Chief Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar headed three-judge bench asked, “Surveillance to what. Is it a big deal?” This seemingly innocent question posed on January 5, 2017 merits considered reply. The other two judges were Justice N V Ramana and Justice D Y Chandrachud.
According to Concise Oxford Dictionary, surveillance means 'close observation, especially of a suspected person'. Isn’t surveillance dehumanizing? Why is it that when people are out of power they are quite perturbed about it and when they come to power they become dismissive about it?
Referring to the incident of surveillance of his mobile phones, in an article titled My Call Detail Records and A Citizen’s Right to Privacy published in Gujarati, Hindi, Urdu and English, Arun Jaitley as Leader of Opposition, Rajya Sabha wrote, “This incident throws up another legitimate fear. We are now entering the era of the Adhaar number. The Government has recently made the existence of the Adhaar number as a condition precedent for undertaking several activities; from registering marriages to execution of property documents. Will those who encroach upon the affairs of others be able to get access to bank accounts and other important details by breaking into the system? If this ever becomes possible the consequences would be far messier.” It is clear that once law makers become part of the government they become enlightened about the benefits of surveillance.
The observation of Lewis Carroll’s character Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass is quite revealing. When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.' 'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.' 'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master—that’s all.'
Surveillance is based on a system of permanent registration. It is a decisive economic operator, wrote Michel Foucault, in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of Prison, 1975.
An official publication of World Bank Group’s International Monetary Fund (IMF) reveals, “Surveillance, a central pillar of IMF activities and responsibilities in the modern era, is not an easy concept to grasp.” It will have us accept that only the master can grasp and communicate the meaning of ‘surveillance’. IMF commiserates with the lesser mortals stating that it knows that ‘surveillance’ does sound terrible. This is understandable.
Jacob A Frenkel, an official of IMF is quoted as arguing that this word ‘surveillance’ should be made to sound benign. It “should give way to concepts of cooperation, partnership, and consultation; of bringing on board the rest of the world’s considerations.” This publication states, “In practice, surveillance has encapsulated all of the above notions, but at its best it has been motivated by and has itself promoted a spirit of international cooperation.”
This publication informs that the first official use of the term came in June 1974. IMF was concerned that “Few, if any countries, however, were prepared to be subjected to surveillance in that strong sense. The 1980s therefore became a decade of experimentation, in which the staff and management of the Fund constantly probed and prodded to see how far they could go in persuading countries to respond positively to Fund analysis and advice.” This concern of IMF is deeply touching. But IMF’s efforts did yield results and by the mid-1990s, a “silent revolution” had happened in countries like India, it infers.
By 2013, at least citizens of 35 countries and their heads know exactly what ‘surveillance’ means. It does sound terrible. Both National Security Agency (NSA) of the US and World Bank Group have a different and benevolent sounding meaning in mind. The publication admits, “Even among IMF staff, those questions did not yield uniform answers.” This incomprehension among them is understandable because it admittedly means “close observation especially of a suspected person.” Heads of financial institutions, US President and Indian Prime Minister appear to be busy getting this dictionary meaning of “surveillance” changed through their power of persuasion, peer pressure and advertising to avoid confusion that still exists despite relentless and sincere efforts at least since 1974. Public institutions including judiciary seems to have been taken for a ride
This IMF publication states, “If surveillance was to have any substance, the Fund would have to develop that influence: through the power of persuasion (Fund management and staff to country authorities), through peer pressure (country to country in the forum of the Fund), and through publicity (Fund to the public). The relative merit of each of these channels was always the subject of much debate. Was publicity appropriate, or would it conflict with and even nullify the benefits of persuasion and peer pressure?” The publication uses the word ‘Fund’ to refer to IMF.
IMF asks itself, “Did surveillance mean that the IMF was expected to be a financial Interpol, seeking out and punishing errant behavior, or should its role be more that of a faithful confidant of those entrusted with implementing macroeconomic policies around the world?”
Hasn’t India become “a faithful confidant” of World Bank Group?
There is a chapter “On the Map: Making Surveillance Work” under the section Revolutions in the International Monetary System in the publication titled Silent Revolution: The International Monetary Fund 1979–1989 by James M Boughton published in 2001. The chapter deals with the principles and procedures of surveillance. It may be recalled that Pranab Mukherjee, our President was deeply engaged with the World Bank in various roles from 1982 to 1985.
Notably, it was Mukherjee who formed Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and announced its setting up during the 2009-10 budget speech. He was the Finance Minister from 24 January 2009 to 26 June 2012. In fact, it is remarkable that within four days of taking over as Finance Minister, he got the UIDAI notified on 28 January 2009 by the Planning Commission. In all likelihood, he was part of the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) too, which took a decision about the formation of UIDAI on 4 November 2008.
It may recalled that while presenting the Union Budget in 2011-12, Mukherjee, the then Union Finance Minister informed the Lok Sabha that Technology Advisory Group for Unique Projects (TAGUP) headed by Nandan Nilekani, chairman, UIDAI submitted its report dated 31 January 2011 and its recommendations have been accepted in principle. As a consequence the sovereign function of tax collection is all set to be handed over to an entity called National Information Utility (NIU), which will be a private company with a public purpose and with profit making as the motive but not profit maximizing. This is yet another lesson either in language or in linguistic corruption.
Earlier, it must be recalled that on 11 January 2011, Business Standard reported that “India has sought an assessment under the Financial Sector Assessment Programme (FSAP) of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. “India did a self-assessment (by the Committee on Financial Sector Assessment, or CFSA) of its financial sector in 2009. This has given us the confidence to get our financial sector evaluated by international financial institutions like IMF and the World Bank. We have voluntarily sought a full-fledged Financial Sector Assessment Programme,” the then finance minister Mukherjee said at the second International Finance Conference at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Calcutta. This is an admission of the fact that India has subjected itself to the surveillance principles and procedures of IMF. By now Indians know how tricky the use of word ‘voluntary’ is when the Bank is involved in any way.
Chronologically, after this announcement by Mukherjee, Government of India and the World Bank signed a loan agreement of $150 million on 10 May 2011 for the e-Delivery of Public Services Development Policy Loan under the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP). NeGP is a flagship e-governance initiative approved in May 2006 as a national program to create 'single window' Common Services Centers. NeGP has identified 27 priority projects to be transformed using e-services including details on land records in some 250,000 areas. This loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) has a 5-year grace period and a maturity of 18 years.
And on 13 May 2011, delivering his speech ‘India in a Multipolar World’, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, managing director of World Bank said, “The President of India has recently spelled out among the priorities of her government a set of reforms on governance. This includes initiatives to promote e-governance, which is potentially an effective tool for enhanced transparency, equity and accountability as well as hopefully for administrative reforms. I met Nandan Nilekani this morning and was impressed by the potential impact of the Unique ID scheme for service delivery—more than five million Unique IDs have been issued since September 2010, providing people with a legal identity they probably did not have before. Innovative ICT tools such as this can be an effective mechanism to both supply information and services to citizens and receive feedback from citizens.”
No one will dispute that World Bank has been an undemocratic organization since its inception and is likely to remain so for all times to come. This motivated outreach towards citizens at large especially in developing countries merits attention. It is noteworthy that the annual reports of Congress party led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and BJP led National Democratic Alliance refer to biometric-based Aadhaar/UID as parts of its e-governance initiative.
Earlier on 20 April 2010, the World Bank Group announced that it has thrown open the doors to its statistical databases to provide free, open, and easy access to its comprehensive set of data on living standards around the globe - some 2,000 indicators, including hundreds that go back 50 years. It appears to be a case of paving the path for developing countries. And on 23 April 2010, the Bank launched its eTransform Initiative by signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with France and South Korea besides transnational companies like L-1 Identity Solutions, IBM, Gemalto, Pfizer and others. It was launched in the presence of Ministers of Finance and Communications from many developing countries. The World Bank is currently funding 14 projects related to e-government and e-ID around the world.
It merits recollection that Mukherjee was the Finance Minister during January 1982 to December 1984, which is part of the relevant period with which the IMF publication deals. He led the Indian delegation at the annual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) during 1982, 1983, 1984, 2009, 2010 and 2011 and he was on the Board of Governors of the IMF during 1982 to 1985 and during 2009 – 2012. Mukherjee was rated one of the best five finance ministers of the world in 1984 according to a survey conducted by “Euro Money” Journal published from New York and was declared ‘Finance Minister of the year’ for Asia in 2010 by “Emerging Markets”, the journal of record for the World Bank and the IMF.
Unless one is not acting as a foundation stone of the “central pillar” of World Bank Group, why will it shower accolades on him and Nilekani as UIDAI’s Chief?
There is a revelation in the publication that IMF is concerned with the “viability of military spending” as well. IMF took a formal position on the role of military spending in national economic policy in October 1991. At that time, executive directors concluded that, “as military expenditure can have an important bearing on a member’s fiscal policy and external position, information about such expenditure may be necessary to permit a full and internally consistent assessment of the member’s economic position and policies” If this is not an exercise in surveillance, which admittedly sounds ‘terrible’, what else is it?
Metamorphosis in simple words means transformation. Metamorphosis of the state, the government and citizen is the core motive of electronic and biometric identification as part of the Transformational Government initiative of the World Bank Group.
It is relevant to reiterate in this context that the then UIDAI Chief Nilekani was given ID Limelight Award at the ID WORLD International Congress, 2010 in Milan, Italy on 16th November wherein Safran Morpho (Safran group) was a key sponsor of the ID Congress. Its subsidiary, Sagem Morpho Security Pvt Ltd has been awarded contract for the purchase of Biometric Authentication Devices on 2 February 2011 by the UIDAI. Coincidentally, in 2009 a similar award was given to the head of Pakistan’s National Database Registration Authority (NADRA) which successfully implemented a UID/Aadhaar like project, which has been shared with authorities in USA as per cables leaked by Wikileaks.
Earlier, on 30 July 2010, in a joint press release, it was announced that “the Mahindra Satyam and Morpho led consortium has been selected as one of the key partners to implement and deliver the Aadhaar program by UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India).” This means that at least two contracts have been awarded to the French conglomerate led consortium. Is it a coincidence that Morpho (Safran group) sponsored the award to chairman, UIDAI and the former got a contract from the latter?
Is it not apparent that UIDAI Chief was given the award "For being the force behind a transformational project ID project in India...and "to provide identification cards for each resident across the country and would be used primarily as the basis for efficient delivery of welfare services. It would also act as a tool for effective monitoring of various programs and schemes of the government."
It may also be noted that UIDAI awarded contracts to three companies namely, Satyam Computer Services Ltd (Mahindra Satyam), as part of a “Morpho led consortium”, L-1 Identity Solutions Operating Company and Accenture Services Pvt Ltd of US for the “Implementation of Biometric Solution for UIDAI” on 30 July 2010.
Following Central Information Commission (CIC)’s intervention in the matter of application filed by Col Mathew Thomas, an octogenarian defence scientist, and submissions by the author on his behalf, UIDAI shared its contract agreement with French and US biometric technology companies but crucial pages are missing from the contract agreement after the CIC heard the matter on 10 September 2013. After examining these documents with regard to the Accenture for Biometric Technology, it has come to notice that the first 237 pages appear to be in order but after that there is a one pager titled Annexure J Technical Bid (Technical Bid as submitted by M/s Accenture Services Pvt Ltd). The Technical Bid document is missing. After that there is a one pager titled Annexure K Commercial Bid Commercial (Bid as submitted by M/s Accenture Services Pvt Ltd). The Commercial Bid document is missing.
With regard to the L-1 Identity Solutions for Biometric Technology, one noticed that the first 236 pages appear to be in order but after that there is a one pager titled Annexure I non-disclosure agreement as submitted by L-1 Identity Solutions Operating Company Pvt Ltd. But this document is missing. After that there is a one pager titled Annexure J Technical Bid as submitted by L-1 Identity Solutions Operating Company Pvt Ltd. The Technical Bid document is missing. After that there is a one pager titled Annexure K Commercial Bid as submitted by L-1 Identity Solutions Operating Company Pvt Ltd. The Commercial Bid document is missing.
When this was pointed out to the new Information Commissioner, he ordered the Registrar, CIC to check compliance by UIDAI’s earlier order. The Registrar then informed that the new Information Commissioner has allowed UIDAI to furnish limited financial information. In effect, he changed the earlier order of the CIC without authority to do so. The Writ Petition (Civil) No. 9143/2014 (Mathew Thomas V Union of India and Ors) in this regard is pending in Delhi High Court. The next date of hearing has been fixed for February 21, 2017 by Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva. Dr Prasanna S. is the Advocate for the petitioner. So far there has been eight hearings in the case since December 22, 2014. The companies in question have argued that the copies of their technical bids should not be given to the petitioner. Subsequent to that M/s. L-1 Identity Solutions Operating Company Private Limited and M/s. Accenture Services Private Limited have been impleaded in the case. Notably, L1 which had signed the contract agreement as a US based company (subject to USA’s Patriot Act) has been bought over by Safran Group after US Government’s national security clearance.
In the matter of National Identification Authority of India (NIAI) Bill, 2010, “NHRC’s views on the NIAI Bill, 2010″ in the Human Rights Newsletter (Vol. 18 No.8, August 2011) reveals that biometric UID/Aadhaar Number has dangerous ramifications is quite relevant in this regard. NHRC’s view on “need for protection of information” and “the possibility of tampering with stored biometric information” and “disclosure of information in the interest of national security” has been ignored by Congress Party and BJP led Governments because they have accepted the principles and procedures of surveillance fixed by the World Bank Group. It is apparent that this party is facilitating surveillance of the nation, citizens and the national assets by transnational actors with impunity. These parties have structurally adjusted the national institutions to ensure it.
Let us examine the claims made by UIDAI regarding biometric UID/Aadhaar Number in its presentation titled “Digital ID for Benefit and Service Delivery to Billion Plus People” in the ‘Special Session on National ID Programs’ at the International Joint Conference on Biometrics held during 29th September – 2nd October 2014 at Clearwater, Florida, USA.
Fact- This claim is an exercise in obfuscation if it is looked in the context of the convergence of 12 digit biometric number with all the existing identity cards.
Fact- This claim is an exercise in sophistry. When UIDAI was asked whether UID/adhaar was linked to intelligence agencies, his response was “No comments”. In an answer to a question raised by Dr Shashi Tharoor on “Legal Framework and Parliamentary Scrutiny Over Intelligence Agencies” in the Lok Sabha which was answered on 10th March, 2015, the minister’s reply revealed the plot. The question was: Will the Minister of Home Affairs be pleased to state:-(a) Whether the absence of a legal framework to govern the National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) has prompted the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and other banks of the country to refuse NATGRID an access to the database of its customers; (b) If so, the action taken by the Government to give NATGRID a legal framework; (c) whether the Government has any proposal to extend parliamentary scrutiny over intelligence agencies of the country such as NATGRID, Intelli- gence Bureau (IB), Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI); and (d) If so, the details thereof?
The then Union Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs replied “There is no information on the reported refusal of the RBI and other banks to provide NATGRID an access to their database. As per Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) mandate, the information/ data relating to Financial Sector has to be obtained by NATGRID through Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU). A nodal officer has already been appointed by FIU to have interaction with NATGRID. The issue of accountability of Intelligence Agencies like IB and RAW, and oversight mechanism including by a Parliamentary Committee is the subject matter of a Writ Petition in the Hon’ble Supreme Court, in which the Government has taken a view that the existing oversight structure is adequate. The matter is sub-judice at present. The NATGRID and Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) have not been declared as Intelligence Agencies.” It is apparent that there is an implicit admission about the role UIDAI and NATGRID play without formal declaration. The terms “unique identification” and “intelligence” inherent in UIDAI and NATGRID leave nothing to imagination about their core purpose.
Fact- This claim is an exercise in misrepresentation. Given the fact that some 91,000 of USA’s classified pages reached the website of Wikileaks in August 2010 reveals that such claims of security and privacy are mere empty claims with no privacy law in the country. The Ministry of Planning, the nodal ministry for UID/aadhaar informed the Parliamentary Standing Committee that concerns sharing of data, surveillance and profiling is being addressed by a proposed legislation on privacy. The committee observed that the enactment of such 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." This promised law has not been enacted till date. Notably, till date there is no data protection and privacy protection law in the country. Thus, the claim of UIDAI is bogus.
Fact-The pre-condition of “Ubiquitous Online Authentication” is availability of personal sensitive information on cloud which is beyond India’s jurisdiction. The claim that there was “No ID” prior to this “Online ID” is factually incorrect. It is based on the existing ID that 16 parliamentary elections have been held so far. While inaugurating the distribution of UID/Aadhaar number among the villagers of Tembhali village, Nandurbar district, Maharashtra on 29th September 2010, the then Prime Minister said, “The Aadhaar number will ease these difficulties in identification, by providing a nationally valid and verifiable single source of identity proof. The UIDAI will ensure the uniqueness of the Aadhaar numbers through the use of biometric attributes (Finger Prints and Iris) which will be linked to the number”. As per a RTI reply of April 2015 that out of 83.5 crore aadhaar numbers issued till then, only 2.19 lakh i.e. 0.03 % comprised of them who did not have a pre-existing ID proof. It shows how Indians were taken for a ride.
The fact is that UID/aadhaar implementation is coercion based. This coercion is being done by linking the government departments with Central ID Data Repository (CIDR) of UIDAI. Since the UID/Aadhar number is to be accepted as proof of identify subject to authentication, the provision for the payment of a fee for authentication is quite harsh to the weaker sections of society in particular and all sections of society in general. It robs the democratic rights of citizens.
UIDAI’s claim that UID/Aadhaar is “low cost” is false. The fact is that admittedly cost comparison with pre-existing identity cards has not been done till date. UIDAI’s claim that “Data remains federated and any transfer from one silo to another will require approvals as per law” is not true. The fact is there is no law to stop transfer of data to other agencies as is evident from the contract agreements between foreign companies and UIDAI.
Other presenters at the Florida conference included Shukri Ali Al Braiki, Director, Population Register Department, Emirates Identity Authority (EIDA), UAE who gave a presentation on “The UAE Population Register and ID Card Program: Achievements and the Challenges Ahead”. There was a “Panel Session on Large Scale Identification Systems” chaired by: Nalini Ratha, IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, USA who gave a presentation. The other panel members who gave presentation included Michael Garris, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Stéphane Gentric, Safran Morpho, William G. Mckinsey, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and Charles Y. LI, International Business Machines (IBM). The conference was sponsored by companies like Lumidigm, part of HID Global, nilesen, Safran Morpho, 3dMD, Cognitec, Cross Resolve, Digital Signal Corporation, IB Integrated Biometrics, M&C and SRI International. It was supported by Hong Kong Polytechnic University, University of South Florida and University of Surrey.
Notably, most of the agencies which participated in the conference are involved in the implementation of UID/Aadhaar identification and surveillance schemes.
The agencies working on behalf of UIDAI like Verbal communication gymnasts from Chlorophyll Brand and Communications Consultancy Pvt. Ltd, Awareness and Communication Strategy Advisory Council, JMD Consultants and other entities have made this biometric surveillance scheme appear palatable in media and have ensured that UIDAI’s vendors, the biometric equipment and technology companies are having a field day at tax payers’ expense.
If UID/Aadhaar enabled Biometric Attendance System is indeed a “digital equivalent” of “age-old attendance register”, why did National Human Right Commission (NHRC) object to radio collar which can also be argued by sophists to be “digital equivalent”. Notably, Union Ministry of External Affairs agreed with NHRC’s assessment. Union Minister of External Affairs informed the Parliament that some 18 students were detained and released with radio monitoring devices on their ankles, pending completion of the investigations for possible involvement in the irregularities. “We have also strongly protested the radio collars as unacceptable, which should be removed immediately.” If the “digital equivalent” means biometric equivalent as well then it makes Radio Collar and DNA based identity and attendance will also be deemed equivalent to “age-old attendance register”. It is quite evident that such claims are deeply misleading.
The appointment of J Satyanarayana as part time Chairman of UIDAI on September 6, 2016 does not inspire even an iota of confidence. At page no. 46-47, the report Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology that examined the work of Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY), Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, asked about the surveillance by National Security Agency (NSA) of the US. It states that in the context of privacy of data, the Committee desired to know the Department’s stand on the issue of surveillance by US and interception of data sent through e-mails. To this, J Satyanarayana, as Secretary, DeitY, responded during the evidence as under:-
“Sir, about the US surveillance issue, there has been a debate, as you are aware, this morning in the Rajya Sabha itself and the hon. Minister has addressed this issue. He also emphasised that as far as the Government data and Government mails are concerned, the policy, the copy of which I have given to the Committee earlier, is going to address a large part of it. Hopefully, by the end of this year, if it is implemented, the things will be absolutely safe and secure…x.x.x.x…In the reply, the Hon. Minister also said that we have expressed our serious concern about the reported leakages and in the name of surveillance, the data that has been secured from various private sources, internet resources by the US Government. We have expressed it formally to the Government of the US and also during the Secretary of State’s visit a few weeks ago in India, this has been reinforced on a person to person basis. We have been assured that whatever data has been gathered by them for surveillance relates only to the metadata. It has been reiterated and stated at the highest level of the US President that only the metadata has been accessed, which is, the origin of the message and the receiving point, the destination and the route through which it has gone, but not the actual content itself. This has been reiterated by them, but we expressed that any incursion into the content will not be tolerated and is not tolerable from Indian stand and point of view. That has been mentioned very clearly and firmly by our Government.”
In effect, the Government of India has formally communicated to Government of US that India has no problem if they conduct surveillance for metadata in fact it is acceptable and tolerable but “incursion into the content will not be tolerated and is not tolerable.”
The Parliamentary Committee observes, “While taking note of the Department’s stand on the recent instances of surveillance and interception of data (though only meta-data) by other countries, that incursion into the content of the country’s data will not be tolerated, the Committee is of the strong opinion that the Department should have exercised enough caution so that such a situation was not allowed to occur at the first instance. Further, the Committee feels that the Department should be extremely vigilant and cautious in terms of safety as well as in terms of policy with different countries so as to avoid such leakage and interception of sensitive data in the name of surveillance. The Committee, therefore, strongly recommends the Department to take remedial measures and come out with a policy which should be implemented stringently so as to obviate recurrence of such instances.” Notably, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) which has been formed by giving the status of ministry to the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY) of Ministry of Communications and Information Technology have been misleading the State Governments, media and the citizens. The idea of UID was incubated in this very Department.
If surveillance is not a big deal why is Edward Snowden is in Moscow since June 23, 2013, why Australian journalist Julian Assange is in Ecuadorian Embassy in London since July 19, 2012 and why was Chelsea Elizabeth Manning (Bradley Edward Manning) sentenced to 35 years imprisonment in August 2013. If surveillance is indeed such an innocent act then why is the entire US establishment paranoid about surveillance from Russia?
The old maxim, 'If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear' has been given a very public burial. This has been thoroughly debunked. Notably, this myth is attributed to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. This myth is built on certain questionable which are never questioned when it is advanced as an argument to support whatever draconian surveillance measure is being pushed out in the face of peoples’ opposition. These assumptions include existence of benign and caring government and no single entity can securely withhold information amidst massive pressures to share information within and beyond government. Information flow is akin to water flow which gets monetized by the private sector. It is not known that information security professionals work on the assumption that the database is insecure. There is the myth of consistency in the sense that this will promote consistent use of accurate information across all authorities and all individuals and with the original consent purpose. Database State, a report from the UK states, 'In October 2007, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs lost two discs containing a copy of the entire child benefit database. Suddenly issues of privacy and data security were on the front page of most newspapers and leading the TV news bulletins. The millions of people affected by this data loss, who may have thought they had nothing to hide, were shown that they do have much to fear from the failures of the database state.' Only blind faith in a Utopian State can persuade people to think that they have nothing to fear after trusting their personal sensitive information to a Database State.
Spanish sculptors used to rectify their mistakes while carving on expensive marbles with wax. The cyber biometric UID/Aadhaar sculpture is akin to what Dan Brown refers to as ‘The Puzzle Palace’ in his Digital Fortress. It is conceptually and structurally flawed. No amount of wax can set it right.
Can spying on every resident of India through biometric profiling be deemed right? If holding present and future generations’ hostage to a database on cloud beyond the jurisdiction of democratic institutions of the country does not constitute spying on democracy and extinction of human rights, what else will? Doesn’t admitted surveillance on ministers and officials by National Security Agency (NSA) signal extinction of India’s sovereignty. The question of “security threat” that was raised remains to be answered.
Inaugurating the centenary celebrations of High Court in Patna, President Pranab Mukherjee recalled how the first Chief Justice of the Patna High Court Sir Edward Maynard Deschamps Chamier refused to invite the then Bihar Lieutenant-Governor Sir Edward Gait and other functionaries of the executive to the inauguration of the judicial session on March 1, 1916. Even the then Viceroy of India Lord Hardinge was not invited. This statement of President in the presence of Chief Justice of India is quite significant in the current context because it underlines what has gone wrong with higher judiciary. These days there are numerous instances wherein both Judiciary and Executive are seen together on several occasions. It is a glaring fact that Court’s repeated orders are being violated in the case of world’s biggest biometric database by every conceivable government entity with impunity. It is a matter wherein even judges and their families, lawyers and their families and lawmakers and their family members are being subjected to biometric surveillance for UID/aadhaar while the matter is pending with the Chief Justice of India.
Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance in its report has noticed that a project namely, Bharatiya - Automated Finger Print Identification System (AFSI), was launched in January, 2009, being funded by the Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, for collection of biometric information of the people of the country. Asked to clarify as to whether the biometric information (finger prints) being collected under the Bharatiya – AFSI project could also be used by the UIDAI, the Ministry have submitted that- “The biometrics required for the aadhaar project are iris, ten finger prints and photograph. To ensure uniqueness of the individual, it is essential that the biometrics captured are as per the specifications laid down by the Biometrics Standards Committee. The quality, nature and manner of collection of biometric data by other biometric projects may not be of the nature that can be used for the purpose of the aadhaar scheme and hence it may not be possible to use the fingerprints captured under the Bhartiya-AFSI project.” There is nothing on record to show that there was any occasion when the domestic and foreign biometric technologies were compared before choosing the latter. The love for foreign biometric technology providers appears scandalously intriguing. It makes a case for a high level probe.
No public institution can feign ignorance about concerns regarding access of the database of personal sensitive information of residents of India given the involvement of biometric and surveillance companies of USA, France and other transnational enterprises.
There is still hope that Supreme Court will arrest the attempts underway to impregnate the term “surveillance” wherein it means “cooperation, partnership, and consultation” as per the dictates of some master.
Gopal Krishna is a public policy researcher and a member of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL), which is campaigning against surveillance technologies since 2010. He had appeared before the Parliamentary Standing on Finance that examined and trashed the Aadhaar Bill, 2010. He is editor, www.toxicswatch.org
This article has been made possible because of financial support from Independent and Public-Spirited Media Foundation.
Image from here.