words mean so many different things.' 'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master—that’s all.'
According to Concise Oxford dictionary, surveillance means 'close observation, especially of a suspected person'. Wittingly or unwittingly the ruling parties in India are facilitating surveillance of the nation, citizens and the national assets by transnational actors—with impunity. Out of colossal ignorance, opposition parties are increasingly complicit in it.
If World Bank Group is not the master of language being used in the world economy then who else is? Is it the “financial Interpol” as well? The body which undertakes financial surveillance is a “financial Interpol” for sure. Now it is increasingly apparent that it aims to undertake "electoral surveillance" as well.
Ahead of next parliamentary elections, with the launch of 21st crore UID-Aadhaar Number and Aadhaar Enabled Service Delivery (AESD) on October 20, 2012 contemptuously ignores Parliament, Parliamentary Committee, National Advisory Council and eminent citizens and the lessons from the belated report from Planning Commission’s Group of Experts on Privacy dated October 16, 2012. What is evident is that there is an open war declared on sensitive personal information like biometric data which includes finger prints, iris scans, voice prints, DNA samples etc. The fact is a centralized electronic database of citizens and privacy, both are conceptually contradictory.
The launch exercise of October 20, 2012 stands exposed because it is officially admitting that UID-Aadhaar is mandatory contrary to what was claimed at its launch in Maharashtra on September 29, 2010. The creeping of voluntariness into compulsion through threat of discontinuance of services has been roundly castigated by Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) leader Yashwant Sinha headed Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance.
A revealing Policy Research Working Paper titled ‘Conditional Cash Transfers, Political Participation, and Voting Behavior’ brought out by World Bank in October 2012 “provides empirical evidence to support the notion that political participation and political views are responsive to targeted transfers.” It notes that in Colombia, “During the 2010 presidential election voters covered by FA (large scale conditional cash transfer) not only voted more often, but also expressed a stronger preference (around 2 percentage points) for the official party that implemented and expanded the program… Another possible explanation is that FA (large scale conditional ash transfer) was strategically targeted and motivated by clientelism and vote buying.”
On its website Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) continues to claim that UID-Aadhhar is ‘voluntary’ and not ‘mandatory’. The million dollar question which Sonia Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, P Chidambaram, Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Nandan Monohar Nilekani need to answer is: how can Aadhaar be deemed ‘voluntary’ if service delivery is being made dependent on it. This is a grave breach of public trust. This is a deliberate exercise in deception. The proposed ‘electronic transfers of benefits and entitlements’ through ‘Aadhaar-linked bank accounts of the beneficiaries’ is crafted to make it mandatory. The claim “Each Aadhaar number will be unique to an individual and will remain valid for life. Aadhaar number will help you provide access to services like banking, mobile phone connections and other Govt and Non-Govt services in due course” is fraught with creating a platform for convergence of government and corporate sector as is aimed by the ‘Transformational Government’ project of World Bank’s eTransform Initiative launched in partnership with Governments of South Korea and France and six transnational corporations like Gemalto, IBM, Intel, L-1 Identity Solutions (now part of Safran Group), Microsoft and Pfizer.
This scheme is unfolding despite the fact that Parliament has not passed the National Identification Authority of India Bill (NIAI), 2010 proposed by the Indian National Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. It is noteworthy that Sinha headed Parliamentary Committee in its report to the Parliament has rejected UID and biometric data collection terming it as an illegal and an unethical project.
Corroborating citizens’ concerns, the Parliamentary Committee has noted that the government has “admitted that (a) no committee has been constituted to study the financial implications of the UID scheme; and (b) comparative costs of the aadhaar number and various existing ID documents are also not available.” The Committee expressed its anxiety that, the way the project had been run, “the scheme may end up being dependent on private agencies, despite contractual agreement made by the UIDAI with several private vendors.”
The parliamentary rejection of this scheme came in the aftermath of the Statement of Concern issued in the matter of world's biggest data management project, Unique Identification (UID) /Aadhaar Number scheme and related proposals like National Intelligence Grid by 17 eminent citizens led by Justice V R Krishna Iyer. The NIAI Bill, 2010 which was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on December 3, 2010 after the constitution of the UIDAI and appointment of Nilekani as its Chairman in the rank and status of a Cabinet Minister without oath of secrecy. The Bill sought to provide statutory status to the UIDAI which has been functioning without backing of law since January 2009. At present UIDAI is functioning without any legislative mandate.
One day ahead of the launch of UID in Nandurbar District of Maharashtra on September 29, 2010, the statement of eminent citizens had asked for the project to be put on hold till a feasibility study was done, a cost: benefit analysis undertaken, a law of privacy put in place and the various concerns of surveillance, tracking, profiling, tagging and convergence of data be addressed. None of this has happened till today. The Parliamentary Committee had endorsed these concerns and recognised that the project cannot carry on till this is set right. Many countries UK, China, USA, Australia and the Philippines have abandoned such identity schemes.
Nilekani, as a member or chairperson of multiple committees of several ministries pushed for the adoption of the UID, and for the re-engineering of current systems to fit the does not meet the requirements of the UID. There have been attempts to withdraw services such as LPG and other essential commodities if a person has not enrolled for a UID. The state governments and citizens have been kept in dark about the harmful ramifications of the world's biggest data management project and how it linked with hitherto undisclosed other proposed legislations and initiatives. The UID number and related proposals pose a threat to both civil liberties as well as our natural resources like land as is evident from Land Titling Bill and Nilekani’s book that aims to create a common land market to reduce poverty.
Nilekani's promotion of Hernando de Sotto's book 'The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else' through his own book Imagining India arguing 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! Nilekani and the UPA government should be asked as to explain the inexplicability of such assumptions.
Notably, such UIDs have been abandoned in the US, Australia and UK. The reasons have predominantly been: costs and privacy. 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’. The Supreme Court of Philippines struck down a biometric based national ID system as 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.
Not surprisingly, the Parliamentary Committee observes, “The clearance of the Ministry of Law & Justice for issuing aadhaar numbers, pending passing the Bill by Parliament, on the ground that powers of the Executive are co-extensive with the legislative power of the Government and that the Government is not debarred from exercising its Executive power in the areas which are not regulated by the legislation does not satisfy the Committee. The Committee are constrained to point out that in the instant case, since the law making is underway with the bill being pending, any executive action is as unethical and violative of Parliament's prerogatives.” The committee also observed that a National Data Protection Law is “a pre-requisite for any law that deals with large scale collection of information from individuals and its linkages across separate databases. It would be difficult to deal with the issues like access and misuse of personal information, surveillance, profiling, linking and matching of data bases and securing confidentiality of information etc.“
In a significant development following rigorous deliberations, an Indian development support organization founded in 1960, Indo-Global Social Service Society (IGSSS) disassociated itself from UID Number project which was being undertaken under Mission Convergence in Delhi. Withdrawal of IGSSS that works in 21 states of the country merits the attention of all the states and civil society organisations especially those who are unwittingly involved in the UID Number enrollment process. In its withdrawal letter IGSSS said, “we will not be able to continue to do UID enrolment…” It added, it is taking step because ‘it's hosted under the rubric of UNDP's "Innovation Support for Social Protection: Institutionalizing Conditional Cash Transfers" [Award ID: 00049804, Project: 00061073; Confer: Output 1, Target 1.2 (a) & Output 3 (a), (b)]. In fact we had no clue of this until recently when we searched the web and got this information.’
It is clear that both Mission Convergence and UIDAI have been hiding these crucial facts with ulterior motives. The letter reads, “IGSSS like many other leading civil society groups and individuals are opposed to conditional cash transfers and the UID will be used to dictate it.”
The Parliamentary Standing Committee considered the NIAI Bill, 2010 presented its report to the Parliament on December 13, 2011. The report had rejected biometric data based identification of Indians. The report is a severe indictment of the hasty and `directionless' project which has been "conceptualised with no clarity of purpose". Even the functional basis of the Unique Identification Authority of India UIDAI is unclear and yet the project has been rolled out. The Standing Committee found the biometric technology `uncertain' and 'untested'. As early as December 2009, the Biometric Data Committee had found that the error rate using fingerprints was inordinately high. In a recent interview to the press, the Director General and Mission Director of the UIDAI had admitted that fingerprints are likely not to work for authentication. The error rate could end up excluding up to 15% of the population. It has also come to light that even iris scan keeps changing and is unreliable. Yet, the ruling parties have gone ahead with the exercise.
Besides influencing the voter preference, once the Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR) is ready, it will emerge as a potential threat to minority communities of all sorts by some regime which finds them unsuitable for their political projects.
So far the entire political class has remained insensitive to the decision of the European Court of Human Rights about violation of the right to privacy and citizens’ rights. The case was heard publicly on February 27, 2008, and the unanimous decision of 17 judges was delivered on December 4, 2008. The court found that the “blanket and indiscriminate nature” of the power of retention of the fingerprints, cellular samples, and DNA profiles of persons suspected but not convicted of offenses, failed to strike a fair balance between competing public and private interests and ruled that the United Kingdom had “overstepped any acceptable margin of appreciation” in this regard. The decision is nonappealable.
Unmindful of this, in India, National databank of biometric data is unfolding which is proposed to be linked to electoral database amidst the political myopia of political parties in the face of the onslaught of the foreign biometric and surveillance technology companies. The only saving grace has been Parliamentary Standing Committee that has taken on board studies done in the UK on the identity scheme that was begun and later withdrawn in May 2010, where the problems were identified to include "(a) huge cost involved and possible cost overruns; (b) too complex;(c) untested, unreliable and unsafe technology; (d) possibility of risk to the safety and security of citizens; and (e) requirement of high standard security measures, which would result in escalating the estimated operational costs."
It may be recalled that S.Y. Quraishi, the previous Chief Election Commissioner had sent a dangerous proposal to Union Ministry of Home Affairs asking it “to merge the Election ID cards with UID”. Such an exercise would mean rewriting and engineering the electoral ecosystem with the unconstitutional and illegal use of biometric technology in a context where electoral finance has become source of corruption and black money in the country. This would lead to linking of UID, Election ID and Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) which is not as innocent and as politically neutral as it has been made out to be. It is noteworthy that all EVMs have a UID as well. In the meanwhile, it is reliably learnt that voter registration in Manipur is happening using biometric data. This makes a mockery of the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on UID which notes that “The collection of biometric information and its linkage with personal information of individuals without amendment to the Citizenship Act, 1955 as well as the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules, 2003, appears to be beyond the scope of subordinate legislation, which needs to be examined in detail by Parliament”.
Opposition parties at the centre and in the States appear to be feigning ignorance about these attempts at re-plumbing the electoral ecosystem and a complicit section of civil society seems guilty of practicing ‘the economics of innocent fraud’.
The results of the October 2012 World Bank paper reveals that “voters respond to targeted transfers and that these transfers can foster support for incumbents”. The UID-Aadhaar and unified payment infrastructure proposed is an act in designing political mechanisms to capture pre-existing schemes for political patronage in spite of the absence of ‘legislative mechanisms’. It is apparent that political parties have been caught unawares into implementing the program which is designed to their political disadvantage.
Unless the total estimated budget of the Aadhaar project is revealed, all claims of benefits are suspect and untrustworthy.
At the Global Conference on Cyber Space, Prime Minister said, “I am sure most of you are already aware of Aadhaar, which is the unique biometric identity of a person…Through better targeting of subsidies, the JAM trinity has prevented leakages to the tune of nearly 10 billion dollars so far.” Sometime back, former head of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), Nandan Nilekani had claimed in Washington that so far, the government has saved about $9 billion by eliminating fraud in beneficiary lists due to 12-digit biometric Unique Identification (UID)/Aadhaar Numbers being fed into Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR). These questionable claims about savings from UID/Aadhaar have been widely reported. However, most such claims have been published without verifying the source of the data. Given the fact that these claims are based on reports of the World Bank it is relevant to recall the veracity of the bank’s own claims.
The World Bank report of 2016 claimed that Aadhaar can save Rs 70, 000 crore annually once Aadhaar is applied to all social programmes and welfare systems. This has been submitted as part of the Central government’s reply to a writ petition before the Supreme Court. The affidavit of April 27, 2017 enclosed the relevant portions of the 359-page World Bank report of 2016 on digital dividends (page 195) to underline the imminent savings “through reduce(d) leakage and efficiency gains”. This data of 11 billion refers to page 197 of the report that is based on a four-page 2015 study titled From Cash to Digital Transfers in India: The Story So Far by Shweta S. Banerjee. Shweta works on the Microfinance Gateway which is housed at the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP). On page 1, it is stated: “The value of these transfers is estimated to be Rs 70,000 crores ($11.3 billion) per annum.” It is manifest that it is making a claim about the total value of the money that has been transferred and not about savings as a result of adopting a direct cash transfer model. The source of data cited in this study has conclusively been established to be questionable and unreliable and a major goof. Such claims have been debunked by the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India as well. If the bank’s own data has been found to be ‘puffery’, how can its volunteer’s claims inspire trust? Now that the bank has admitted its blunder in writing, it is time it came out with a clarification to ensure that misleading claims about such savings can be buried “ten fathom deep, with no chance of resurrection.” All ministers, agencies and publications reproducing the Bank’s Himalayan blunder of equating value of “transfers” with “savings in subsidy” in its study are either guilty or complicit in this not-so “innocent fraud”.
As to claims about savings from the Aadhaar project, insincerity has been evident from the outset. During Niekani’s tenure at UIDAI, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance in its Sixty-Ninth Report on the ‘Demands for Grants (2013-14)’ observed, “A provision of Rs. 2,620 crore has been allocated in Budget Estimate (2013-14) for UIDAI and a major part of the budget provision for Rs. 1,040 crore is earmarked for ‘Enrolment Authentication and Updation’, out of which an amount of Rs 1,000 crore has been earmarked under the head ‘other charges’.” The total budgetary allocations made for UIDAI since its inception up to 31 March 2014 was Rs 5440.30 crore. For 2009-10, it was Rs 120 crore. For 2010-11, it was Rs 1,900 crore. For 2011-12, it was Rs 1,470 crores 1,200. For 2012-13, it was 1,758 crore and for 2013-14, it was Rs 2,620.00 crore. For the year 2014-15, the budget estimate was Rs 2,039 crore. The budget estimate of expenditure on the project being implemented by UIDAI was Rs 2,000 crore in 20015-16. For the year 2016-17, the estimate was Rs 990 crore (including Rs 190 crore first supplementary). As of February 2017, the UIDAI has incurred a cumulative expenditure of Rs 8,536.83 crore. This included undefined “other charges” pointed out by the Parliamentary Committee.
Take the case of 2009-10 when the budget estimate was Rs 120 crore and the final expenditure was Rs 26.21 crore. In 2015-16, the budget estimate was Rs 2,000 crore but the final expenditure was Rs 1,679 crore. In 2016-17, when budget estimate was Rs 990 crore, the final expenditure is Rs 877.16 crore up to February 2017. Besides this, the Parliamentary Committee wondered in its report as to why inflated targets were consistently being given.
UIDAI got an allocation of Rs 1,345 crore in the 2018-19 and Rs 1,227 crore for 2019-20. But the amount for 2019-2020 was revised downwards to Rs 836.7 crore, according to Budget 2020-21 documents. Notably, excess expenditure during 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 has been met from unspent balance of 2018-19 available in UIDAI Fund. Shouldn’t the UIDAI provide the details of the expenses incurred under “other charges”?
Most recently a reply to an RTI application filed by Prof. Anupam Saraph has revealed that Department of Financial Services, Finance Ministry and other relevant government departments do not have information on rules or procedures to identify beneficiaries of state-sponsored subsidies under the Aadhaar Act, 2016. This implies that the claim made by India's finance minister in 2019 to the effect that UID/Aadhaar number had helped save Rs 90,000 crore by eliminating fake beneficiaries was misleading. The RTI applicant is seeking information on a full citation of rules to identify beneficiaries, officers tasked with maintaining a database of beneficiaries, processes to identify any fake beneficiaries, procedures and algorithms involved in the process and a district-wise break-up of the number of fake beneficiaries. His query has been transferred to several other departments of the Ministry including to the Health and Family Welfare Ministry and Indian Space Research Organisation. They too do not have any information. The First Appellate Authority too has inferred that the information sought is not available. There is no response to his query regarding change from RBI run NEFT/RTGS to an Aadhaar-enabled platform run by NPCI, a private body for transferring benefits and subsidies. Central Information Commission (CIC) is to hear the matter on October 20 in this regard.
Although it has been over 11 years since the UID/Aadhaar project was formally launched and
The estimated total budget of the biometric UID/Aadhaar number project has not been disclosed despite demand for it while seeking cost: benefit analysis. Unless the total estimated budget of the project is revealed, all claims of benefits are suspect and untrustworthy. How can one know about total savings unless the total cost is disclosed?
It is evident that anonymous donors and international financial institutions like the World Bank Group have succeeded in their dataveillance projects to mine national data wealth for surveillance capitalists and their governments in myriad disguises.