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Biometric profiling under Criminal Procedure (Identification) Bill based on junk science

Written By mediavigil on Wednesday, April 06, 2022 | 8:04 PM

Advocates and supporters of biometric profiling under Criminal Procedure (Identification) Bill, 2022 are indulging in scientism. This Bill is a reincarnation of the Identification of Prisoners Act, 1920 which based on the assumptions of Fracis Galton, the discredited anthropologist who was a supporter of eugenics, biometrics and slavery besides being an ardent advocate of genocide of inferior races. Even Charles Darwin, his cousin and the author of On the Origin of Species seems to have approved of it.  The disreputable history of eugenics is linked to the ideas of the elite which overwhelmed conservatives, liberals, and the socialists. Under Galton's influence judges used to give notorious verdicts endorsing laws that made eugenic- sterilisation of "inferior races" mandatory so that they do not breed inferior offsprings! In Buck v. Bell (1927) Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., US Supreme Court set a precedent for sterilisation of inmates.

[Photo: Criminal Procedure (Identification) Bill, 2022]

Notably, University College of London has renamed a lecture theater named after Galton because of his association with the junk science of eugenics. At one time most political parties were taken for a ride by eugenic thinking. Even National Planning Committee under Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru constituted by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose as President of Indian National Congress was misled into endorsing it  It is because of Galton's influence that the 1920 law has remained on the statute book for so long and has been incorporated as part of the 2022 Bill. Galton's disciples had a field day in the Parliament. Those who do not pay attention to the history of science and scientism end up adopting genocidal laws. [Photo: Francis Galton]

In an essay titled “The Folly of Scientism” published in The New Atlantis, a journal of Technology and Society, Austin L. Hughes, Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of South Carolina wrote:  “A typical scientist seemed to be a person who knew one small corner of the natural world and knew it very well,  better than most other human beings living and better even  than most who had ever lived. But outside of their circumscribed areas of expertise, scientists would hesitate to express an authoritative opinion.” The idea of reason cannot be equated with science. Those who do so practice scientism and Hughes concludes that like all superstitions, scientism undermines the credibility of science.

The case of biometrics is illustrative. Biometrics is the science and technology of measuring and statistically analysing biological data for the purpose of people identification based on supposed uniqueness of biological data (finger print, iris scan, voice print etc).

The studies after studies show that biometrics as science too is deeply problematic but mass media and policy makers are accepting it unquestionably. The faith in biometric technology is based on a misplaced assumption that are parts of human body that does not age, wither and decay with the passage of time. Basic scientific research on whether or not unique biological characteristics of human beings is reliable under all circumstances of life is largely conspicuous by its absence in India and even elsewhere.

A report “Biometric Recognition: Challenges and Opportunities” of the National Research Council, USA published on 24 September  2010 concluded that the current state of biometrics is ‘inherently fallible’. That is also one of the findings of a five-year study. This study was jointly commissioned by the CIA, the US Department of Homeland Security and the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Another study titled “Experimental Evidence of a Template Aging Effect in Iris Biometrics” supported by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Biometrics Task Force and the Technical Support Working Group through Army contract has demolished the widely accepted fact that iris biometric systems are not subject to a template aging effect. The study provides evidence of a template aging effect. A “template aging effect” is defined as an increase in the false reject rate with increased elapsed time between the enrollment image and the verification image. The study infers, “We find that a template aging effect does exist. We also consider controlling for factors such as difference in pupil dilation between compared images and the presence of contact lenses, and how these affect template aging, and we use two different algorithms to test our data.”

A report “Biometrics: The Difference Engine: Dubious security” published by The Economist in its 1 October 2010 issue observed “Biometric identification can even invite violence. A motorist in Germany had a finger chopped off by thieves seeking to steal his exotic car, which used a fingerprint reader instead of a conventional door lock.”

Notwithstanding similar unforeseen consequences government’s faith in science of biometrics remains unshaken. It seems that considerations other than truth have given birth to this faith. The core question here is: there a biological material in the human body that constitutes biometric data which is immortal, ageless and permanent? They who say that it does are guilty of practicing scientism and discrediting genuine science as a discipline. In fact it is a case of display of unscientific temper by implication.

It is noteworthy that these efforts are going in a direction wherein very soon employers are likely to ask for biometric data CD or card instead of asking for conventional bio-data for giving jobs etc. It is likely to lead to discrimination and exclusion. Biometrics is being bulldozed down people’s throat as truth detection technology. In fact right to have citizens’ rights is in the process of being denied. For instance, in India if citizens fail to biometrically prove that they are who they claim they are, notwithstanding the unreliability and admitted error rate of the technology.

There is a need for the academia especially from the sciences, Parliament, Supreme Court, state legislatures and High Courts to examine whether or not biometrics provides an established way of fixing identity of Indians as is currently being done through programs like (UID)/Aadhaar number/ National Population Register as part of world’s biggest biometric database project and now through Criminal Procedure (Identification) Bill. 

The support or silence of “institutional science” when such unscientific decisions like biometric profiling are taken constitutes scientism.

Scientism refers to the philosophy that treats science as the only means of acquiring knowledge. It espouses the view that only scientific claims are meaningful as if the influence of class division does not matter and as it is politically neutral. These divisions mediate scientific perceptions and practices.

Scientism  is practiced when words like ‘scientific,’ ‘scientifically,’ ‘scientific method’ and ‘scientific temper’ are used for praise, when technical jargons are used deliberately in society at large, when someone is preoccupied with drawing a sharp line between genuine science, the real thing and pseudo-science. It is also practiced with the obsession about explaining the success of science, when answers are sought for questions beyond the scope of sciences and when any inquiry besides the scientific inquiry is denigrated.

Scientism is not only about science it is also about junk science, made to order science and institutional science. The claim about river water going to sea being wasted will certainly fall under of these categories.

Will science ever cover the entire gamut of truth in its domain? Is science the only means of answering questions? Can science itself be deemed truth? Those who claim that it can be deemed so, face the charge of practicing scientism. The fact is that “the reach of scientism exceeds its grasp.”

If an opinion poll shows that a large majority of scientists prefer a particular kind of colour in their bed room, can such preference be deemed “scientific”. 

Within all disciplines of science itself, many working scientists know that certain theories of their discipline are either false or absurd. In such a situation all that is within science as a discipline can be deemed scientifically defensible. The history of science shows how certain theories were discarded for good.

Long back DD Kosambi, the noted mathematician and scientists held that science is also history of science because the cumulative nature of science is seen in the fact that every major discovery in science is absorbed into the body of human scientific knowledge, which gets used later on. What is essential is absorbed into the general body of human knowledge, to become technique.  He referred to the freedom of the scientists to undertake research he likes. In a 1952 essay Kosambi wrote, “In 1949, I saw that American scientists and intellectuals were greatly worried about the question of scientific freedom, meaning thereby freedom for the scientist to do what he/she liked while being paid by big business, war departments, or universities whose funds tended to come more and more from one or the other source. These gentlemen, living in a society where he who pays the piper insists upon calling the tune, did not seem to realize that science was no longer 'independent' as in the days when modern manufacturing production was still expanding…The scientist now is part of a far more closely integrated, tightly exploited, social system…” The political economy of science which was described then remains unchanged in the 21st century.

Science has influenced society, just as society has influenced science. Science is directed at finding patterns of order in the observed data. There is a reciprocal relationship between the two.  Science has altered economic, social and political beliefs and practices. Since its inception, influence of class divisions permeated science both materially and ideologically.

This has affected its structure, development and use. Science is generally kept away from the service of humankind as long as it serves a class interest. It is made available to the people at large only when it benefits this class.

The core issue is how much of science is used for betterment of human conditions and how much of it is directed at destruction of living species and the planetary resources with an ever expanding weapons industry under a military mining industrial big data complex.

As has been the case in the past the path science is taking is being guided by the interest of the dominant class which has externalized human cost and issues of inter-generational ad inter-species equity.

While science faces threat from scientism as it can give result in ‘radical skepticism’, all the scientific disciplines are being undermined by institutional economics and management which have emerged disguised as science of sort.

Wittingly or unwittingly they who identify genuine science with institutional science also practice indefensible scientism. There are structural compulsions for practicing scientism which are rooted in the inequitable social structure which enlightened political intervention alone can alter. 

Biometric profiling is based on unscientific thinking, fallible biometric data

It is based on the unscientific and questionable assumption that there are parts of human body that do not age, wither and decay with the passage of time. 

The biometric profiling project based on biological "measurement" is aimed at creating an unlimited government. Even after an unjust law has been passed to make it legal, it remains bad and illegitimate.

The country was put under Internal Emergency under Article 352 of the Constitution, effectively bestowing on the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi the power to rule by decree, suspending elections and civil liberties for a 21-month period during June 25, 1975-March 21, 1977.

Even the imposition of Emergency was made legal and it remained so as long as it lasted.

The powers given to her virtually had no limits.

Human body came under assault as a result of forced sterilisation of thousands of men under the infamous family planning initiative of her son Sanjay Gandhi.

Likewise, former PM Manmohan Singh, and now, Narendra Modi, have been misled into the installation of an authoritarian architecture through biometric identification of Indians.

Human body is again under attack through indiscriminate biometric profiling. 

The assumption of the government that the benefits of biometric systems are sufficient to warrant use of biometric technology for financial transactions is misplaced.

Is there a biological material in the human body that constitutes biometric data immortal, ageless and permanent?

Besides working conditions, humidity, temperature and lighting conditions also impact the quality of biological material used for generating biometric data.

In his book Identifying Citizens: ID Cards as Surveillance, David Lyon of Queen's University, Ontario, points out the role of cartels of identification technology promoters in its proliferation. 

In villages, they say, when you give a hammer to a blacksmith he/she will only think in terms nailing something. The only difference is that here it is the human body which is being nailed. If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.

If biometric technologies are at hand, some people under the influence of technology companies tend to see every problem as an identification problem.

On April 20, 2016 an order was issued by a court in Norway in the case involving Anders Behring Breivik, who has been found guilty of killing eight people in Oslo and 69 at Utøya on July 22, 2011. In August 2012 he was sentenced to 21 years preventive detention for mass murder, causing a fatal explosion, and terrorism. Breivik is serving the sentence under a regime of particularly high security at the Telemark prison in Skien, Norway. His motive for his terrorist acts was to market his manifesto '2083: A European Declaration of Independence.' The court ruled that the Norwegian government had violated his human rights and that keeping him in long-term solitary confinement could affect his mental health. Brevik's case reminds one of the words used in his 1,518 pages-long manifesto or compendium of texts. It is noteworthy that Brevik's manifesto makes repeated reference to'identification,' to the word 'identity' over 100 times, to 'unique' over 40 times and to 'identification' over 10 times. There are references to 'state-issued identity cards', 'converts' identity cards', 'identification card', 'fingerprints', 'DNA' etc.

Breivik's obsession with 'identification' mirrors that of the promoters of biometric identification. The fixation with identification based on 'biological attributes of an individual' has unprecedented political implications. They are turning the citizens of India into guinea pigs for biometric experiments.

Brevik's European manifesto finds resonance in the Criminal Procedure (Identification) Bill and Central Identities Data Repository, an 'online database' which can be Wikileaked. A careful perusal of institutions responsible for biometric measurement and identification and documents reveals that it is linked to the electoral database too. The audit of Comptroller Auditor General has established that Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the premier biometric identification institution reveals that privacy of all present and future residents of Indians have been compromised. It is not clear as to who will be he;d accountable for such unprecedented breach of security and privacy of biometric data of Indians. The touching faith of the Supreme Court of India in the promises made by Government of India in the its Right to Privacy verdict (Justice K. S. Puttaswamy, retd. v. Union of India) and Aadhaar verdict in the same case has ensured that India does not have right to privacy and data protection law.   

Biometrics is a pseudoscience, fraught with racist agenda. Measurements of human beings based on biometric data' is as regressive as the eugenic programmes. Galton wrote a novel Kantsaywhere which depicted the utopia of eugenic religion which advocated breeding of smarter and fitter races. Galton would have approved a religion and society based on biometric profiling. Galton's view on slavery and eugenics has been conclusively discredited. His views on biometrics too stands discredited but the beneficial owners of biometric technology vendors have succeeded in making India's public institutions besides academia and media who are being coerced to endorse junk science. 

Gopal Krishna

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