Narendra Modi- Can’t get away with murder #ishratjahan


June 18, 2013

Manoj Joshi, The Hindu

MISSING LINKS:Officers of forensic and intelligence agencies reconstructing the Ishrat Jahan encounter case on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. —PHOTO: PTI

MISSING LINKS:Officers of forensic and intelligence agencies reconstructing the Ishrat Jahan encounter case on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. —PHOTO: PTI

The Ishrat Jahan encounter case is like the proverbial can of worms whose contents have already spilled out. Not only has it shone the spotlight on the ruthless and, possibly, illegal manner in which the police and intelligence agencies fight terrorism, it has also exposed the Narendra Modi government’s poor record of managing the Gujarat police. And now, it has created schisms within the State police force, and between the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

At the outset, some plain facts: first, fake “encounter killings” — the term used for extrajudicial execution of criminals and alleged terrorists by the police — are not unique to Gujarat. Hundreds of them take place across the country and the policemen involved are often feted as “encounter specialists” whereas, in fact, what they specialise in is the cold-blooded and completely illegal executions of unarmed persons.

Second, there is no exemption for anyone in India’s security set-up to carry out extra-judicial executions. In other words, there is no Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) which indemnifies the State police, politicians or Central intelligence officials from killing alleged terrorists without judicial due process.

To harm Modi

Writing on his website earlier this month, the BJP leader, Arun Jaitley, reiterated the Gujarat police account that the Ishrat group was out to assassinate Mr. Modi and, based on information provided by the IB, it was intercepted and its four members killed in the encounter; after backing the State police version, the Union government changed tack and was now trying to use the case to attack the BJP.

A few “disgruntled police officials” formed the core of the CBI’s case and an effort was being made to target BJP ministers like Amit Shah and Gulab Chand Kataria of Rajasthan with the eventual aim of hitting at Mr. Modi. Now, the Union government had taken it a step further by undermining the IB in its pernicious campaign to harm Mr. Modi and the BJP.

Mr. Jaitley, also the former Union Law Minister during National Democratic Alliance rule, has not said much about the other extra-judicial killings in Gujarat. A Supreme Court mandated Special Task Force headed by a retired Justice H.S. Bedi is investigating 16 encounters that took place between 2003-2006 in Gujarat. In most of the encounters, those killed were alleged to be targeting Mr. Modi and other top BJP ministers in the State. This was the accusation against Sameer Khan Pathan, Sadiq Jamal, Mahendra Jadav, Ganesh Khunte, Sohrabuddin Sheikh, Tulsi Prajapati, Ishrat Jahan, Javed Sheikh (aka Pranesh Pillai), Zeeshan Johar and Amjad Ali Rana. It is another story that most were petty criminals and there is no real evidence that they were out to kill Mr. Modi.

As for Ishrat and her companions, there is considerable mystery about their antecedents and how they came together. As Mr. Jaitley points out, the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) journal, Ghazwa Times , acknowledged her as a cadre, and later withdrew its claim. News leaks claim that the LeT operative, David Coleman Headley (Daood Gilani), had told the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that Ishrat had been recruited by the LeT and that this fact had been communicated to the Indian intelligence, or the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). But there is no reference to Ishrat in the NIA’s report of Headley which was made available to the media and which did have some references to other LeT plots that Headley was aware of. There is something to the issue though since G.K. Pillai, the Union Home Secretary in 2009, acknowledged an affidavit of his ministry to the Gujarat High Court that said there was intelligence information that Ishrat and her companions were terror suspects. More recently, in 2011, Mr. Pillai had reiterated that he stood by the IB tip that linked Ishrat Jahan to an LeT module.

But whether or not Ishrat and her group were terrorists is not the issue. What the Gujarat police officials are being charged with is extra-judicial killing. There are no exemptions in the law for carrying out fake encounters even if the targets are terrorists. The IB is not exempt from the operation of the law of the land either. Mr. Jaitley, of all people, should know that only the judiciary has the right to order an execution, and, after due process.

The ugly truth is that the Gujarat government cynically used the instrument of extra-judicial executions to burnish their own anti-Muslim credentials. In the process, their police officials and, possibly, their ministers, have broken the law. The behaviour of Gujarat police officers such as D.G. Vanzara among others was perhaps most brazen because of the protection they felt that they had from the then Home minister Amit Shah, and, possibly, Mr. Modi. Murder is a very grave charge, and it is far more serious when those accused of it are officials or ministers of the government sworn to uphold the law of the land. Whether or not the police officials who have given the CBI evidence of the wrongdoings of the Gujarat police officers are disgruntled doesn’t really matter. What matters is the truth, and the legal consequences thereafter.

Then there is the issue of the IB. Whether or not Rajendra Kumar, the IB Joint Director in Gujarat, crossed a legal threshold can only be determined through further investigation, and may eventually have to be dealt with by the courts. But there has been something deeply disturbing about the manner in which India’s internal intelligence agency has worked on some terrorism cases in the past. There are several incidents — the Ansal Plaza “encounter” of 2002, or the 2006 attack on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) headquarters, to name just two — which appear to have been staged for domestic political effect, rather than any other purpose. Incidentally, one of the incidents was during the rule of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and the other, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

Independent body

There are no independent means of verifying whether the IB stays within the red lines of the law when it gathers intelligence information or processes and forwards it to State police forces because there is no oversight mechanism to ensure that. Alone among the democracies, India keeps its intelligence agencies away from parliamentary oversight and, indeed, there is little or no internal oversight either. Likewise, short of recourse to the courts, there are no means available to the citizen to take up the issue of police excesses. The result is the persistence of a culture of impunity among the police and intelligence authorities.

Hopefully, on the issue of the Gujarat extra-judicial killings, the courts will weigh the evidence that the SIT and CBI have gathered. Those accused will have the opportunity to respond, and the courts will weigh the evidence and pronounce their verdict. But given the gravity of the charges, there must be some greater takeaway for our security set-up. First, there is the need for a mechanism to ensure that charges of police excesses are quickly investigated and dealt with. Second, terrorism or no terrorism, the intelligence agencies of the country need to function within the law, and this is not something that can be done on the basis of self-certification, but a fact established through an independent, internal inspectorate, as well as a larger parliamentary oversight system.

(Manoj Joshi is Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation and a member of the National Security Task Force 2011-2012, whose recommendations are before the Cabinet Committee on Security.)

The new twists in the Ishrat Jahan encounter case highlight the need for parliamentary oversight of intelligence agencies

 

How many skeletons can Narendra Modi fit in his closet?


Two biographies of the desperately aspiring Narendra Modi are reminders that Gujarat’s ‘CEO’ can’t hide from his grisly past, argues Paranjoy Guha Thakurta

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta

18-05-2013, Issue 20 Volume

Photo: AFPPhoto: AFP

With a substantial section of the Indian media choosing to hype the upcoming 16th General Election as an American presidential style contest between Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, it is not surprising that popular interest in the controversial leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has grown exponentially in recent months. Predictably, two journalist-authors and their publishers have sought to ride the crest of this wave of interest about a person who is arguably the most divisive and deeply contentious political personality in India at present.

It is, of course, a separate matter altogether that Modi’s attempts to project himself as a potential prime minister of the world’s largest democracy may well come to nought and his endeavours at playing a wider role in national politics outside Gujarat may prove to be more bluff and bluster than hard realpolitik. It is also very likely that if he is indeed sought to be projected as the tallest leader of the BJP, he will run into considerable opposition from not just within his own party, but, more importantly, from within the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition headed by the BJP. There is a real and present danger that the NDA may implode if Modi acquires the stature that he apparently seeks, an outcome that would likely result in the coalition’s next largest constituent, the Janata Dal (United) led by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, breaking ranks with the BJP.

The Namo Story Kingshuk Nag Roli Books 208 pp; 295The Namo Story
Kingshuk Nag
Roli Books
208 pp; 295

Even more significant is the fact that it will be extremely difficult — rather impossible — for a so-called national political party and one of its important leaders to aspire to lead a heterogeneous country like India on a Hindu nationalist agenda after alienating one out of seven of the country’s citizens who believe in some variant or the other of the Islamic faith. Despite his best efforts at wooing them in his state, Muslims in India have a visceral hatred for Modi and this is hardly a secret inside and outside the BJP. In fact, as many political analysts have argued, the best bet for the Congress is to have a strong Modi in Gujarat, for this automatically ensures that Muslims and a section of ‘liberal’ Hindus remain distant from the BJP.

As Kingshuk Nag points out right in the beginning of The NaMo Story — much shorter and more tightly written than Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay’s Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times — there is perhaps no one in the country who is indifferent to Modi: you either love him or you hate him. His personality is not amenable to dissection in nuanced shades of grey. There are no ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ as far as the Gujarat chief minister is concerned. Nag is clear where he stands. He is certain (as is this reviewer, who has been quoted in The NaMo Story) that Modi will never ever be able to live down the fact that he presided over an administration that oversaw the genocide of at least 700 Muslims, most of them in Gujarat’s capital Ahmedabad, in a three-month period between late- February and early-May 2002. The ghosts of the not-too-distant past will invariably return to haunt Modi over and over again, no matter how hard he tries to change his public image to that of a go-getting, pro-business leader, the chief executive officer of an industrialised and commerce-friendly state. Some of his overtures have borne fruit: it is hardly surprising that he is the only leader who has been showered with so many accolades by corporate captains, who otherwise prefer to play coy about disclosing their preferences about political leaders.

Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay Tranquebar 420 pp; 495Narendra Modi: The
Man, The Times
Nilanjan
Mukhopadhyay
Tranquebar
420 pp; 495

Mukhopadhyay is more ambivalent in his condemnation of Modi, although it would be unfair to describe his book as either a hagiography or an authorised biography of Modi. He goes to great length to explain what motivated him to behave the way he did and what went through his brain when he chose to ask certain questions (and not ask others) while he interacted with the protagonist of his book. The author tries hard to establish his credentials as an objective political analyst. Given that he had written an earlier book on the December 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid (The Demolition: India at the Crossroads), he has sought to situate the rise of Modi in the BJP in the broader historical context of the emergence of political Hindutva. That he should describe himself as persona non grata in Modi’s world is more a reflection of the intolerance of the Gujarat chief minister than the author’s attempt to portray the latter’s ‘human’ side.

But what is especially disappointing is that Mukhopadhyay has chosen to either completely ignore or play down substantially the views of certain individuals. Such people include the journalist-activist Teesta Setalvad and dancer-activist Mallika Sarabhai. One may or may not endorse their views, but for them to be ignored altogether in a book about Modi took this reviewer by surprise. Even stranger is the fact that there is hardly a mention in the book of a certain Maya Kodnani, former minister for women and child development in Modi’s government and state legislator from Naroda, who is now behind bars for her abhorrent role in the communal riots — the only woman and the only MLA to be convicted so far.

Nag, on the other hand, has highlighted how the Gujarat chief minister sought to become a votary of economic liberalisation and small government as he rose above his humble, low-caste origins in a relatively underprivileged family. The person who was not a particularly bright student in a nondescript school later became an ardent advocate of the use of ‘hi-tech’ in his election campaigns. From serving tea to wearing designer kurtas, the metamorphosis of Modi from a servile small-time party worker to a egoistic megalomaniac is documented. Nag also points out instances of corruption and crony capitalism in Modi’s government despite his claims of running a squeaky-clean administration.

Both authors have written about Modi’s ‘hidden’ wife to whom he was betrothed at a young age, but never lived with. And both books expectedly end somewhat abruptly. For Modi’s story is far from over. Nag rightly wonders if he was prescient when he told a gathering of well-heeled businessmen from across the world that he hoped to be meeting them again in the January 2015 edition of ‘Vibrant Gujarat!’

letters@tehelka.com

How reliable is UID? – R. Ramachandran


Biometric scanning of fingerprints during the launch of UID enrolment at the General Post Office in Bangalore

Biometric scanning of fingerprints during the launch of UID enrolment at the General Post Office in Bangalore

THE Unique Identification (UID) project, the national project of the Government of India, aims to give a unique 12-digit number – called Aadhaar – to every citizen of the country, a random number that is generated and linked to a person’s demographic and biometric information. The key word is “unique”. Launched in 2009 with the objective of reaching various benefits such as the public distribution system (PDS) to the poor, better targeting of developmental schemes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) and enabling services such as the opening of a bank account, this uses technology based on a biometrics recognition system. Significantly, there will only be a UID number and no UID card as had been proposed earlier by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime.

The advocates of the project believe that this will eliminate the multiple bureaucratic layers that the people of the country, particularly the rural poor, are confronted with and the multiplicity of documents that they have to present in order to access their legitimate entitlements, and the channels of corruption that these have bred over the years. But it has been clearly stated that “Aadhaar will only guarantee identity, not rights, benefits or entitlements”. It is only envisaged as a “robust” mechanism to eliminate duplicate and fake identities by uniquely verifying and authenticating genuine beneficiaries and legitimate claimants.

After authentication by a centralised database of biometric and demographic information to which service providers will be linked, this unique identification number alone will enable every individual to access services and entitlements anywhere in the country and at any time. The centralised database, Central ID Repository (CIDR), will be maintained and regulated by the UID Authority of India (UIDAI), which has been set up with the technocrat Nandan Nilekani, former co-chairman of the IT enterprise Infosys, as its chairman.

So will the system do what it claims it will? Socio-political issues and those of ethics and breach of privacy have been raised in this regard in different quarters. But purely at a technical level, the question is whether the technology deployed for identification will return answers that are unambiguous. Can it be that definitive that the authentication and verification made by matching the presented data with the stored data for a given individual in the CIDR will be unique and refer only to that individual? Are there no errors in such biometric systems?

What is biometrics? Biometrics, as defined by the report of the Whither Biometrics Committee (2010) of the National Research Council (NRC) of the United States, “is the automated recognition of individuals based on their behavioural and biological characteristics. It is a tool for establishing confidence that one is dealing with individuals who are already known (or not known) and consequently that they belong to a group with certain rights (or to a group to be denied certain privileges). It relies on the presumption that individuals are physically and behaviourally distinct in a number of ways.” The UID biometric system is a “multi-modal” one and uses data on the ten (single) fingerprints, palm print or slap fingerprint (which combines the features of fingerprints and hand geometry), iris characteristics and facial images of every person.

The NRC study concludes thus: “Human recognition systems are inherently probabilistic and hence inherently fallible. The chance of error can be made small but not eliminated…. The scientific basis of biometrics – from understanding the distribution of biometric traits within given populations to how humans interact with biometric systems – needs strengthening particularly as biometric technologies and systems are deployed in systems of national importance.” A biometric identification system basically involves the matching of measured biometric data against previously collected data, the reference database, for a given individual. Since the sources of uncertainty in a biometric system are many, this can only be approximate. So biometric systems can only provide probabilistic results.

Sources of uncertainty

The sources of uncertainty include variations in biological attributes both within and between persons, sensor characteristics, feature extraction and matching algorithms. Traits captured by biometric systems may change with age, environment, disease, stress, occupational factors, socio-cultural aspects of the situation in which data submission takes place, changes in human interface with the system and, significantly, even intentional alterations. This would be so particularly of the poor engaged in labour-intensive occupations such as farming, where hands are put to rough use causing weathering of finger and hand prints. Recently, it has also been shown that the three “accepted truths” about iris biometrics involving pupil dilation, contact lenses and template aging are not valid. Kevin Bowyer and others from the University of Notre Dame, U.S., have demonstrated that iris biometric performance can be degraded by varying pupil dilation, by wearing non-cosmetic prescription contact lenses, by time lapse between enrolment and verification and by cross-sensor operation and that all these factors significantly alter the matching done to identify an individual uniquely.

According to the NRC report, there are many gaps in our understanding of the nature and distinctiveness and stability of biometric characteristics across individuals and groups. “No biometric characteristic,” it says, “is known to be entirely stable and distinctive across all groups. Biometric traits have fundamental statistical properties, distinctiveness, and differing degrees of stability under natural physiological conditions and environmental challenges, many aspects of which are not well understood, especially at large scales.” (Emphasis added, given its particular relevance to the UID, which has to deal with 1.21 billion registrations in the database.)

Calibration changes and aging of sensors and the sensitivity of sensor performance to variations in the ambient environment (such as light levels) can affect the measurements. Biometric characteristics cannot be directly compared, but their stable and distinctive features are extracted from sensor outputs. Differences in feature extraction algorithms – chiefly pattern recognition algorithms – can affect performance, particularly when they are designed to achieve interoperability among different proprietary systems. However, in the case of UID, customised enrolment and extraction software are supposed to have been used in all systems used by enrolment (registration) agencies across the country. The same will have to be done for systems at the service provider level, where a beneficiary’s data will be captured for authentication. Similar will be the issue with regard to matching algorithms. However, since matching is generally expected to be done at a centralised database at CIDR, only the algorithm’s performance or sensitivity in handling variations in biometric data presented will be important, but this needs to be known and quantified.

Biometric match

A fundamental characteristic of a biometric system is that a biometric match represents “not certain recognition but probability of a correct recognition, while a non-match represents a probability rather than a definitive conclusion that an individual is not known to the system”. Thus, even the best designed biometric systems will be incorrect or indeterminate in a fraction of cases, and both false matches and false non-matches will occur. Recognition errors of biometric systems are stated in terms of false match rate (FMR) – the probability that the matcher recognises an individual as a different enrolled subject – and the false non-match rate (FNMR) – the probability that the matcher does not recognise a previously enrolled subject. (Correspondingly, 1–FNMR means the probability that a trait is correctly recognised and 1–FMR that an incorrect trait is not recognised.)

“Assessing the validity of the match results, even given this inherent uncertainty,” the NRC report points out, “requires knowledge of the population of users who are presenting to the system — specifically, what proportions of those users should and should not match. Even very small probabilities of misrecognitions — the failure to recognise an enrolled individual or the recognition of one individual as another — can become operationally significant when an application is scaled to handle millions of recognition attempts. Thus, well-articulated processes for verification, mitigation of undesired outcomes, and remediation (for misrecognitions) are needed, and presumptions and burdens of proof should be designed conservatively, with due attention to the system’s inevitable uncertainties.”

India’s current population is 1.21 billion and the UID scheme aims to cover all the residents. No country has attempted an identification and verification system on this scale. Though enrolment for the proposed system is stated to be voluntary, it will be on an unprecedented scale because a potential beneficiary can be denied access to a particular scheme or service if the individual does not enrol himself/herself and obtain the Aadhaar number. Indeed, many countries that had launched a biometric identification system have scrapped the idea as there are many unanswered questions about the reliability of a biometric system for the purposes they had considered it. It should be remembered that the objective of the Indian system is developmental, rather than security and related issues that countries of the West have been concerned with, and is aimed at delivering specific benefits and services to the underprivileged and the poor of the country. The envisaged system is also correspondingly different from those proposed elsewhere. To see if the system envisaged by the UIDAI meets these criteria and can deliver unique identification of all, it is important to understand the way the system is supposed to work.

The process

The process of enrolment that is currently on – already about 70 million have enrolled – involves presenting oneself to one of the agencies, termed registrars, identified by the UIDAI for enrolment purposes across the country. This involves the registrar recording the individual’s properly verified basic demographic information – which includes name, address, gender, date of birth, relationship – and capturing biometric information – which includes palm print (slap fingerprint), ten single fingerprints, iris imaging and face imaging – and this is encrypted and transmitted to the UIDAI electronically, including physical transmission using pen-drives for locations that lack any data connectivity. In principle, unknown errors or data corruption could occur at the transmission stage.

Even assuming that the transmission is perfect, data presented during enrolment need to be compared and checked to avoid duplication – “de-duplication” – and thus prevent any fraud. Otherwise one individual may end up with two Aadhaar numbers. So any new set of biometric data – fingerprints and iris prints – need to be compared with those of already enrolled individuals and shown to be different from every other set. This comparison was trivial when the first person, Ranjana Sonawne of Tembhli village in Maharashtra, enrolled because there was no one before that to be compared against. But it is clear that when the nth person goes to enrol, the data will have to be compared against the already enrolled n–1 sets of data. So registrars will send the applicant’s data to the CIDR for de-duplication. The CIDR will perform a search on key demographic fields and on the biometrics for each new enrolment so as to minimise duplication in the database.

Can one totally eliminate duplication? As noted earlier, this will depend on the FNMR which, in a probabilistic system, will be a finite number, however small. So there will be a small but finite probability for duplication to occur. It is easy to see that this matching exercise will involve n(n-1)/2 comparisons, which, as n becomes large, obviously, is a highly computationally intensive exercise requiring large computing power. The number of comparisons will be several orders of magnitude more than the numbers enrolled. So in a population of 1.21 billion, when the (1.21 billion+1)th person comes in to enrol, the CIDR server will have to perform about 700 million billion (7×10 {+1} {+7}) comparisons. This may seem mind-boggling, but a modern-day high-performance computer can do this pretty fast. And since such a de-duplication exercise will be done off-line before issuing the Aadhaar numbers, the time involved in doing the comparisons is not the issue. The key issue is the magnitude of probabilistic error in these comparisons. In case of a false match, for example, the system will reject a genuine applicant. A computer cannot resolve FMR and FNMR cases; it has to be done physically by tracking down individuals and carrying out the re-enrolment-cum-matching exercise.

One way to improve the performance (reducing error rates) of the biometric system is to use the multimodal approach. Data from different modalities – face, palm print, fingerprints and iris in the UID case – are combined. Such systems obviously require different kinds of sensors and software (essentially different algorithms) to capture and process each modality being used for comparison. Already, using 10 single fingerprints provides additional information compared with a single fingerprint and this improves the performance, especially in very large-scale operations. Of course, this will be computationally intensive, particularly when matching is to be done from among millions of references in the database. Multimodality, in addition, will require even greater computational resources.

(Spoofing a single fingerprint has been demonstrated to be possible and such an impostor fingerprint can be used to fool a biometric reader. But this seems nearly impossible to do for all the 10 fingerprints and the palm print without being caught. And, combined with multimodal comparison, chances of such impersonation become extremely low.)

Error rate

The crucial issue, therefore, is the error rate and how many false positive identifications and false negative identification cases can potentially arise? A Proof of Concept (POC) exercise was carried out by the Authority with 40,000 subjects, divided into two sets of 20,000, in rural Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Bihar. This was done to analyse data from rural groups where quality of fingerprints is likely to be uneven.

For POC analyses, only 10 fingerprint data and two iris data were used. The face biometric was not used. According to the report, the study – which clearly was a multimodal one – observed an FNMR – that is a person is identified to be a different individual and re-enrolled resulting in duplication – of 0.0025 per cent.

Similarly, the study observed an FMR – where a new applicant is rejected because of false matching – of 0.01 per cent using irises alone and 0.25 per cent with fingerprints alone. But the concluding claim of the report that “by doing analysis as shown in the examples above on real data captured under typical Indian conditions in rural India, we can be confident that biometric matching can be used on a wider scale to realise the goal of creating unique identities” is clearly misleading as the order of magnitude of such cases of misrecognition in the real situation involving much larger numbers (say hundreds of millions) will be pretty large. The corresponding exercise of resolving these cases would be huge. If not resolved, large numbers would either be denied the benefits due to them or large number of impostors would get benefits that are not legitimately theirs because of inherent errors in the technology.

Also, as the NRC report emphasises, “Although laboratory evaluations of biometric systems are highly useful for development and comparison, their results often do not reliably predict field performance. Operational testing and blind challenges of operational systems tend to give more accurate and usable results than developmental performance evaluations and operational testing in circumscribed and controlled environments.” As against this one-to-many comparisons at the stage of identification of an individual during the enrolment process, the process of authentication or verification when a claimant presents his/her UID number is a case of one-to-one match. The process of Aadhaar authentication, as outlined by the UIDAI, is as follows:

Aadhaar number, along with other attributes (including biometrics), is submitted to the UIDAI’s CIDR for verification. The CIDR verifies whether the data (demographic and/or biometric) submitted match the data available in the CIDR and respond with a “yes/no” answer. No personal identity information is returned as part of the response. And this process can be done online by the service provider linked to the UIDAI. But the authentication is based entirely on the Aadhaar number submitted so that this operation is reduced to a 1:1 match (emphasis added).

This means that the Authority has only to match the presented data with the copy of the individual’s biometrics that was captured earlier and stored in the CIDR corresponding to that UID number. The CIDR will, in turn, say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a particular query on, say, the demographic information of the individual, which can be verified against documents such as Proof of Address (PoA) or Proof of Identity (PoI) by the service provider. This is quite different from the verification required in biometric systems for security purposes, say entry through airports, where every verification procedure may be a one-to-many matching exercise. But authentication, despite being a 1:1 match, could have its own error rates largely arising from inevitable human errors, especially in large-scale implementation – for example, transmitting the wrong Aadhaar number or wrongly keyed-in query – and since the system is designed to answer only in “yes/no”, the service provider, say NREGA, may not be in a position to know that the error has originated at the agency-end itself. While, in principle, the UID number holder should be able to crosscheck what is being transmitted, in the rural Indian context, given the level of illiteracy, this may not always happen.

More pertinently, the verification process could itself become the channel of new ways of corruption. Suppose the service provider deliberately transmits the wrong Aadhaar number during the authentication process and in return obviously gets a ‘no” for an answer to any query pertaining to the claimant of service or benefits that he/she is entitled to. Now this could become the basis of corruption. The service provider could say that the service/benefit can be provided – which the claimant is entitled to legitimately – on payment of ‘x’ amount of money.

This socio-cultural trait of corruption will always find new ways of doing it, especially when such a project is sought to be implemented on such a countrywide scale involving hundreds of million transactions. It is not clear how this manual error – deliberate or otherwise – at the man-machine interface in the UID system can be avoided on a real-time basis during the interaction between a potential beneficiary and the service provider. In addition to probabilistic errors in the biometric identification scheme, perhaps such issues could also become cause of real concern.

FRONTLINE- Volume 28 – Issue 24 :: Nov. 19-Dec. 02, 2011

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