Tuesday, March 8, 2011

235 - ‘Campaign for no UID' flags privacy concerns -Hindu

Academics, jurists, activists urge caution; want more debate.
The campaigners are demanding the project be halted for now, a feasibility study undertaken, constitutional aspects debated.

Our Bureau

New Delhi, Sept. 28

With barely 24 hours to go before the first set of ‘Aadhaar numbers' are handed out in Maharashtra, a group of academics, jurists, activists and film makers have raised their voices against the UID project.

They are flagging concerns on issues of privacy, potential for misuse of information, and “limited public discussion on implications and fall-out” of the UID project.

The campaigners are demanding the project be halted for now, a feasibility study undertaken, constitutional aspects debated, and a cost-benefit analysis conducted for the mega project. “The law on privacy needs to be worked on, urgently. A project with such a wide implication cannot be undertaken without a debate in Parliament and civil society,” Mr Justice A.P. Shah, Retired Chief Justice of High Court of Delhi said at a conference.

Other signatories to ‘Campaign for no UID' are Mr Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer, (Retired Judge, Supreme Court of India), Prof Romila Thapar (Historian), Mr K.G. Kannabiran (Senior Civil Liberties Lawyer), Ms Kavita Srivastava (People's Union of Civil Liberties and Right to Food Campaign), Ms Aruna Roy and Mr Nikhil Dey (Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, Rajasthan), Mr Upendra Baxi (Jurist and ex-Vice Chancellor of Universities of Surat and Delhi), Ms Uma Chakravarthi (Historian), Ms Shohini Ghosh (Teacher and Film Maker) and Mr Amar Kanwar (Film Maker), among others.

One of the main grouse of the campaigners is the privacy aspect – the signatories contend that the information which is today scattered across diverse databases can now be linked to the UID number, and potentially thus lead to convergence of all kinds of personal details including medical and financial information. The database, they fear, could be hacked into and misused.

“What if the information lands up in wrong hands…There is clearly a need for a wide debate on the protection of privacy. Besides, the information can lead to profiling and tracking of residents by the State,” Ms Ghosh said.

However, the campaigners are not yet exploring legal options. Approaching the courts would be the last resort for them and the focus currently is on raising a debate on the issue, they say.

The dissent note comes just a day before the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and the UPA Chairperson, Ms Sonia Gandhi, are slated to issue the first set of UID numbers in Nandurbar district of Maharashtra, The stated objectives of the project include establishing a ubiquitous authentication infrastructure to easily verify identities of residents online and in real-time.

The Government believes that the UID project would enable state agencies and service providers to clean out duplicates and fakes from their databases, and, in turn, improve the efficiency of the public delivery systems.