How is it that when heads of states are put under round the clock surveillance by colonial and imperial powers it is deemed an assault on national sovereignty but when a national government undertakes the same over their masters, the citizens, it becomes natural and rational.
A communication titled ‘Biometrics Stir the Pot in the UAE’ dated 22 November 2003, sent by some unidentified US official from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Group Destinations Arab Israeli Collective, Secretary of State, US and Dubai, UAE and to undecipherable location named ‘RUCNFSC CFSC SA COLLECTIVE’ merits attention. This communication was brought to light by Wikileaks. Its import can be appreciated only if its following text is read:
This reporting of UAE’s response to fingerprinting and retinal scans sounds like the reaction of different ministries of Government of India and Indian media, most of whom like their UAE’s counterparts did “accurate, informational stories.” But unlike the one official in UAE, who refused to be fingerprinted, in India, one did not learn about any civil servant who refused to enroll for biometric identification in the pronounced manner.
The communication further revealed that a foreign team installed fingerprinting collection devices on 23 October 2003 at the interview windows in conjunction with the consular section's routine computer upgrade schedule. After the installation, the consular section began collecting fingerprints from the required NIV applicants on 2 November 2003.
It is noteworthy that US embassy officials are reporting even the work of plumbers of fingerprint machines and installation of biometric devices to Secretary of State and their intelligence allies in Arab States, Israel and to undecodable locations. Do Indian officials, senior political leaders and concerned citizens realize its import?
It goes on report that following this briefing to media, on 6 November 2003, journalists published stories based on the information provided to them including “the implementation of fingerprinting solely based on routine maintenance schedules and mentioning Frankfurt, Brussels, San Salvador, and Guatemala City as the first Fingerprinting Posts.”
This cable from US embassy in UAE records that “public reaction to the initiation of fingerprinting of NIV applicants has been mixed. The UAE population is more disturbed by the prospect of fingerprinting than the UAE's majority TCN population. Consular staff have not received complaints from TCN applicants, who have their fingerprints taken for residence visas and IDs by federal and emirate-level governments. Certain TCNs are also subject to retinal scans at UAE airports.” The TCN population refers to Third-Country Nationals. A TCN is an employee who is not a citizen of the home or host countries.
A secret cable, which was created on 17 December 2009 and Wikileaked on the 23 April 2011 revealed that like in UAE, the US’ State Department is deeply curious about UID, India's biometric data based identification program. It asked its embassy in India to provide information about the progress or status of the Indian biometric ID card's development and deployment and wished to know “India's strategic plan for utilizing biometric ID card technology in the military, law enforcement, and private sectors.”
It sought to know as to which government agencies will be responsible for overseeing the implementation of the national ID card biometric collection strategy, how do authorities plan to utilise the biometric ID card at India's borders, ports, and airports, which foreign countries and/or corporations are assisting in the development of the ID card, which biometric systems (i.e. fingerprints, facial recognition, iris scan, etc.) will be incorporated into the card, what prompted development of the ID card, which company is providing the biometric collection devices, storage, and matching database equipment, which organizations/agencies within India will have access to information gathered by the biometric ID card collection devices, what systems, databases, or portals will the named biometric ID card collection devices in India communicate with, will the ID card be accepted for passport applications, what types of anti-fraud measures do Indian authorities plan to incorporate in the issuance process and what security features are planned for the ID card, will the card be International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) compliant and will it use any encryption and any efforts to "spoof" or defeat biometric enrollment, such as fingerprint alteration.
With regard to the National Smart Card Identification System, the wikileaked cables reveal that “Joint Secretary (Telecom) JS Deepak told Econoffs that the first meeting between Additional Secretary of Department of Telecom Subodh Kumar, Nandan Nilekani, chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and founder of Infosys, and Indian telecom service providers was held on 24th September to discuss the roll-out of the unique identification (UID) program. Earlier this year, the GoI set up the UIDAI to implement a Unique Identification card project, which will own the database of residents along with their biometric information….Joint Secretary Deepak noted that despite the inherent challenges posed by the massive scale of this program, the introduction of UID will transform the way Indians do business in the areas of Government-to-Citizen interaction. He said the ID would be useful for a multitude of purposes, including elections, taxation, national security, and banking. Deepak, a former USAID employee responsible for global social programs, was enthusiastic about the UID's potential to greatly reduce 'leakage' in government subsidies and benefit payments, including the NREGA program, and for its ability to also transform provision of education and healthcare.” Econoffs refers to US Embassy’s Economic Office. This communication was sent from New Delhi as part of its report for week of 21st to 24 September 2009. It is noteworthy that Deepak’s credential as former employee of United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has been mentioned. Earlier, Bolivia and Russia have expelled USAID from their countries. In Pakistan in protest against drone strike there Pakistani Punjab government has refused to accept US aid. Recently, Associated Press has revealed that USAID’s Chief Rajiv Shah who is reportedly considered a possible candidate for the post of US Ambassador to India supervised Cuban twitter like program- ‘ZunZuneo’-using front companies based in Cayman Islands and other places for cooking unrest there. Interestingly, the $1.6 million spent on it was channeled in the name of an unspecified project in Pakistan since 2009.
The role of Ministry of Telecom in conceptualizing or launching UID program under A Raja’s tenure as its minister merits examination.
In the book, Paper Citizens, its author Kamal Sadiq records, “In Ivory Coast, a national identity card scheme was central to a national politics that slid into civil war”. This issue became a major factor in the civil war given the fact that ruling party and opposition party held diametrically opposite views on documentary citizenship.