Legislatures fail to save citizens from their biometric profiling by World Bank Group and its partners
International Financial Institutions (IFIs) making Parliament subservient to it
New Delhi: Drawing the attention towards the April 13, 2013 report of International Monetary Fund (IMF) titled 'Regional Economic Outlook, Asia and Pacific - Shifting Risks, New Foundations for Growth' as part of World Economic and Financial Surveys, which endorses illegitimate and illegal biometric identification system, in connection with the ongoing subsidy reform”, Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL) has written to Chairman, Rajya Sabha, Speaker, Lok Sabha, Chairman, Public Accounts Committee, Chairman, Parliamentary Committee on Finance and Chairman, Parliamentary Committee on Subordinate Legislation alerting them about the way in which international financial institutions are making the Parliament and the citizens subservient to it. The letter date May 22 May, 2013 is attached.
What institutions of World Bank Group are doing is in total disregard and contempt towards the recommendations of our Parliamentary Committee on Finance in its report of December 13, 2011 to both the Houses of the Parliament rejected the biometric identification project. The April issue of IFI Monitor carries a report on biometric profiling the World Bank Grpupd. The issue is attached.
The reports claims how “India has also been rapidly expanding its biometric Uniform Identification system (aadhaar), which will establish an accurate and paperless means of identifying all Indians by 2014. This program will also present large opportunities for savings. A nationally uniform, biometric database would cut down on leakages from outdated biographical information, ghost identification, double registration, and other losses, which have been estimated in the range of 15–20 per cent of total spending.”
It is disregarding how our Parliamentary Committee on Finance has questioned the mandate of subordinate legislation which is being exercised by the government with regard to collection of biometric data. A complaint of CFCL is pending with the Parliamentary Committee on Subordinate Legislation in this regard.
Underlining the convergence underway, the IMF report says, “… the total savings could be substantial: if the combination of direct cash transfer and aadhaar eliminates the estimated 15 per cent leakage cited above for the programs being integrated, savings could total ½ per cent of GDP in addition to the gains from the better targeting of spending on the poor.”
With regard to UID and related schemes there is a need for a feasibility study, a cost-benefit analysis, assessment of national security concerns, data theft, constitutionality of this project, including in the matter of privacy, the relationship between the state and the people, security and other fundamental rights of citizens. The Report of the London School of Economics “Report on UK’s Identity Project” inter-alia states that “.....identity systems may create a range of new and unforeseen problems......the risk of failure in the current proposals is therefore magnified to the point where the scheme should be regarded as a potential danger to the public interest and to the legal rights of individuals”. Even our Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance said, “As these findings are very much relevant and applicable to the UID scheme, they should have been seriously considered.”
It is clear that UIDAI has been set-up through an Undemocratic Process which has raised issues regarding Privacy, Surveillance, Profiling, Tracking and Convergence “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."
In view of these concerns, CFCL has urged these parliamentary authorities to recollect the origins and colonial use of biometric information during 1857 and stop the biometric based projects like UID/Adhaar as has been done in UK, Australia, France and China, to protect the constitutional and legal rights of citizens.
Such claims of savings are figments of IMF's imagination unless the total estimated budget of UID/Aadhaar project is disclosed. It is irrational for anyone to reach inference about benefits from any project without factoring in costs, but the World Bank Group is doing it and endorsing similar acts by UIDAI.
These claims must be examined by our Parliamentary Committee on Finance and Public Accounts Committee.
It is not surprising that having applauded both biometric identification and cash transfer, the World Bank Group President Shri Jim Yong Kim introduced the lecture of Shri Nandan Manohar Nilekani, the head of Aadhaar project and Planning Commission's Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) saying, “ This could possibly be the most important talk that happens this year here at the World Bank” Referring to the project he said, “This could potentially be the greatest poverty killer app. that we have ever seen. This is so important in so many ways. The implications strectch in so may areas. Could this be the biggest corruption killer? They already have 300 million people in India…This is a potential killer…poverty killer app that’s moving lke wildfire and its gonna have so many implications. We need to be involved in this. Tell your people, friends, I am going to ask everybody in the Bank, how are we interfacing with Nandan Nilekani and his project.” He added that in his meeting with finance ministers of different countries he learnt that most of them didn’t know about Aadhaar project and the fact that its possible to use biometrics to register people. He informed that “Actually, I have already volunteered Nandan for service, I will give you the list of the countries later.”
As an afterthought Shri Jim admited that “There are issues” but referring to Nandan Nilekani, he claimed that “You guys have worked through human rights implications, privacy implications. They are complicated issues. I am not trying to simplify the task…”. This claim is totally misplaced.
Shri Jim remains oblivious of the note titled ‘NHRC's views on the NIAI Bill, 2010’ submitted by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), New Delhi “In response to a request from the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance which had sought its views on the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010”. The Commission underlined the “possibility of discrimination cannot be ruled out. Section 3(i) provides that every resident shall be entitled to obtain an Aadhar number, but does not say that it would be issued to all citizens. Since the Aadhar number is to be used and applied "for delivery of various benefits and services", a citizen who does not have one may be denied access to these, while a resident, who may not be a citizen, would have access if he had obtained an Aadhar number.
It observed that the terms "biometric information" and "demographic information" have not been clearly defined. It stated that “The possibility of tampering with stored biometric information cannot be ruled out, though the Bill sets out the precautions envisaged”.
Such concerns made the Parliamentary Committee on Finance reject the biometric identification project. The project faces a legal challenge in the Supreme Court through petition by filed by a former judge of the Karnataka High Court. Shri Jim feigns ignorance about these facts. This petition relies on the questions raised by Justice Rama Jois, Member of Parliament.
Shri Jim went to suggest that “we got to fund (find?) these kinds of things, these kinds of brilliant innovations that could leapfrog generations of bad practice. ..wouldn’t it be extraordinary if countries all over the world can get this kind of system..if this program can help us track the money as well as we think it can. This could be a potential solution that wil have profound impact..to end poverty by 2030.” Shri Jim made these observation in his opening remarks at the Bank's Development Economics Lecture series on April 24, 2013 in Washington where Nandan Nilekani, ex-chairman, Infosys Technologies spoke about the Aadhaar unique system for the biometric identification of Indian residents. .
Incidentally, on the December 4, 2009, the then WB Chief Robert B. Zoellick had met the Chairman of the UIDAI. What remains undisclosed in the public domain is the rationale behind this meeting.
On UID Number, the Approach Paper on Privacy Bill stated, “Data privacy and the need to protect personal information is almost never a concern when data is stored in a decentralized manner. Data that is maintained in silos is largely useless outside that silo and consequently has a low likelihood of causing any damage. However, all this is likely to change with the implementation of the UID Project. One of the inevitable consequences of the UID Project will be that the UID Number will unify multiple databases. As more and more agencies of the government sign on to the UID Project, the UID Number will become the common thread that links all those databases together. Over time, private enterprise could also adopt the UID Number as an identifier for the purposes of the delivery of their services or even for enrolment as a customer.” The Approach Paper on Privacy Bill discloses, “Once this happens, the separation of data that currently exists between multiple databases will vanish.” This poses a threat to the identity of citizens and the idea of residents of the state as private persons will be forever abandoned.
It thus revealed that Shri Jim’s contention about implications for privacy is unfounded. It is not surprising that Leader of Opposition Shri Arun Jaitley has voiced concerns about entering into the Aadhaar era in an article dated April 17, 2013 published in Hindi, English, Urdu and Gujarati.
What is least talked about is that the E-identity and UID/aadhaar related projects are part of World Bank's eTransform Initiative formally launched on April 23, 2010 and Interpol's e-identity database project. This along with the then Union Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee's announcement in January 2011 for voluntarily seeking fullfledged Financial Sector Assessment Programme by IMF and the World Bank merits attention of the legislatures. In April, 2010 L-1 Identity Solutions Inc. (which has now been purchased by biometric technology company Safran group), a French corporation signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the World Bank as part of the launch of the initiative at a World Bank Spring Meeting event attended by many developing country Ministers of Finance and Communications. It claimed that this collaborative relationship with the World Bank is meant to improve the way governments in developing countries deliver services to citizens as part of the launch of the World Bank eTransform Initiative (ETI).
The World Bank's ETI seeks to leverage Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to build a knowledge sharing network that helps governments of developing nations to leverage the best practices of practitioners like L-1 and others to improve the delivery of social and economic services. The knowledge sharing network will focus on areas such as electronic Identification (eID), e-Procurement, e-Health and e-Education; areas vital to promoting the participation of citizens in democratic processes, such as voting, and helping undocumented citizens get access to health and welfare programmes. The World Bank is currently funding 14 projects related to e-government and e-ID around the world. Are citizens supposed to believe that the World Bank Group is working to ensure that India's national interest and its citizens' rights are protected? "The speed and precision with which developing countries administer services is dependent upon many factors, not the least of which is the ability to verify the identities of those receiving services," said Mohsen Khalil, Director of the World Bank's Global Information and Communication Technologies Department in a statement. "L-1 brings valuable expertise in identity management to the initiative's knowledge network. Together with L-1 and other vendors, we look forward to building systems that better administer critical government services and reduce identity-related fraud that can dramatically increase costs of social and economic programmes and prevent aid from getting to those who need it most."
In effect, it is a case biometric profiling by the IFIs who have vested interest in surveillance of financial transactions. So far central and state legislators have failed to bring World Bank Group and other international financial institutions (IFIs) under legislative oversight.
Therefore, a situation is emerging where if the pre-existing databases like electoral database, census and other databases which are under preparation are converged, these unaccountable and undemocratic financial institutions will never come under parliamentary scrutiny. Taking cognizance of this situation, we urge you to intervene sooner rather than later to ensure that the IFIs do not make our legislatures subservient to their will and violate the fundamental rights and constitutional rights.
For Details: Gopal Krishna, Member, Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL)
New Delhi, E-mail: email@example.com, Mb: 9818089660