Wednesday, March 2, 2011

17 - India 's UID And The Fantasy Of Dataveillance by Binu Karunakaran - Counter Currents

Sunday, May 23, 2010
30 - India 's UID And The Fantasy Of Dataveillance
24th August 2009
India 's UID And The Fantasy Of Dataveillance
By Binu Karunakaran
24 August, 2009

The perils of establishing nationwide identity systems have always been a hot topic of debate in countries that attach great value to privacy and human rights of its citizens. Plans to launch national ID cards have met with stiff opposition in UK , which announced the final design of its card in end of July 2009. The United States Senate too is getting ready to debate the PASS ID bill, a renamed version of George Bush regime's REAL ID that will bring in a national ID through the backdoor.

Compare this with the scenario in India where the UPA government is pushing ahead with a national ID program through the Unique Identity Development Authority of India (UIDAI), a body created blatantly bypassing the authority of parliament. And there is not even a whimper of protest from civil society groups or politicians. The government presumably does not want to lose time on creating consensus or engage in a national debate on a project which has irrevocable implications on data security and privacy of individuals. The government knows that no questions on its limit of stupidity will be raised because the whole business has been outsourced to a CEO with brand equity called Nandan Nilekani. Now we hear that the illegitimate UIDAI will be made legitimate by an Act of Parliament - that loud thumping of desks drowned by the blabbering of many tongues.

According to one estimate Rs. 150,000 Crore (US$ 30.9 bn) of taxpayers' money will flow out into the gargantuan task of making our lives similar to that of aquarium fish and no less secure. Imagine that kind of money and political will power going into healthcare and sanitation or basic education and poverty alleviation.

Show me your UID?

If media reports can be believed there won't be any human-readable intelligence loaded into the UID . It will be a random generated number (no physical card) that citizens can quote in dealings with government authorities, banking/taxation transactions or while interacting with e-governance applications. That would mean that personal information will exist only in a database and need to be paired with the UID when the situation demands. A unique number that will subsume our multiple and divisive identities, the mark of the perpetually wired beast

Some reports indicate having a UID might not be mandatory at all. But chances are that even if the UID is made voluntary the large inconveniences of non-participation will make it effectively mandatory.

The draft report on Personal Identification Codification (PIC) released by the Expert Committee on Metadata sheds some light on the data elements that would be stored in the database of the national identity system. The report says the objective of the PIC is to identify each and every person uniquely at the national level to ensure interoperability of information related to individuals collected by various govt/non government organisations. This throws up several questions: Will the government be the only authority which can use or request the UID? What information in those databases will be linked explicitly to other databases? Who has the authority to create this linkages and who all can access this information? Would the people who use the UID for various transactions be informed of the algorithms used to analyse their data. Will the data collected stored forever? Article 20, clause 3 of the Indian constitution states that " No person accused of any offence shall be compelled to be a witness against himself ." Will data records generated by the UID be used against the accused in a court of law? There is not much clarity on this as the confidentiality level of data elements (open to all, open only to security agencies/NGOs) are yet to be finalised.

But the security agencies will definitely have a say on this. They would be specifically interested in Data mining, a process that involves the use of mathematical analytical tools to detect patterns in large sets of data with the purpose of predicting certain kinds of behaviour, such as the propensity to engage in criminal activity or to purchase particular consumer goods. They would also be looking at data matching - the technique of comparing different databases so as to identify common features or trends in the data.