power, to Second World War  and
since then. The way International Business Machines (IBM), the world's
largest technology company and the second most valuable global brand
colluded with the Nazis to identify Jews for targeted for asset
confiscation, ghettoization, deportation, and ultimately extermination to
help Hitler with its punch card and card sorting system--a precursor to the
computer made the automation of human destruction possible is matter of
historical fact.3

Unmindful of the lessons from Germany, advancing the argument of targeting,
it has been claimed on the floor of the parliament by the Indian Finance
Minister while presenting the 2010-11 Union Budget that UID project ‘would
provide an effective platform for financial inclusion and targeted subsidy
payments,’4 the same targeting measures can be used with malafide motives
against citizens of certain religion, caste and ethnicity or region or
towards a section of society due to economic resentment. Curiously, the
Finance Minister and the head of Unique Identification Number (UID)/ Aadhar
project refer to financial inclusion and not economic inclusion of the poor.
Exclusion of certain sections of society for political reasons had led to
the targeted massacre of 1947, 1984 and 2002.

Unique Identification Number (UID)/ ‘Aadhar' project is going to do almost
exactly the same thing which the predecessors of Hitler did else how is it
that Germany always had the lists of Jewish names. The Nazis got these lists
with the help of IBM which was in Census business that included racial
census that entailed not only count the Jews but also identifying them. In
Washington at the United States Holocaust Museum, there is an exhibit of an
IBM Hollerith D-11 card sorting machine that was responsible for organizing
the census of 1933 that first identified the Jews. Government of India
cannot guarantee that in future when the Nazis or some such sort come to
power in India they would not have access to Unique Identification Number
(UID) for vindictive measures against certain sections of the citizenry.

Unique Identification Number and National Population Register is all set to
do what International Business Machines (IBM) did in Germany, Romania
through solutions ranging from the census to providing list of names of Jews
to Nazis. The Unique Identification Number and National Populations Register
have nothing to do with citizenship.

In such a backdrop, as concerned citizens we welcome the progressive step by
the new coalition government in UK to scrap its controversial national
identity card (ID) scheme in order to safeguard citizens’ privacy and act
against intrusions. The scrapping of the UK’s ID project is planned to be
done in the next 3-4 months. Besides repealing Identity Cards Act 2006 and
outlawing the finger-printing of children at school, UK government would
stop its National Identity Register and the next generation of biometric
passports, the Contact Point database and end storage of internet and email
records sans valid reasons.

But unlike UK, Government of India through a Press Information Bureau
release dated 18 May, 2010 has stated that “The Cabinet Committee on Unique
Identification Authority of India related issues (CC-UIDAI) today approved
in principle the adoption of the approach outlined by Unique Identification
Authority of India (UIDAI) for collection of demographic and biometric
attributes of residents (face, all ten fingerprints and iris) for the UID
project. It was also decided to include data of the iris for children in the
age group of 5 to 15 years. The same standards and processes would be
adhered to by the Registrar General of India for the National Population
Register (NPR) exercise and all other Registrars in the UID system.”* * In
India too, there is a robust case against rejecting what has been rejected
in the UK. Unique Identification Number (UID)/ Aadhar project is a blatant
case of infringement of civil liberties.

As is the case with Unique Identification Number (UID)/ Aadhar project, in
UK too the scheme has been vacillating from one claimed purpose to another.

The project is being bulldozed in the name of poor by saying, “Identity
becomes a bottleneck if one wants to have a ration card, driving licence,
passport, bank account or a mobile connection. It will enable poor residents
to access multiple resources including education, health and financial
services.” Following the footprints of UK’s discredited project, it is being
said that “The identity number will help get a child admission in school.”
Perhaps fearing abandonment of the project, in the aftermath of UK
government’s decision, it is being now said that the Unique Identification
Number is optional not mandatory.5

How is it that two democracies deal with the issue of ungovernable breaches
of privacy differently? While UK government is pro-active in protecting
privacy of its citizens, Government of India is ridiculing the very idea of
privacy and civil liberties.

It is highly disturbing that at almost the same time India’s minority
coalition government plans to do just the contrary with astounding disregard
to citizens’ privacy by stamping them with an UID number based on their
biometric data. Such “surveillance” effort through world’s largest citizen
identity project for “Creating a Unique Identity Number for Every Resident
in India” in history undermines our democracy beyond repair.

Related to the UID number project is the project of National Population
Register (NPR). This is for the first time that NPR is being prepared. The
database will be built by the Registrar General, India. It is noteworthy
that census and NPR are different. Census is the biggest source of data on
demography, literacy and education, housing and household amenities,
economic activity, urbanization, fertility, mortality, language, religion
and migration. It serves as primary data for planning and the implementation
of policies of the Central and State Governments.

National Population Register (NPR) involves the creation of a comprehensive
identity database for the country. NPR will include the items of information
such as the name of the person, father’s name, mother’s name, spouse’s name,
sex, date of birth, place of birth, current marital status, education,
nationality as declared, occupation, present address of usual resident and
permanent residential address. The database will also contain photograph and
finger biometry of persons above the age of 15 years.

After the National Population Register (NPR) database is finalized, the next
task would be assigning every individual a Unique Identification Number
(UID). This UID number will be added to the NPR database. It is proposed to
issue identity card, which will be a smart card with UID number printed on
it and include basic details like name, mother’s/father’s name, sex, date
and place of birth, photograph. Complete details will be stored in the chip.

Like in the UK, in India too, there is a need for a similar measure to stop
the efforts underway through the Unique Identification Authority of India
(UIDAI) to issue a unique identification number to every resident in the
country.5 Issuing unique identity numbers to the 1.2 billion residents in
India based on biometric data is fraught with hitherto unimaginable dangers
of human rights violations. It has emerged that it all started rolling in
the aftermath of a meeting of the Empowered Group of Ministers on November
4, 2008 and a meeting of the Prime Minister's Council of the UID Authority
on August 12, 2009, wherein it was decided that there was a “need for a
legislative framework” akin to UK’s Identity Cards Act 2006 which is now
being scrapped.

The 13th Finance Commission has made a provision for an incentive of Rs 100
per person (Rs 400-500 per family) to bribe citizens below the poverty line
to register for the UID and has recommended a grant of Rs 2,989.10 crore to
be given to the state governments for the same.  The three states who have
signed an MOU on their part have set up state level committees to work as
registrars of UIDAI for collecting biometric samples like thumb impression
or cornea configuration of each individual resident. The Karnataka
government has set-up the Center for e-Governance and a state-level UID
implementation committee under the chief secretary; Madhya Pradesh has
set-up a cabinet committee on UID under the chief minister and a state UID
implementation committee under the chief secretary. The Andhra government
too has set-up a state level empowered committee under the chief minister
and state UID implementation committee under the chief secretary. Has there
been any debate so far in the legislatures about the ramifications of a
project which is all set to be scrapped in UK?

As per Authority’s Office Memorandum5 signed by Director General, UIDAI
dated September 29, 2009, “The main objective is to improve benefits service
delivery, especially to the poor and the marginalized sections of the
society.  To deliver its mandate, the UID Authority proposes to create a
platform to first collect the identity details and then to perform
authentication that can be used by several government and private service
providers.”6 The reference to “private service providers” is inexplicable
for the work is meant to be an exercise for public purpose and for the poor
and the marginalized.

This Authority in turn set up a Biometrics Standards Committee in order “to
review existing standards and modify/extend/enhance them so as to achieve
the goals and purpose for de-duplications and authentication” through
framing biometrics standards for fingerprints, face and iris.

The Authority defines Biometrics as “the science of establishing the
identity of an individual based on the physical, chemical or behavioural
attributes of the person.” Besides the photos of the face are commonly used
in various types of identification cards, it is undertaking the use of
fingerprints for identification and recording Iris, the annular region of
the eye, bounded by the pupil and sclera on either side which is considered
the most accurate biometric.6

The committee reveals that “The biometrics will be captured for
authentication by government departments and commercial organizations at the
time of service delivery.”7 The commercial organization mentioned herein is
not defined.

The Biometrics Standards Committee refers to previous experiences of the US
and Europe with biometrics. A technical sub-group was also formed that
collected over 250,000 fingerprint images from 25,000 persons were sourced
from districts of Delhi, UP, Bihar and Orissa for analyzing Indian
fingerprints. It may do the same for Iris and face as well to form a
database size of 1.2 billion. It has been recommended that “Biometrics data
are national assets and must be preserved in their original quality.”8 The
Committee refers to citizens database as national asset. Are’t citizens
assets in themselves whose civil liberties gives legitimacy to the every
existence of nation-state.

Both Unique Identification Number and National Population Register through
convergence represent a case of the state, and the ‘market’ tracking
citizens for one reason or the other. It is neither benign in its design nor
in its execution. The working paper of the UIDAI reveals that the “UID
number will only guarantee identity, not rights, benefits or entitlements”.

In view of the above mentioned facts, we submit that the collection of such
data is a classic case of gross violation of fundamental human rights.
Government of India should take prompt lessons from the UK government’s
decision to scrap its National ID project and abandon Unique Identification
Number (UID)/ Aadhar project.

Yours faithfully

Gopal Krishna
Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties

E-mail: krishna2777 at gmail.com

  *Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties is an initiative of the MediaVigil
which is working since March 2004 . It is a collective of media
practitioners, researchers and activists.

Blog: mediavigil.blogspot.com

Group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/mediavigil/

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