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160 - UID Project - Do the Negatives outweigh the Positives ? - L/K.Advanis Web site

UID Project - Do the Negatives outweigh the Positives ?
by Anupam.t.r
on Sun Jun 06, 2010 7:13 pm

Unique Identification Project – Do the negatives outweigh the positive ?

When The Unique Identification authority of India [UIDAI] was constituted in January, 2009 under the leadership of Nanadan Nilekani, it was hailed by one and all. Paeans were written in newspapers, periodicals and journals. The whole media termed it as path-breaking, the political analysts called it a delayed but a much needed step, the social activists saw it as a tool to undo the social wrongs by identifying the needy and for people at large, finally there was something that could make them counted in this vast country of ours.

But a little over a year down the line, the rumblings have started against the UID from different quarters. The questions are being asked about the utility or rather the futility of the whole exercise. The analysts are questioning the real utility of UID in the face of plethora of identities that an average Indian is grappled with, be it in the form of Passport, Election card, Driving license, Ration card, PAN card and what not. UID may replace some of these but not all.

The sceptics are questioning the sanctity of UID in a country where almost every I/D can be procured easily by anybody, anywhere. All you need is just about 500/- rupee and you can get a ration card, an election card or driving license evenif you hail from Bangadesh or Turkey ! More so, there are lakhs of unscrupulous businessmen who possess more than 2 to3 PAN cards or even Passports, in effect having more than one identity. What is the guarantee that UID will not meet the same fate and we will not have people with 2-3 ‘Unique’ identities ? The incorporation of Biometrics may be a solution but what about the clerk who would happily copy your finger prints or replace them with somebody else’s for a few hundred bucks ?

Then more damning is the concern that UID will compromise our security. The reference being the legitimization of infiltrators from Bangladesh, Pakistan and even of the terrorists in absence of a foolproof system. Of late, research projects have been accepted by some Universities on the topics of UID and it’s effect on Internal security.

More recently, an activist of the Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties, one Mr Gopal Krishna has made a case where he considers the Unique Identification Number project a gross violation of fundamental human rights.

Says he, “In our country, it is rarely noticed as to when the concept of massively organised information quietly emerged to become a means of social control, a weapon of war, and for the victimisation of ethnic groups. Nandan Nilekani, co-founder and former chief executive of Infosys Technologies Ltd, India's second largest software company, has misled the Government of India into making it believe that in a country with 48 percent illiteracy, a 12-digit card would be helpful in reaching the poorest of the poor. “

Mr Gopal Krishna even goes a step further and equates the Unique Identification [termed as ‘Aadhar’] project with the census of jews taken in Nazi Germany wherein The International Business Machines [today’s IBM] colluded with Adolf Hitler's government to identify Jews for targetted asset confiscation, ghettoisation, deportation, and ultimately extermination to help Hitler with its punch card and card sorting system -- a precursor to the computer.

Says he, “The UID and National Population Register is all set to do what IBM did in Germany, Romania and in Europe and elsewhere through 'solutions' ranging from the census to providing list of names of Jews to Nazis. The UID has nothing to do with citizenship, it is merely an identification exercise." Further he adds, “The UID project is a blatant case of infringement of civil liberties. The government's identification exercise follows the path of the Information Technology Act 2000 that was enacted in the absence of no data or privacy protection legislation.”

To lend credence to his arguments, he cites the example of Britain where the new coalition government has decided to repeal its controversial National Identity Cards Act 2006, apparently 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 the Identity Cards Act 2006 and outlawing the finger-printing of children at school, the UK government has decided to stop its National Identity Register and the next generation of biometric passports, the Contact Point database and end storage of Internet and email records.

But unlike the UK, the Government of India through a Press Information Bureau release dated May 18 has stated that 'the Cabinet Committee on Unique Identification Authority of India related issues today approved in principle the adoption of the approach outlined by 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 NPR exercise and all other registrars in the UID system.

Citing the UK example, Mr Gopal Krishna argues, “How is it that two democracies deal with the issue of ungovernable breaches of privacy differently? While the UK government is proactive in protecting the privacy of its citizens, the 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 a 'surveillance' effort through the world's largest citizen identity project for 'creating a Unique Identity Number for every resident in India' undermines our democracy beyond repair.

Like in the UK, in India too there is a need for a similar measure to stop the efforts underway through the UIDAI to issue a UID number to every resident in the country. Issuing unique identity numbers to the 1.2 billion residents of India based on biometric data is fraught with hitherto unimaginable dangers of human rights violations. “

But such damning allegations and accusations aside, can we really ignore the positives the UID project has ? In fact, we should look at the UID in a similar context to US's social security number or UK's National Insurance number. You can get it if you need it. In India’s case, one of the biggest issues in governance is leakage in delivery. This ID may enable eGovernance in India which will fix the leakage to considerable levels.

It’s time that we looked at the entire project objectively. We must weigh the pros and cons of this ambitious prohect. BJP, as a responsible opposition, should form a committee to analyse all it’s aspects and address such concerns and apprehensions of impending danger, if any.

Activist like Gopal Krishna may have some good arguments but a close study of the facts may reveal another side of the coin too. For example, the UK I/D project worth GBP 5 Billion is being scrapped mainly because of the UK budget deficit (GBP 178 Billion) and not just for the violation of human rights. Scrapping the deal was published in the manifesto of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to indicate their way of managing the finances, not otherwise.

UID Project - Do the Negatives outweigh the Positives ?
by NPradhan on Thu Jun 10, 2010 2:56 pm

If it can help in reducing corruption and/or bribery and outflow of National wealth to tax havens, then the UID project must be welcomed as it is or with suitable modifications.

We do not need to follow any country, any expert other than the knowledge available in our ancient texts written in Sanskrit. For people like Mr. Gopal Krishna: how many times do any individual violet his own moral duties/rights? Once man stop violeting his own moral duties/rights of public or private nature; he shall automatically discover that violetion is done by self not by others or the government.

Indians are cheated day in and day out by every other fellow and the noble people are wasting all their mental power to tolerate the cheating to remain cool is the truth about violations of all types! If the negatives shall outweigh the positives, then there is something negative in the objective of the project itself.