Constitutional, Legal, Historical & Technological Reasons Against UID//Aadhar Scheme

To

Shri Anant Gangaram Geete
Chairperson & Members
Parliamentary Petitions Committee
New Delhi

Through
Shri Hulasi Ram,
Deputy Secretary
Parliamentary Petitions Committee

Subject-Constitutional, Legal, Historical & Technological Reasons Against UID//Aadhaar Scheme

Sir,

This is to draw your attention towards the structural basis being laid out for future authoritarianism by providing a unique identification (UID) number to all the Indian citizens. It is claimed that this UID “scheme shall ensure that various development deliverables reach the poor and needy in time, shall enable better monitoring and help plug leakages.” This claim of chairperson of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is suspect.

The fact is becoming clearer that UID scheme is a naked declaration of war on civil liberties and natural resources like land. Nanadan Nilekani, chairperson, UIDAI refers to Hernando de Sotto's book 'The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else' to argue that national ID system would be a big step for land markets to facilitate right to property and undoing of abolition of right to property in 1978 in order to bring down poverty!

Among many questions that have emerged, one is: Has Nilekani, the Cabinet Minister taken the oath on constitution to abide by its provisions? While he is mutilating the rights of citizens and right to information, PDS, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act etc through his marketing gimmicks about the wonders of UID scheme, the fact is that even Mahatma Gandhi opposed a law similar to UID as a Black Act in South Africa from 1906 to 1914 saying,"...I have never known legislation of this nature being directed against free men in any part of the world. I know that indentured Indians in Natal are subject to a drastic system of passes, but these poor fellows can hardly be classed as free men" and "...giving of finger prints, required by the Ordinance, was quite a novelty in South Africa. With a view to seeing some literature on the subject, I read a volume on finger impressions by Mr. Henry, a police officer, from which I gathered that finger prints were required by law only from criminals.”

In August 1906 the Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance became law in the Transvaal. Any Indian who did not register by a certain date would no longer be allowed to stay in the Transvaal. This law stated that every Indian man, woman or child older than 8 years must register with a government official called the registrar of Asiatics. This registrar was to also take the fingerprints of the people he registered and issue them with registration certificates, which they had to show to any policeman who asked to see them. Notably, UID scheme too is based on biometric data like finger prints and iris scan.

In the face of such fascist attack on citizen's sovereignty, a statement has been issued by eminent citizens like Justice VR Krishna Iyer, Retired Judge, Supreme Court of India, Prof Romila Thapar, Historian, K.G.Kannabiran, Senior Civil Liberties Lawyer, Kavita Srivastava, PUCL and Right to Food Campaign, Aruna Roy, MKKS, Rajasthan, Nikhil Dey, MKKS, Rajasthan, S.R.Sankaran, Retired Secretary, Government of India, Upendra Baxi, Jurist and ex-Vice Chancellor of Universities of Surat and Delhi, Uma Chakravarthi, Historian, Shohini Ghosh, Teacher and Film Maker, Amar Kanwar, Film Maker, Bezwada Wilson, Safai Karamchari Andolan, Trilochan Sastry, IIMB, and Association for Democratic Reforms, Prof. Jagdish Chhokar, ex- IIMA, and Association for Democratic Rights, Shabnam Hashmi, ANHAD, Justice A.P.Shah, Retired Chief Justice of High Court of Delhi and Deep Joshi, Independent Consultant.

This statement has been endorsed by educationists like Prof. Anil Sadgopal as well. The statement expresses great concern especially for those working on issues of food security, NREGA, migration, technology, decentralisation, constitutionalism, civil liberties and human rights. The process of setting up the Authority has resulted in very little, if any, discussion about this project and its effects and fallout. The documents on the UIDAI website, and a recent draft law (the National Identification Authority Bill, which is also on the website) do not provide answers to the many questions that are being raised in the public domain. This project is intended to collect demographic data about all residents in the country. It is said that it will impact on the PDS and NREGA programmes, and plug leakages and save the government large sums of money. It would, however, seem that even basic procedures have not been followed before launching on such a massive project.

Before it goes any further, we consider it imperative that the following be done:
• Do a feasibility study: There are claims made in relation to the project, about what it can do for PDS and NREGA, for instance, which does not reflect any understanding of the situation 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 (there will be multiple persons involved in entering, maintaining and using the data), who may be able to have access to the data and similar other questions.
• Do a cost: benefit analysis: It is reported that the UIDAI estimates the project will costs Rs 45,000 crores to the exchequer in the next 4 years. This does not seem to include the costs that will be incurred by Registrars, Enrollers, 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.
• 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? If this security cannot be reasonably guaranteed, the wisdom of holding such data in a central registry may need to be reviewed.
• The involvement of firms such as Ernst & Young and Accenture raise further questions about who will have access to the data, and what that means to the people of India.
• Constitutionality of this project, including in the matter of privacy, the relationship between the state and the people, security and other fundamental rights.
Questions have been raised which have not been addressed so far, including those about –
• Undemocratic process: UIDAI was set-up via a GoI notification as an attached office of the Planning Commission without any discussion or debate in the Parliament or civil society. In the year and a half of its inception, the Authority has signed MoUs with virtually all states and UTs, LIC, Petroleum Ministry and many banks. In July, the Authority circulated the draft NIA Bill (to achieve statutory status); the window for public feedback was two weeks. Despite widespread feedback and calls for making all feedback public, the Authority has not made feedback available. Further in direct contravention to the process of public feedback, the NIA Bill was listed for introduction in the Lok Sabha 2010 monsoon session
• Privacy (It is only now that the DoPT is said to be working on a draft of a privacy law, but nothing is out for discussion even yet)
• Surveillance: where this technology, and the existence of the UID number, and its working, could result in increasing the potential for surveillance
• Profiling
• Tracking
• 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 newly-elected British government. 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?

In the late nineties, the Supreme Court of Philippines struck down the President’s Executive Order A.O 308 which instituted a biometric based national ID system calling it unconstitutional on two grounds – the overreach of the executive over the legislative powers of the congress and invasion of privacy. The same is applicable in India – UIDAI has been constituted on the basis of a GoI notification and there is a fundamental risk to civil liberties with the convergence of UID, National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID), National Population Register, National DNA Database etc.

The UIDAI is still at the stage of conducting pilot studies. The biometric pilot study has reportedly already thrown up problems especially among the poor whose fingerprints are not stable, and whose iris scans suffer from malnourishment related cataract and among whom the incidence of corneal scars is often found. The project is clearly still in its inception. The project should be halted before it goes any further and the prelude to the project be attended to, the public informed and consulted, and the wisdom of the project determined. The Draft Bill too needs to be publicly debated. This is a project that could change the status of the people in this country, with effects on our security and constitutional rights, and a consideration of all aspects of the project should be undertaken with this in mind.

Unmindful of massive opposition by citizens, the Union Cabinet cleared the introduction of the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010 in Parliament on 24th September. This happened in a tearing hurry even as the NAC was examining the UID proposal. This was uncalled for and it provides robust grounds for scrutiny.

Not only that fearing the outcome of the NAC deliberations and its inferences, Nandan Nilekani avoided NAC to escape having to answer the questions about UID on 30th August, 2010. It appears that the chairperson of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has roped in Prime Minister to help him wriggle out by launching UID on 29th September in Maharashtra in order to present a fait accompli of sort to the NAC. In such circumstances, it is indeed a relief to know that the NAC is opposed to UID//Aadhar project.

It is quite sad that both the Cabinet Committee on UIDAI Authority and PM’s Council are in such a great awe of a regressive idea that so far it has failed to examine the reasons of governments of US, Australia and UK to scrap similar projects. So much so that even as the Bill will be introduced in the Indian Parliament, the British Parliament will be scrapping it because the democratic mandate of UK citizens and all the democracies is against such an invasive project.

One Noble Prize winner too has underlined how it raises questions of personal liberty. Other world renowned social scientists have termed it as akin to allotting “prisoner numbers” to citizens. This is quite worrisome that in such a context our political leaders in general are so frozen in their passivity that they are not reaching out to sincerely address and respond to the gnawing concerns about a project that have fascist roots.

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) reminds one of what happened from the period preceding Adolf Hitler's arrival to January 1933 when he occupied power, to Second World War and since then and International Business Machines (IBM)’s role with its punch card and card sorting technology. The way UID project is being bulldozed in the name of PDS, Education, Public Health, NREGA and now migrant workers is highly dubious.

Unique Identity (UID) Number is a rare project which has unleashed the concept of massively organised information as means of social control, a weapon of war, and for the victimisation of ethnic groups, minorities and political adversaries. It appears that Nilekani, the co-founder and former chief executive of Infosys Technologies Ltd, India's second largest software company, has misled the key functionaries of Government of India into believing that he is deeply concerned about reaching the poorest of the poor with a 16-digit card (4 numbers are hidden?) to liberate them from poverty.

This proposed UID legislation authorizes the creation of a centralized database of unique identification numbers that will be issued to every resident of India but has failed to provide for provisions that precludes abuse of such a database for invading citizens’ rights to privacy and freedom of choice by national and transnational corporations like Vedanta and IBM. The legislation poses one of gravest threat imaginable as far as citizens’ right is concerned. It will damage citizens’ sovereignty beyond repair and has the potential to cause holocaust like situation in future through profiling of minorities, political opponents and ethnic groups.

UID/Aadhar project gives a sense of déjà vu. It is the same path which IBM (International Business Machines), the world's largest technology company and the second most valuable global brand traversed for targeted asset confiscation, ghettoisation, deportation, and ultimately extermination with its punch card and card sorting system -- a precursor to the computer – that made the automation of human destruction possible. This is a matter of historical fact and not an opinion. Indeed in the words of historian Benedetto Croce, "All history is contemporary history" and the lessons from history present a compelling reason against the UID/Aadhar project.

Therefore, we support the statement of eminent citizens asking 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 : benefit analysis be done

• A public, informed debate be conducted before any such major change be brought in.

We urge you to recommend and encourage the government to abandon the UID/Aadhar project like the governments of UK, Australia and US have done to safeguard and honour the non-negotiable rights of citizens.


Yours Sincerely
Gopal Krishna
Member
Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL)
New Delhi
Mb: 9818089660
E-mail: krishna2777@gmail.com

Cc
Members of the Parliamentary Petitions Committee
1 Shri Anant Gangaram Geete
2 Shri Rajendra Agrawal
3 Shri Khiladi Lal Bairwa
4 Shri E. T. Mohammed Basheer
5 Shri N.S.V.Chitthan
6 Shri Gurudas Dasgupta
7 Shri Dip Gogoi
8 Shri Devendra Nagpal
9 Shri Jagdambika Pal
10 Prof. Ram Shankar
11 Shri Sathyanarayana Sarvey
12 Shri Rakesh Singh
13 Dr. Sanjay Sinh
14 Shri Kabir Suman
15 Shri Joseph Toppo

Shri Basudev Acharya, Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha

Shri Satish Chandra Misra,Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha

Smt Shobhana Bhartia, Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha

H K Dua, Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha

Shri Jabir Husain, Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha

Smt. Brinda Karat,Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha

Shri K.E. Ismail, Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha

Shri Lalhming Liana, Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha

Shri O.T. Lepcha, Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha

Dr. Chandan Mitra, Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha

Shri M. Rajasekara Murthy, Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha

Dr. Barun Mukherji, Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha

Prof. Ram Gopal Yadav, Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha

Mohammad Amin, Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha

Shri Ram Vilas Paswan, Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha

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