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Why Aadhaar Act must be scrapped? Part- X

Written By Gopal Krishna on Tuesday, July 17, 2018 | 3:01 AM


 "If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking”
                                                           -- George Patton, US General during World War II

Automatic identification technologies based on digitalization of human biology is having a disruptive impact on human civilization and democratic rights. Can Supreme Court’s application of judicial mind save Indians from them?

A letter of Cabinet Secretary, Government of India dated July 18, 2012 sent to all the Secretaries stated “There is an urgent need to bring rich data assets into the public domain for the use by civil society for scientific, economic and developmental purposes” in view of the adoption of National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP).

Such “rich data assets” found mention in an interview by Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks who informed Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf about the grave act of omission and commission saying, “we discovered a cable in 2009 from the Islamabad Embassy. Prime Minister Gilani and Interior Minister Malik went into the embassy and offered to share NADRA – and NADRA is the national data and registration agency database. The system is currently connected through passport data but the government of Pakistan is adding voice and facial recognition capability and has installed a pilot biometric system as the Chennai border crossing, where 30,000 to 35,000 people cross each day. This NADRA system, that is the voting record system for all voters in Pakistan, and a front company was set up in the United Kingdom – International Identity Services, which was hired as the consultants for NADRA to squirrel out the NADRA data for all of Pakistan. What do you think about that? Is that a…? It seems to me that that is a theft of some national treasure of Pakistan, the entire Pakistani database registry of its people.” The interview is available at http://worldtomorrow.wikileaks.org/episode-10.html. It is noteworthy that UID/Aadhaar is similar to Pakistan’s identity card which has been implemented by National Database Registration Authority (NADRA), Ministry of Interior, Government of Pakistan and their database has been handed over to US Government. Has NADRA been made accountable for this theft of national treasure of Pakistan? 

There is a lesson for India in it. Will Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) be made accountable if “rich data assets” are stolen or sold? Has anyone been made accountable till date?

In an interview to James Manyika, a director in McKinsey’s San Francisco office, Eric Schmidt, Google executive chairman explored the phenomenon of technological disruption, which is likely to have the greatest impact on economies, business models, and people. This interview was conducted in February 2013. Eric corroborated what has been apprehended all along that “There are now firms and foundations building databases of DNA to use, to move to a model of individual diagnosis of disease, where you literally just press a button, the sequences occur, and it tells you what’s wrong. So the use of analytical tools in a historically analog world is a very big change.” He prophetically states that we are entering into a situation where the computer knows, “Well, we kind of know what you care about.”

UIDAI's database has been compiling and accessing all the personal sensitive information about residents of India. In such a backdrop, the observation of Eric Schmidt (Chairman of Google from 2001 to 2015 and Alphabet Inc. from 2015 to 2017) assumes huge significance. He said, “We’re going, in a single lifetime, from a small elite having access to information to essentially everyone in the world having access to all of the world’s information. That has huge implications for privacy, communications, security, the way people behave, the way information is spread, censorship, how governments behave, and so forth.” UIDAI's database has been designed as an online database from the very outset. 

Eric underlined the existing situation of “a small elite having access to information”. He made a prophesy that we are amidst a technological era which is going to create a situation wherein “essentially everyone in the world having access to all of the world’s information.”  This prophesy hides an essential pre-condition to the possible access to “all of the world’s information”. The pre-condition is purchasing capacity.  

To reveal the true colours of such sophistry, paraphrasing George Orwell’s contention from Animal Farm in this context would not be inappropriate. All men did not have access to all the information in the past. But all men will soon have access to all the information if they can afford it. Essentially, all men are equal in the digital world if they can afford equality. 

In the second part of his statement, the Eric is telling Manyika that when all the people in the world will have all the information then it have “implications for privacy, communications, security, the way people behave, the way information is spread, censorship, how governments behave, and so forth”

Even if one takes this part of his statement on its face value, the core issue is that whenever either “a small elite” has access to information or all the people who can afford to have access to information there are implications for privacy, communications, security, human behavior, information dissemination, censorship and governments’.

Eric will have us believe that when the analog world of biology—how genes work, how diseases work is put in a digital framework, calculate for a while, do some machine learning on how things happen, these seemingly disruptive technologies will be able to make one become a better human being and predict what’s going to happen to human beings in terms of health etc.

While States and citizens are concerned about their rights and are resisting efforts to turn them into subjects of centralized powers through their opposition to National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), the emergence of a regressive convergence economy based on databases and unregulated surveillance, biometric and electoral technologies remains largely unnoticed and unchallenged. Political clout of technology based companies seems to be creating a property based rights regime through financial surveillance making national boundaries redundant. But surprisingly, non Congress governments in States and at the centre are acting like unthinking obedient boys.

If one takes cognizance of the claim that “UID (Unique Identification) system is a civilian application of biometrics”[1] and compares it with current practices, one finds that such a claim is quite misplaced. In the report there is reference to a Study commissioned by the US Department of Homeland Security to International Biometrics Group.[2] Is it too difficult to comprehend the implications of the “civilian application” of a military tool? 

In our country, it is rarely noticed as to when the concept of massively organized information quietly emerged to become a means of social control, a weapon of war, and for the victimization of ethnic groups.      

As per the Office Memorandum dated September 29, 2009, “The main objective is to improve benefits service delivery, especially to the poor and the marginalized sections of the society. To deliver its mandate, the UID Authority proposes to create a platform to first collect the identity details and then to perform authentication that can be used by several government and private service providers.”[3] This finds its echo in Section 57 of Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 which reads: "Act not to prevent use of Aadhaar number for other purposes under law", permitting its use by the State or any private body corporate or person.




The reference to “private service providers” is inexplicable for the work is meant to be an exercise for public purpose and for the poor and the marginalized. The promise of service delivery to the poor and the marginalized hides how it will enable access to profit for the IT industry and the biometrics industry. Such claims are quite insincere, misleading and factually incorrect. It reminds one of the pledges in the preamble of the Constitution of India; it will have us believe that UID Authority would fulfill the constitutional promise of economic equality. Such objectives are bad sophistry at best. All the residents of India who have been made to share their demographic and biometric data are victims of breach of trust by the beneficial owner of UIDAI. This entity has been causing deep suffering and agony among the residents. It has become a cause of deprivations and death. Its proponents continue to sing its praise because they are paid to do so.     

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UIDAI's Committee on Biometrics asserts unequivocally that “Biometrics data are national assets and must be preserved in their original quality.”[4] It is noteworthy that the Cabinet Secretary referred to “rich data assets” and Government’s Committee on Biometrics refers to database of citizens’ biometric data as “national assets.” Despite such awareness such "rich data assets" are admittedly transferred to foreign firms and governments as per contract agreements. The Court alone cannot recognize that citizens’ rights are assets in themselves because their rights give legitimacy to the very existence of the state and the Government under the constitution.

The diminishing influence of democratic legislatures because of the financial might of the transnational technology companies which are donning myriad corporate veils in the face of the inability of the legislators to pierce them is making the law makers subservient to the will of corporate donors of dubious hues. Supreme Court’s 5-Judge Constitution Bench failure in grappling with these questions is likely to result in permanent subjugation of present and future generation of Indians by artificial persons using electronic and biometric memory bank.




[1] Biometrics Design Standards For UID Applications, Planning Commission, prepared by: Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) Committee on Biometrics, p. 9, Version 1.0, December 2009
[2] Study titled “Independent Testing of Iris Recognition Technology, Final Report, May 2005” referred in the report of the Biometrics Design Standards For UID Applications, Planning Commission, prepared by: Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) Committee on Biometrics, p. 56, Version 1.0, December 2009
[3] Biometrics Design Standards For UID Applications, Planning Commission, prepared by: Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) Committee on Biometrics, p. 25, Version 1.0, December 2009
[4] Biometrics Design Standards For UID Applications, Planning Commission, prepared by: Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) Committee on Biometrics, p. 5, Version 1.0, December 2009


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