Friday, March 25, 2011

298 - 764 - On the UIDAI - EPW article

A project that proposes to give every resident a “unique identity number” is a matter of great concern for those working on issues of food security, NREGA, migration,
technology, decentralisation, constitutionalism, civil liberties and human rights. The process of setting up the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has resulted
in very little, if any, discussion about this project and its effects and fallout. It is intended to collect demographic data about all residents in the country.
Before it goes any further, we consider it imperative that the following be done:
(i) Do a feasibility study: There are claims made in relation to the project, about what it can do for the PDS and NREGA, for instance, which does not reflect any understanding of the situation on the ground. The project documents do not say what other effects the project may have, including its potential to be intrusive and violative
of privacy, who may handle the data.
(ii) Do a cost-benefit analysis: It is reported that the UIDAI estimates the project will cost Rs 45,000 crore to the exchequer in the next four years. This does not seem to
include the costs that will be incurred by the registrars, enrollers, the internal systems costs that the PDs system will have to budget if it is to be able to use the UID, the estimated cost to the end user and to the number holder.

(iii) In a system such as this, a mere statement that the UIDAI will deal with the security of the data is obviously insufficient. How does the UIDAI propose to deal with data theft?
(iv) The involvement of firms such as Ernst & Young and Accenture raises further questions about who will have access to the data, and what that means to the people of India. The questions have been raised which have not been addressed so far, including those about:
(i) Privacy: It is only now that the Department of Personnel and Training is said to be working on a draft of a privacy law, but nothing is out for discussion,

(ii) Surveillance: This technology, and the existence of the UID number, and its working, could result in increasing the potential for surveillance,
(iii) Profiling,

(iv) Tracking, and
(v) Convergence, by which those with access to state power, as well as companies, could collate information about each individual with the help of the UID number. National IDs have been abandoned in the US, Australia and the uk. The reasons have predominantly been costs and privacy.
If it is too expensive for the US with a population of 308 million, and the UK with 61 million people, and Australia with 21 million people, it is being asked why India thinks it can prioritise its spending in this direction. In the UK the home secretary explained that they were abandoning the
project because it would otherwise be “intrusive bullying” by the State, and that the government intended to be the “servant” of the people, and not their “master”. Is there a lesson in it for us?
This is a project that could change the status of the people in this country, with effects on our security and constitutional
rights. So a consideration of all aspects of the project should be undertaken with this in mind.
We, therefore, ask that the project be halted; a feasibility study be done covering all aspects of this issue; experts be tasked with studying its constitutionality; the law on privacy be urgently worked on (this will affect matters way beyond the UID project); a cost-benefi t analysis be done; a public,
informed debate be conducted before any such major change be brought in.

Justice V R Krishna Iyer,
Romila Thapar,
K G Kannabiran,
S R Sankaran,
Upendra Baxi,
Shohini Ghosh,
Bezwada Wilson,
Trilochan Sastry,
Jagdeep Chhokar,
Justice A P Shah,
and others.
(Based on a statement issued on 28 September)