Tuesday, March 8, 2011

229 - UID bill skips vital privacy issues- Indian Express

Tuesday 28th September 2010
Swaraj Thapa

After underlining its significance in its draft note to the cabinet committee earlier, the National Identification Authority of India Bill approved by the Union Cabinet on Friday has sidestepped critical privacy aspects relating to profiling and function creep — a term used to describe the way in which information is collected for one limited purpose but gradually gets used for other purposes.

According to sources, the draft Bill approved by the cabinet has several clauses to take care of commercial abuse of the UID database and misuse of the number but does not adequately address issues related to profiling.

“The UIDAI law will need to contain restrictions against profiling,” the draft note for the cabinet committee had earlier said. It had also contended that mechanisms would have to be put in place to discourage function creep and misuse of the database.

"While certain exceptions may need to be carved out for national security, these need to be carefully taken care of so as not to compromise the integrity of the UIDAI and the UID database," the draft note had maintained, adding privacy concerns would have to be addressed at various levels.

The draft Bill approved by the cabinet on Friday, however, says provisions of the legislation will not apply to disclosure of information made "in the interest of national security in pursuance of a direction to that effect issued by an officer or officers not below the rank of joint secretary or equivalent in the central government specially authorised in this behalf by an order of the central government".

A senior UPA functionary said issues relating to privacy and other concerns was not taken up by the cabinet as they are to be addressed when the Bill comes before Parliament and is sent to the Standing Committee.

“The cabinet only decided to remove one clause relating to exemption of tax for the UIDAI,” a minister said. The provision in the draft bill had said the UIDAI will not be taxed on any resources that it raises. Sources said Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee objected to the provision and sought its deletion reasoning that only the Ministry enjoyed the prerogative of either imposing or exempting tax.

Civil liberties activists have opposed the Bill, contending that it infringes upon an individual’s right to privacy and that it is a national security project in the garb of a social policy initiative. On Saturday, they said the draft Bill provisions left enough scope for misuse, especially by political parties who would have access to the database when in government.

"The Bill does not have enough provisions to ensure that profiling of minorities and dalits do not happen. The mechanism for foolproof collection of data including fingerprints and iris scan is not there. Can it be said with absolute certainty that your fingerprints will not one day appear at a terror attack site?" said Wilfred Dcosta, alliances convenor of the Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF).