Sunday, March 6, 2011

175 - No UID till Complete Transparency, Accountability and People's Participation: A Public Campaign

An interactive meeting on UID's lack of a feasibility study, cost involved and dangers of abuse is being held in New Delhi at the Constitution Club Auditorium, Rafi Marg on 25 August, 2010. The meeting is jointly organised by INSAF, PEACE, Citizens' Action Forum, People's Union for Civil Liberties - Karnataka, Slum Janandolana - Karnataka, Alternate Law Forum, The Centre for Internet and Society and concerned individuals.

Since May 2009, the UID project is under implementation.  Even though any legislation sanctioning it is yet to be passed in the Parliament, the UID authority is functioning. Rs.1950 crores has been allocated to the project. In addition to this allocation, the census expenditure has a budget of Rs. 3023 crores. The UIDAI plans to use the census data, to issue Aadhar numbers. The total project is estimated to cost Rs. 150,000 Crores. The budget for the Authority was passed with the Government of India annual budget but without discussion on it or setting up of UIDAI.

The UID project envisages recording ten finger prints and iris scan of all people residing in India, allocating a unique number to each individual whose biometric data is captured, and storing it in a database with other basic information such as: name, parent’s name, date of birth, gender, and address. Clearly, the UID project will affect everyone residing in India. To ensure proper implementation it is important to carry out a detailed study of the project's viability and feasibility. That the project has been launched without such a study is a matter of grave concern. 

The authority presents the UID project to the public as a way to prevent leakages in the PDS and MGNREGS. If the project could achieve this, it would be a welcome solution, but even a cursory examination reveals several reasons why this objective seems impossible to achieve. Among these is the fact that many countries, after trying similar projects, have abandoned them because they were found to be incapable of achieving their projected objectives and posed high security risks. For example, in a study that was conducted by the London School of Economics on the UK Government's National ID card scheme, it was found that it would not achieve the objective of preventing illegal immigration and further that such a central database would itself become a target for terrorists, The new elected UK government scrapped the project in June 2010.

The UID project also raises many questions concerning the abuse of personal data gathered in the process. The collection and logging of data, done in the manner proposed by the UIDAI, is in effect similar to “phone tapping”, a practice which can be abused by those overseeing it. The data collection itself is outsourced to private agencies. The linkages provided by UID to a person's data that is collected for the UID to other databases, such as bank accounts or mobile phone companies have the potential for serious abuse.   Despite these concerns, the UIDAI has already taken initiatives, such as collaborating with many multinational and Indian private companies to for gathering data and setting up / maintaining the database.

In this meeting diverse groups will express their viewpoints on the subject and we hope you will be able to gain insight into this immense project, its costs and impacts.

Please confirm your participation in the workshop. This would help us make the necessary arrangements for your convenience.