UID//Aadhaar Scheme is Against Civil Liberties
Shri Oscar Fernandes
Chairperson & Members
Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resources
Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resources
Subject-UID//Aadhaar Scheme is Against Civil Liberties
This is with reference to the memorandum of understanding (MoU) between Ministry of Human Resource Development and the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) on 27 October, 2010.
Given grave concerns voiced by eminent citizens and experts with impeccable records, we express our opposition to the signing of MoU between Ministry of Human Resource Development and the UIDAI. The MoU is aimed at tracking student's mobility by creating an electronic registry of all students, right from primary and elementary level to secondary and higher education. The fact that this would entail iris scanning for children aged between 5 and 15, while finger print marks would be added subsequently is highly invasive for it is act of profiling them even before their age of consent. This and the proposal to imprint UID number on performance records of individual students is a gross form of surveillance and constitute violation of their human rights of children and students.
The 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.
We wish to draw your attention towards the far-reaching consequences of the structural basis being laid out for future authoritarianism by providing a unique identification (UID) number to all the Indian citizens and even to residents in India.
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. Notably, social security numbers (SSN) were tattooed on US citizens before (first SSNs were issued in 1935) tattoos were used in Germany under the Nazi Party that facilitated the holocaust. The US numbering program was known as the “social security” program. The Unique Identity Number (UID) project in India is being promoted under the e-governance program. The German Nazi Party’s tattoo program was operated by the social security division which had learnt it from US. Notably, social security numbers (SSN) were tattooed on US citizens before (first SSNs were issued in 1935) tattoos were used in Germany under the Nazi Party. The US numbering program was known as the “social security” program, or SS program. The Unique Identity Number (UID) project in India is being promoted under the e-governance program. The German Nazi Party’s tattoo program was operated by the social security (SS) division which had learnt it from US. In fact, the infamous Auschwitz tattoo began as a number provided by IBM (International Business machines), a US multinational computer company. IBM now claims that it had no control over its subsidiaries in Germany after the Nazis took control of them. What if a similar situation emerged in India which is not unlikely after UID database is ready?
The National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010 and the Unique Identity Number/Aadhaar is a blatant attack on democratic rights of citizens and natural resources. The Bill is expected to be introduced in the current session of the Parliament. 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.
The Unique Identity Number (UID) /Aadhaar 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.
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.
Besides pre-existing voter Identity card, Election Commission of India recognizes fourteen alternative documents as proof of identity. (The list of fourteen alternative documents available: http://ceobihar.nic.in/14%20Alternative%20Documents.pdf)
Citizens are not so gullible. They can see through the non-existence of any compelling and sane logic for 16th document as an identity proof. Aren't these pre-existing 15 identity proofs (based on which government claims its legitimacy after democratic election) sufficient!
The UID scheme is an opposite of Right to Information. The latter makes the government transparent before their masters, the citizens. The former makes the citizens transparent before their servant, the government. It is a fascist plan.
The fact is becoming clearer that UID scheme is a naked declaration of war on civil liberties and natural resources like land and water. It is noteworthy that before launching UID idea, Nandan Nilekani got India Water Portal launched. Civil liberties and natural resources like land and water will undergo massive commodification due to UID for it promotes property based democracy and holds progressive constitutional amendments in the preamble and on abolition of right to property regressive. He finds rights of citizens an impediment to blind industrial development because industrial development in the West happened in the absence of citizenship rights.
Amidst evident rampant corruption in corporate media starkly revealed in the matter of 2 G Spectrum scam and their earlier endorsements of likes of Ramalinga Raju of notorious for Satyam scam, the current endorsements by news channels and newspapers of UID scheme is highly suspect. The fact that they are reposing blind faith and persuading citizens too to do the same in a system that engineered 1947 riots, 1984 genocide, 2002 genocide and have unleashed chemical warfare on our natural system akin to ecological terrorism is quite touching!
The same system reveals its shady colours when the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance recommends in its report on the proposed Companies Bill to replace Companies Act 1956 that the maximum percentage for the political contributions per year by the companies be raised from 5 per cent 7.5 per cent of average net profits during the three immediately preceding financial years. Will such corporate funding of political parties serve their funders or the citizens of the country? This is contrary to the recommendations of the multi-party parliamentary committee under the chairmanship of Indrajit Gupta that had looked into the question of state funding of elections.
As election campaigns required huge amounts of money and the costs of routine political activity between elections are also substantial, political parties have become overly dependent on private contributions, often acquired through questionable means and usually on the basis of a quid pro quo. Business houses and entrepreneurs contribute funds to political parties and seek to influence government decisions through them. The Indrajit Gupta committee has said that the Government and Parliament should decide whether there should be any ban on donations by companies and corporate bodies for political purpose. UID idea is a result of un-accounted funding from private sources and Government and Parliament’s indecision on banning corporate funding of political parties. Eternal vigilance is required for citizens’ liberty to be safeguarded.
Information about citizens that is to be compiled as a database will be de-duplicated by technology firms like US company Accenture which has been selected by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). They will provide technology solutions to capture the fingerprints and iris scans (known as biometrics) of the country’s 1.2 billion people. Isn't sharing the citizens’ database with a US company a threat to national security?
Accenture has said that under the terms of this initial contract, which will run up to two years or until 200 million enrollments (whichever comes first), it will build a new system to help manage identity-related de-duplication and verification requests from both public and private organisations. Accenture will also assist UIDAI in performance benchmarking and management of data quality for continuous improvement of the biometric solution, in addition to operating and maintaining the system.
If sale of citizens’ data which is revenue information is acceptable and it indeed serves national interest, will someone reveal what constitutes the unacceptable and non-negotiable as far as citizens’ rights and citizen based national sovereignty is concerned?
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' in his book Imagining India authored 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 and eminent jurists like Usha Ramnathan 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
• 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.
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.
Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL)
Members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resources
1 Shri Oscar Fernandes Chairman Rajya Sabha
2 Dr. K. Keshava Rao Member Rajya Sabha
3 Smt. Kanimozhi Member Rajya Sabha
4 Shri N. Balaganga Member Rajya Sabha
5 Shri Prakash Javadekar Member Rajya Sabha
6 Dr. Janardhan Waghmare Member Rajya Sabha
7 Shri N. K. Singh Member Rajya Sabha
8 Shri Pramod Kureel Member Rajya Sabha
9 Shri M. Rama Jois Member Rajya Sabha
10 Smt. Mohsina Kidwai Member Rajya Sabha
11 Capt. Jainarain Prasad Nishad Member Lok Sabha
12 Shri Sis Ram Ola Member Lok Sabha
13 Shri Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh Member Lok Sabha
14 Shri P.C. Gaddigoudar Member Lok Sabha
15 Shri Madhu Goud Yaskhi Member Lok Sabha
16 Shri Suresh Chanabasappa Angadi Member Lok Sabha
17 Shri Rahul Gandhi Member Lok Sabha
18 Shri P. K. Biju Member Lok Sabha
19 Helen Davidson J Member Lok Sabha
20 Shri Prasanta Kumar Majumdar Member Lok Sabha
21 Dr. Vinay Kumar Pandey Member Lok Sabha
22 Shri Tapas Paul Member Lok Sabha
23 Shri Ashok Tanwar Member Lok Sabha
24 Shri Joseph Toppo Member Lok Sabha
25 Shri P. Viswanathan Member Lok Sabha
26 Shri Deepender Singh Hooda Member Lok Sabha
27 Shri P. Kumar Member Lok Sabha
28 Shri Prataprao Ganpatrao Jadhav Member Lok Sabha
29 Shri Jeetendra Singh Bundela Member Lok Sabha
30 Shri Kirti Jha Azad Member Lok Sabha
31 Shri Suresh Kalmadi Member Lok Sabha