Thursday, March 3, 2011

47 - National UID: An Orwellian Odyssey by Samir Kelekar - Source - Money Life

May 18, 2010 02:42 PM |
Samir Kelekar

Cut to 2020. Is this how Big Brother is going to exploit the UID project?

The year is 2020. I walk down from my apartment at Domlur Layout, Bangalore to go for an evening's relaxation to the Metro Road (previously called M G Road). As I hail an auto rickshaw and pay the fare via my automated mobile cum payment card, I get a message on my mobile: "Thanks for using Balaji's Auto Service, the last time you travelled by auto was three days back, from Koramangala to your home in Domlur". I am bit puzzled as to how they know this, but I brush the thought away.

I get off at Metro Road and hang out at Cafe Matteo at the Metro station. Nice, cool air-conditioned (AC) cafe. Bangalore has become so hot—due to global warming I suppose—that an AC is a must. As I pay for my regular Americano coffee with skimmed milk by the side via my credit card, my mobile beeps—"Welcome; I see you have just arrived from Domlur; as per our records, the last time you had a similar coffee was a week back at a Jayanagar Coffee Day joint; and yes, while going back make sure you take an auto rickshaw outside Eva mall; our computerised time and traffic analysis shows that it is the fastest and cheapest way to go by auto to Domlur from Metro Road at this time of the day."

I am flabbergasted. How do they know all this? Things like, when I had a coffee last time. And it strikes me, partly due to my mind working overtime thanks to the just-imbibed caffeine. It must be DL—the "Documented Life" service.

A day back I received an SMS on my mobile asking whether I would like to be subscribed for a 30-day free trial for this service, and I had said yes out of curiosity.

Documented Life has a database of what everyone does. And there has been some noise that they infringe on peoples' privacy. To me, it seems like my freedom itself is taken away. Still, I think there must be a way out. I decide not to travel by auto anymore or use my credit card. But, as I start walking back to Domlur from Metro—the only way I think my freedom would be preserved is if I walk—I see that the six-lane elevated highway no more allows people to walk.

So, maybe a bus might be fine, I think. But as I pay the conductor of the BTS (Bangalore Transport Service) bus via the special pass that BTS gives, I see a similar message on my mobile: "The last time you went back by bus to your house was a month back and you celebrated your bus travel by having a beer in Lakshmi Bar and Restaurant (LBR) at Domlur. How about doing that again today? We have specials for you."

"Riding on the UID database" said the footnote.

Aha! It all comes back to me now. I am convinced that the culprit for this loss of freedom and privacy is the unique identification (UID) project. The high-profile National UID project, which went on from 2009 to 2015 gave a unique ID to every resident in India. The National UID Authority was established. It was claimed that it was particularly careful about privacy implications of the project.

The UID database for instance was carefully chosen, and one could only query if a particular UID corresponding to a particular fingerprint was valid or not. Owing to privacy concerns, you couldn’t do anything else with the database. To begin with, no one other than the UID Authority could even create a database with a UID as one of the elements.

But as time passed, due to one reason or the other, all these protections fell through.

First of all, even though the UID was not mandatory for everyone, slowly as banks and other institutes started making UID mandatory for their service, it became necessary for everyone, at least in cities, to have the UID by default.