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Aadhar cut down to size, data mining projects raise concerns: Yatish Yadav

Written By Gopal Krishna on Monday, September 30, 2013 | 6:08 AM

Published: 29th Sep 2013 09:31:33 AM, The New Indian Express
After the Supreme Court ruling that the Aadhaar card issued by Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is not mandatory to receive essential government services, the fate of UPA government’s other ‘data mining’ projects through National Information Utilities (NIUs) hangs in balance.
It is no surprise that the recommendation to set up NIUs for five projects—Goods and Services Tax, Tax Information Network, Expenditure Information Network, National Treasury Management Agency and New Pension System to collect and store taxpayer’s data with private companies for centralised tax collection and registration came from a committee, Technology Advisory Group for Unique Projects (TAG-UP), headed by UIDAI chairman Nandan Nilekani. These NIUs will be constituted as private companies with taxpayer’s money. Surprisingly, they will not only collect and store your personal information but also levy user charges if you want to avail its services in future.
The committee in 2011 had recommended that private ownership within NIUs should be at least 51 per cent and government—Centre and state’s—role would become that of a paying customer with each having 24.5 per cent ownership in the company.According to a secret cabinet note, government has already approved Rs 315 crore to set up just one company to collect Goods and Services Tax data. The move was opposed by the Department of Expenditure saying it would be wrong if controlling stake of 51 per cent is held by private companies without any substantial investment.
The government was told by the Nilekani-headed TAG-UP committee that decentralisation of government function by introducing such information technology projects will bring efficiency in governance and it will increase tax collection. The objection of DoE was overruled by the UPA government justifying the arrangement for a larger goal of bringing independence, flexibility and professional environment through private companies.
According to the plan, entire individual data—direct and indirect taxes—including registration, return and payment by taxpayers will be in custody of private company that will operate from Delhi and Mumbai. Independent law researcher Usha Ramnathan said turning public data into a private entity is a serious issue connected with the privacy of individual.  “It is a complete highway robbery. In fact, UIDAI was model to establish NIUs where all government data should be handed over to private companies. If you hand over the complete data of public without creating a capacity within the government, the entire system would collapse if tomorrow court rules against it,” said Ramanathan.
With the creation of NIUs, these projects will ensure that entire population, even non-taxpayers or those exempted from paying taxes by the government are carefully tagged like UIDAI.  The secret cabinet note reveals that in some states where tribal population is exempted from tax, an idea of issuing dummy PAN card was suggested to mark the entire state population.
“The representative of Sikkim indicated that in Sikkim no income tax is payable for Scheduled Tribe and therefore they do not have PAN numbers. It was clarified by Dr Nandan Nilekani that for Sikkim and some other north-eastern states dummy PAN numbers can be issued,” note said. 
Gopal Krishna of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties said all the projects related to UIDAI which were launched to collect and store personal data raises serious security concerns as they are untested, unreliable and based on unsafe technology.
“All the committee reports headed by Nandan Nilekani will be adversely affected by SC order. The UIDAI intention of making it mandatory was exposed as they cannot by force collect biometric of an individual. This tagging of people and handing over public data to private company is a dangerous trend which was even abandoned by the developed nations including US and UK,” Krishna said.
However, a government official on the condition of anonymity said issues of privacy and security concerns about private companies are unfounded as government will have strategic control of the NIUs through special resolution and composition of board.
“It will have a robust IT infrastructure and security system to protect the information,” the official said.
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