Unique identity crisis- #UID #Aaadhaar #Nandan Nilekani

Author(s): Latha JishnuJyotika Sood, Down to Earth
Issue: May 15, 2012

Biometric-based unique identity or Aadhaar is leading to huge problems for people working for the rural employment guarantee scheme and for others receiving welfare benefits. Not only have enrolments been done shoddily but the experience of the pilot projects shows that it is almost impossible to authenticate the work-hardened fingerprints of the poor, findLatha Jishnu and Jyotika Sood. Besides, there is the overwhelming issue of deficient online connectivity. As a result, some ministries are increasingly opting for smart cards which they say are more reliable and secure

mano devi
Mano Devi’s hands are calloused. The micro-ATM does not recognise her unique identity

Mano Devi is distraught. A woman in her late 30s, who is dependent on the manual work given by the government to keep her going, Mano Devi of Bunkheta village in Jharkhand’s Ramgarh district has missed work allotted under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) for the fourth day in three weeks.

That’s because she has had to come to the Pragya Kendra or Common Service Centre panchayat headquarters at Dohakatu village every day hoping to get her back wages through the machine.

The machine, as she calls it, is the hand-held device/micro-ATM that scans her fingerprints to authenticate her unique identity or the 12-digit Aadhaar number for bank transactions.

For four days now, the micro-ATM has refused to recognise her unique identity, making it impossible for her to collect her wages of the past three weeks. That is a total of 12 days’ wages at the rate of Rs 120 per day.


“They have tried every finger and thumb, but I don’t know why that machine does not accept any of them. I have done everything that the officers and the machine babu have told me to: scrubbed my hands with soap and water, even applied mustard oil,” says a tearful Mano Devi. The machine babu is the banking correspondent (BC), Rajesh Kumar, appointed by the Bank of India. So every day she has returned empty handed to her home about two km away, let down by the sophisticated technology that was supposed to relieve her of the tedium of going to the nearest branch bank to collect her wages, and losing a working day in the process. The problem for Mano Devi is her fingerprints. Her hands are calloused. Touch her fingers and you can feel the cuts, the hardened skin which is the result of the tough work she is engaged in: breaking stones, picking up heavy material, ploughing and, of course, working in the kitchen.

She asks the BC if she can go back to the old system where she was paid through the post office, but the BC tells that since she is a part of the pilot of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), it is not possible for her to withdraw her wages through any other route. “When they took our fingerprints some months ago and gave us a card with a number we were told that we would not have to go to the bank or post office for our wages. The wages would come to us. Now I am not getting my money.”

The way this works, or does not as in many a case, is the information from the micro-ATM is first routed to the bank branch server and on to the National Payment Corporation of India server from where the Aadhaar is sent to the UIDAI’s central database, Central ID Repository, for authentication. It then comes all the way back to the micro-ATM device which is connected to the GPRS network through the sim card of a local service provider.

The three banks that have joined the pilot are ICICI Bank, which is using the services of Fino, a business and banking technology company that specialises in services delivery; Bank of India that has outsourced it to United Telecoms Limited (UTL) and Union Bank. Interestingly, MGNREGA payments are already being routed through banks and post offices following a policy decision in 2008. In addition, old age pensions and school stipends are also part of the pilot (see ‘Clueless on banking’).

Across the three districts of Jharkhand—Ranchi, Hazaribagh and Ramgarh—where the pilots are being conducted to test the ease and efficacy of the UID platform for disbursing wages and other welfare payments directly to the beneficiaries, the story repeats itself with minor variations. The attempt by UIDAI, headed by software entrepreneur Nandan Nilekani, is to prove the practical application of its project which has run into criticism on account of its huge costs (estimated at Rs 9,000 crore for collecting the biometrics of 600 million residents) and questions about its utility.

But in the well-appointed offices of UIDAI in Delhi’s Connaught Place where the modalities of the pilots were worked out, deputy director general Ashok Pal Singh is reassuring: “In any new process it is quite possible the system is not working. It happened with banks when they went in for online transactions.”

His contention is that there is no denial of service since people like Mano Devi can go back to the bank for the wages. “They are no worse off than before.”

That does not seem to be the case in Dohakatu and elsewhere where large numbers of old age pensioners and wage workers have not been authenticated. There is a big problem out here: the UIDAI guidelines say nothing about re-enrolments. Officials, too, are not sure how those who have been issued Aadhaar numbers can be re- enrolled.

For Roopna Rao, Champoo Devi, Laxman Rao, Atbor Oraon and Jhingiya Oraon, whose biometrics have been rejected permanently, the outlook is bleak.

Ratu Block officials say that there had been major problems in reading fingerprints when UID enrolments were made in 2010.

It appears that the enrolment agencies just clicked a photograph and did not ensure that the fingerprints were scanned. A local UID official confirms this.

“Enrolment agencies had given targets to the operators and were putting pressure on them. What must have happened is that they showed some people as not having fingers and recorded them as exceptional cases.”

At least 200 such cases have come to light in Jharkhand where an agency had provided only the iris details to generate Aadhaar numbers by misusing a provision in the UID guidelines that says one biometric detail, either fingerprints or iris, is allowed if one is of poor quality or not available. It is called forced capturing.

Singh, who is in charge of financial inclusion and strategic planning in UIDAI, says: “Give us that much credit. We have a system in place.

It is in the early stages and we are making continuous improvements.” Singh, who says he has been “involved with technology all my life” and was earlier in charge of networking the country’s 150,000 post offices, declares that “there is no system that works 100 per cent.” And in a project of this size, the largest in the world, there would always be some glitches.

imageUIDAI director general R S Sharma explains the process of UID enrolmentThis is a recurring theme with UIDAI. In an interview given earlier to Down To Earth, Ram Sevak Sharma, director general of UIDAI, said that nowhere in the world was there such a large database of biometrics and as such it was “not proven technology at this scale”.

Besides, “nothing is 100 per cent accurate; it is simply not possible.” All the same, Sharma had admitted then that “fingerprint quality had not been studied in the Indian context”. But since then UIDAI has released a study on proof of concept on authentications—and its findings are far from reassuring.

In its Authentication Accuracy Report released in March this year, the authority claimed that proof of concept conducted in a rural setting “representing typical demography of the population” establishes the following:

imageUsing the best finger single-attempt gives an accuracy of 93.5 per cent;

imageUsing multiple (up to three) attempts of the same best finger improves the accuracy to 96.5 per cent.

It did not say how many of the 50,000 people used in the study were from rural areas since a large part of the exercise was undertaken in Delhi. The study also notes differences in performance of different sensor-extractor combinations and “enabled identification of device specifications and certification procedure necessary for high authentication accuracy under Indian conditions”.

In the field though, the experience is not as good as the report claims. In Tigara, just 45 km from Ranchi, Mahmud Alam, the BC employed by UTL, discloses that since the pilots started on December 23, 2011, just 20 people with Aadhaar have been mapped for MGNREGA payments although Ratu Block has about 800 MGNREGA card holders. Of the 20 mapped, five have been debarred since their biometrics could not be authenticated by his device despite repeated attempts. In addition, 60 to 80 people have been drawing pension. According to Jharkhand officials, the state has around four million MGNREGA cardholders. The scaling up could reveal much larger authentication errors.

Watching Alam on a hot March afternoon is a lesson in how the UID platform is fraught with uncertainties and shortcomings. The biggest problem is connectivity. There are two towers directly across the road from the Pragya Kendra in Tigara panchayat and a third is being erected in the vicinity. Yet, Alam is forced to make a round of the Kendra and finally move out towards the anganwadi before he is able to make contact with his bank server. “Connectivity is at the heart of this system. If the GPRS link works everything goes well; otherwise this micro-ATM is as good as dead.”

Followed patiently by the MGNREGA workers who trail him from point to point as he tries for connectivity, Alam is aware of the growing anxiety of his flock. One of them finally proves lucky. Arjun Goap, an 18-year-old farm lad who has done some land levelling work in Barsai Tola (hamlet), some 4 km away, is finally through on the fourth try and after a wait of an hour. But, sometimes, if connectivity is good a transaction can be completed in 20 seconds, explains Alam.

imageArjun Goap gets his fingerprint scanned to withdraw his MGNREGA wages at Tigara panchayat in Ranchi (Photos: Jyotika Sood)Interestingly, the Pragya Kendras where the payments are made were set up in 2009 by then principal secretary of the Department of Information and Technology, Jharkhand, and now the director general of UIDAI and its top honcho after chairman Nilekani. In fact, most of the panchayat offices where the BCs disburse payments boast a mobile phone tower or two. Connectivity away from the panchayat centres of course is nil.

It is believed that Jharkhand was chosen for the pilots because of Sharma’s influence in his home state although the official version is that Chief Minister Arjun Munda is “greatly interested in technology” and opted for UID to cut down subsidy leaks. But UIDAI officials admit that they have approached several state governments to push for projects. In Alwar, Rajasthan has decided to link subsidised kerosene supplies to Aadhaar and is reported to have weeded out a number of ghost cards. But it is a small experiment where just a 100 people have been mapped.

In Mysore, the Indian Oil Corporation has decided to use the UID platform to weed out those who are ineligible for subsidised cooking gas cylinders but so far the pilot has made only limited headway. The plan was to have such pilots in Pune and Hyderabad, too, but this appears to have been put on hold.

Dhaneswar RajakMicro-ATM does not accept the fingerprints of Dhaneswar Rajak of Chutiyaro village in Hazaribagh for the second dayAs more instances come to light of slipshod enrolment through indiscriminate outsourcing to agencies, ministries are becoming wary of using the UID platform for direct transfer of welfare benefits to the beneficiaries. One, most tellingly, is said to be the Union Ministry of Rural Development whose boss Jairam Ramesh was witness to a 30-minute delay in getting connectivity during the launch of the pilot in Jharkhand.

Another is theUnion Ministry of Labour & Employment which is riding high on the success of its smart card used in the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY), the health insurance scheme for those on the BPL list. In the four years since the scheme was launched by Sudha Pillai, the then secretary of the ministry, against much opposition, RSBY cards have now reached 29 million beneficiaries and proved to be a secure way of disbursing cash-free hospital care for beneficiaries.

The finance ministry allocated Rs 1,758 crore to UIDAI this year against Rs 1,200 crore in 2011-12

Curiously, the finance ministry which allocated a generous Rs 1,758 crore to UIDAI in the current budget against Rs 1,200 crore for 2011-12 appears to be plumping for the smart card for various welfare benefits instead of using the Aadhaar platform.

In fact, the RSBY card which has been upgraded from 32 kilobyte to 64 kb, is envisaged to serve as a multi-purpose card providing different social security benefits. In fact, the UIDAI appears to have split the bureaucrats into two camps: those who view the project as “grossly wasteful expenditure and duplication” and others who believe it might yet work if the enrolments are streamlined and connectivity is not a stumbling block.

As a senior government official explains: “The budgetary allocation and the compromise reached in January are face-saving measures. Since the prime minister had made UIDAI his pet project the government had to give in.” The bureaucrat is referring to the decision by the government to allow UIDAI to collect the biometrics of another 400 million residents—it was earlier allotted 200 million—after a public standoff between Nilekani, who enjoys Cabinet rank, and Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram on the biometric collection issue.

Five of the 20 people mapped in Tigara could not be authenticated as their biometrics did not match

While the UIDAI’s primary mandate was to provide Aadhaar numbers to the entire population, it had sought to corner a larger share of the biometric collection pie. The Home Ministry which wanted it done by the more thorough methods adopted by the Registrar General of India, who had been authorised to prepare a National Population Register (NPR), had to settle for an equal share of 600 million residents. NPR is expected to cost another Rs 6,634 crore but excludes the cost of a smart card that is to be issued to every resident of India with an Aadhaar number.

P ChidambaramUnion Home Minister P Chidambaram launches Resident Identity Cards at Pattipulam village in Tamil NaduIncreasingly, the smart card is being viewed as a better alternative to the UID platform primarily because it does not require real time connectivity and has inbuilt security features that are less vulnerable to being tampered with. Officials of the National Informatics Centre (NIC) point out that the smart cards being developed by it for different government schemes, such as RSBY, the public distribution system and for NPR are more secure because there is complete control over the technology and over the standards. It is, in fact, a multi-factor authentic system that avoids the security worries in UID (see ‘Competing security claims’).

The biggest push comes from the Union Food and Civil Supplies Ministry which is expected to earmark Rs 4,000 crore to assist states in digitising ration cards to help eliminate fake cards and check diversion of grain. Arunachal Pradesh, Chandigarh, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Odisha and Puducherry are among the states that have opted for smart card designed by NIC.

Other boost is for the RSBY. Anil Swarup, director general, labour welfare, in the Labour Ministry, says discussions are under way to see if RSBY cards—close to 29 million have been issued so far and the number is expected to double in another three years—can also be used as job cards for MGNREGA since it is the same population group that will be availing itself of the benefits. For one, there is strict identification of beneficiaries and for another, cards are carefully vetted and personally handed over by a government official. Already, the finance ministry has set up several working groups to figure out how to transfer more financial inclusion schemes to the RSBY card.

RSBY scores over the UID model because its smart card can function as effectively offline. Swarup, who has publicly debated with Nilekani on this issue at several forums, points out that developing countries like India need an offline system to be fully functional since real time connectivity is a long way off.

Even a developed country like Germany is banking on the RSBY model to reach welfare benefits to a part of its population, he says (see‘Germany opts for the smart card’). The problem for UIDAI, according to some analysts, appears to be waning interest in enrolling for its Aadhaar since it is not mandatory as yet. Therefore, it needs to demonstrate that the 12-digit unique identity has some value. But this is proving a challenge for the authority. While the first UID number holders in Maharashtra are still trying to figure how it will help them get their PDS supplies, others in Jharkhand are already ruing its entry.

Wishing Kapil Sibal a Happy 1st of April


Newsclick, 1 April, 2012

Newsclick is joining other activists and websites in wishing Kapil Sibal a happy April Fool’s Day. Not because he is being foolish in trying to censor the net, but because he is being too clever by half. Which amounts to the same thing.

Sibal is one of country’s leading lawyers and as the Minister of Information Technology, we would have thought the right person to create an enlightened legal framework for the Internet. But instead of taking the high road — what is an appropriate legal regime for the Internet which would allow the growth of new media and new Internet business models, Sibal chose to take the low road — how can the ruling party police the net in its own interest. This is what explains his calling various Internet platforms and Social Media sites and asking them to take down material that is derogatory to the Congress leaders; or else. If we believe the newspaper reports, his message was frank and brutal. Here is material on the net for which we can “get” you and here is material that we do not want. And here is the quid pro quo, take down one on your own what we don’t want and we will protect you on the other. If you don’t, we will see you are in trouble.

Of course we all know that Internet has material that violates Indian laws. Some of it is legal in other countries. The power of Internet is that it is one common cyberspace, the net does not fragment into Indian net, the Chinese net, the US net and so on. If we want the net to obey only our laws, it means creating an Indian net and seceding from the rest. Something the Chinese seem to be trying, though with only limited success. So here was an opportunity — create a legal regime for the net which would allow its current free character and yet take out or block material that we consider illegal. If India wanted to go down this path, this would have been indeed welcome. And it would have joined a number of countries that are grappling with this very issue.

Sibal chose to take another path. He thought that the ambiguity of law that exists on the net could be used to the advantage of the ruling party. The Internet platforms — social networking sites, Google and its search engine, blogging sites — are all intermediaries. They and the Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) provide our access to the net. So if he could make these players carry out his wishes, he could create a China like Internet without the Government having to do anything — the Internet platforms and ISP’s would do it for him. A Chinese model of control with a distinctive Indian twist — the markets could be used to do the Government’s bidding — private censorship carried out at Government’s behest.

Google and Facebook are there for making money from their users. For them, every user of their platforms are “products” to be sold to advertisers. This is the same as the Television channels — more the eyeballs more the advertisers are willing to pay. So Sibal’s calculation was given the size of the Indian market, these players would cave in and privately censor the net for him. Freedom on the net is not what drives the Internet platforms — they have their business to protect.

The problem for the Internet platforms  is that what Sibal is asking is completely arbitrary — how will they as private parties take down material that Sibal might think is bad? Who would tell them to take down material and how would this be communicated?And if they accept this for India, would they in turn have to do it for other countries as well. They would have to develop country specific tools —  for example no general search engine but only a country specific one. A regime that would not work in the long run even as a business. For them, the operational difficulties make such a regime unworkable.

Sibal and his net czar, a Gulshan Rai in the Department of IT obviously believe all this is easy. It is in line with a similar understanding that Pakistan Government has — it has recently advertised for a software tool that is capable of filtering out up to 50 million Web addresses in multiple languages with a processing delay of one millisecond. In other words a godlike censor! What Sibal is trying is that all ISP’s Internet platforms does what Pakistan Government wants but at their own cost.

Leaving aside who develops it, is such a filtering scheme feasible? This is where technology has to meet law — we need a legal regime that understands the limits of technology. Not one where we say this is the law as we see it and technology can go hang itself.

All new technologies create new legal issues. The legal problems of the Internet is the result of new digital technologies..The Internet is new and so is user generated content. It has created a scenario in which we no longer need mass media to reach the people. If the message strikes a resonance, the people will amplify the message.  It is not the only area — copyright regime is also affected by digital technologies. We either modify the laws or create new laws to deal with such issues. This is the only sensible option a country has today. An option that Sibal did not exercise.

That is why we are all wishing him a Happy April Fool’s Day.

Join the Campaign ” Save your Voice “

The UIDAI project: why some of the optimism might be Nir-aadhar

200 px

200 px (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few months ago Nandan Nilekani had published an editorial in the National Medical Journal of India extolling the virtues of the Aadhar project for health. His article is available at Editorial-II.pdf

Anant Bhan  and Sunita Bandewar have responded to this article questioning some of the claims in the editorial.The resposne hasbeen published in the latest NMJI and is  below
The UIDAI project: why some of the optimism might be nir-aadhar

The article by Nandan Nilekani in the NMJI 2011 May-June issue[1] provides an interesting laundry list of advantages which an Aadhar number could provide to those registered through the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). Nonetheless, it is surprising to see no equivalent of a limitations section. The article fails to present a holistic and full picture of the landscape- in absence of any reference to expected challenges, the potential for duplication of existing mechanisms; and
threats the Aadhar project poses, particularly to privacy of personal information of individuals, and data security– and mention of any proposed measures the UIDAI is taking to address these.  Even a cursory uninformed examination of the claims in the article will lead the reader to believe that while the intention is laudable, the process and means can definitely be causes of concern. As readers, we had several questions related to the approach to, implementation of as well as legislative
adequacy of the UIDAI initiative and their implications for its success. .

Why two sets of identification data?

It is unclear as to why two sets of identification data – demographic and bio-informatics – are required for securing an Aadhar number. Also, the operational aspects and possible misuse could be causes of concern. Currently individuals face many problems in fulfilling the expectations of producing proof of residence, birth date etc. for securing other key government identification documents (such as voting card, passport and ration card) and it is unspecified how similar tribulations would be minimized for those seeking an Aadhar number?

Would securing an Aadhar number truly remain voluntary? 

While some benefits of having an Aadhar number are pointed out like immunization tracking for children, the system also worrying suggests a clear link between basic health provisioning (such as immunization) and the need for official proof of being an Indian resident (to be certified through the possession of an Aadhar number). If this is indeed the case, it would mean that providers especially in the public healthcare system might not be able to provide any kind of health services to vulnerable populations like ‘illegal’ immigrants in the country. It should not be the duty or responsibility of a healthcare provider to sit in judgment on a patient’s legal status of entitlement of health services. A patient presenting at a healthcare facility without an Aadhar number might be suspected of being a non-citizen- and stigmatized- and not provided any health services, or even worse, pursued by the state machinery. Linking Aadhar to essential public health services like immunization could mean that undocumented immigrants, among other vulnerable groups, would shun health programs and hence put themselves and others in the community at risk of vaccine-preventable and other communicable conditions.

Although, it is currently voluntary to opt to secure an Aadhar number, the emphasis on its use in health care context in the way Nilekani advocates in the article might run the risk of Aadhar number becoming almost inevitable and “mandatory” for better, swifter and smoother access to health care in due course of time. Aadhar has already become compulsory for LPG provision by government oil companies as part of a pilot project in Mysore[2]. Similar concerns have been expressed by others, too[3].

Wouldn’t the proposal of use of Aadhar for immunization tracking be duplication of efforts? 

The government has already launched a separate system for maternal and child health tracking,including immunization[4] through the National Rural Health Mission Health Management Information System  (http://nrhm-mis.nic.in/mchtracking.htm     http://nrhm-mcts.nic.in/) and it’s not clear why UIDAI should aim to replicate the same through Aadhar. We believe there might be other instances where such replication of efforts might be probable- this is both a waste of resources and increases the chances of threats to data security.

Is the health system sufficiently equipped to use Aadhar number? 

Assuming the Aadhar number could finally be used in the health care context as Nilekani delineates, is our health system equipped with the required e-platform across the nation; and are there adequately trained human resources to run such a sophisticated system  available, or being recruited, at every level within the health system?  It appears that the use of the Aadhar number as envisioned would warrant inter-ministerial and inter-sectoral coordination and resource investment for its meaningful realization. It is not clear as to how this is being planned and executed.

Would the system to protect privacy and data protection be truly foolproof? 

The issue of privacy of personal information (especially health) and associated challenges are not mentioned in the article. It is also not clear as how data safety will be ensured. In response to one of the questions in the parliament regarding mechanisms to protect data from unauthorised use in UIDAI, it was said that the data would be encrypted at source along with measures such as limiting physical use, and putting standard security infrastructure[5].

We wonder if that would be sufficient given the current trends of data theft from the supposedly safe and well protected sectors, such as banking and information technology which use similar mechanisms. As instances of theft and misuse of information becomes commonplace, as evidenced by increasing credit card fraud and frequent hacking of government websites[6],any framework for information collection which does not have robust safeguards  should be grounds for concern. As well, India does not have any coherent policy or law governing data encryption [7],[8], [9].

In the contemporary context of globalised terrorism, it would also be challenging for the UIDAI to comply with the promise of confidentiality towards data collected if faced with mounting pressures from investigation and intelligence agencies, whether domestic or foreign, to share bioinformatics information of individuals suspected to be associated with terrorism and violence.  Although a
somewhat different context, the recent episode of a vaccination campaign launched by the US intelligence agency CIA aimed specifically at collecting DNA samples from the Osama Bin Laden household in Abbottabad in Pakistan[10] is representative of reasons for our concerns on this front of the potential of misuse of a public health program collecting identifiable data.

The initial Aadhar registration system being implemented also provides reason for worry. As the enrolment process has been sub-contracted via tenders to private firms, there is seemingly no guarantee of how information and data security will be maintained. Moreover, ensuring data protection from interested parties such as insurance companies who could choose to deny health insurance coverage to individuals based on their health profiles is paramount. Unless stringent safeguards are built in, the Aadhar number could be a serious and risky intrusion into our privacy.

Furthermore, it is ambiguous as to how harmonization and reconciliation across various legal apparatuses, such as, the National Identification Authority of India Bill and the proposed Right to Privacy Bill[11] would be achieved with regards to protecting personal information gathered under the Aadhar project.

Against this backdrop,we believe the editorial by Nilekani raises more questions than provides answers, and hence it is apt to question the claims of the article.

Finally, we also find it disconcerting that though the author declares his affiliation with the UIDAI, there is no conflict of interest statement in the article. Nilekani as head of the initiative is expected to have a positive bias towards the program. We believe it would have been good practice for a conflict of interest statement to have been appended with the article.

Anant Bhan, Pune, Maharashtra

Sunita V S  Bandewar, Pune, Maharashtra



[1]Nilekani N. Building a foundation for better health: The role of the Aadhaar number. Natl Med J India.2011 May-Jun;24(3):133-5.

[2]Milton L. Aadhaar number to be must for LPG services. The Times of India. 2011 Aug 8 [cited 2011 Aug 18]. Available: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mysore/Aadhaar-number-to-be-must-for-LPG-services/articleshow/9533385.cms

[3]Ramanathan U. A private right or a public affair? Tehelka Magazine. 2011 Jul 9 [cited 2011 Aug 18]; Vol 8, issue 27. Available:  http://www.tehelka.com/story_main50.asp?filename=Ne090711PROSCONS.asp

[4]Government Health. Now, a tracking system for immunisation in India. 2011 August 3 [cited 2011 August 18]. Available:

[5]  Unique Identification Authority of India. Government of India Planning Commission, Rajya Sabha Questions. Question no 393(Answered on 2011 Feb 24) [cited 2011 Aug 20].  Available:http://uidai.gov.in/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=171&Itemid=150#rs

[6]Kurup D. ‘State actor’ linked to major cyber intrusions in India, world. The Hindu Bangalore edition. 2011 Aug 4 [cited 2011 Aug 18]. Available: http://www.thehindu.com/news/article2319894.ece

[7]Data Security Council of India.Recommendations for Encryption Policy Regulation u/s 84A of the Information
Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008.  Prepared by DSCI/NASSCOM with inputs from the industry.  2009 Jul 13 [cited 2011 Aug 16]. Available:http://www.dsci.in/sites/default/files/encryption_policy_dsci_final_submission_to_dit.pdf

[8]Dalal, P.Encryption policy of India needed.  2011 Jun 19 [cited 2011 Aug 5]. Available: http://ictps.blogspot.com/2011/06/encryption-policy-of-india-is-needed.html

[9]Waris S. Government asleep over encryption regulations. 2009 Aug 20 [cited 2011 Aug 21], Available: http://www.legallyindia.com/20090820138/Legal-opinions/government-asleep-over-encryption-regulations

[10]Reardon S. Pakistan. Decrying CIA vaccination sham, health workers brace for backlash. Science.2011 Jul 22;333(6041):395.

[11]Venkatesan J. Bill on ‘right to privacy’ in monsoon session: Moily. The Hindu, 2011 June 7 [cited 2011 Aug 17]. Available: http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article2082643.ece

Budgetary allocation for Aadhar project is in contempt of Parliament

Civil society groups welcome the submission of a memorandum opposing Aadhaar and other anti-people policies to the prime minister along with a big truckload of signatures numbering 3.57 crore on March 14, says Gopal Krishna 

The Union Budget’s allocation of Rs 1758 crore, after it having spent Rs 14,232 crore, for Aadhar-UID demonstrates a contempt of Parliament as it seems to ignore the recommendations of the report of parliamentary standing committee on finance on the National Identification Authority of India  Bill 2010. This was presented to Parliament on December 13, 2011, and questioned the legality of collection of biometric data for Aadhaar and National Population Register without legislative mandate.

While presenting the Union Budget 2009-10, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee  had announced the setting up of the Unique Identification Authority of India by the government to “establish an online data base with identity and biometric details of Indian residence and provide enrolment and verification services across the country”. He had allocated Rs 120 crore for this project as “a major step in improving governance with regard to delivery of public services”.

The minister did not inform Parliament that the UIDAI “was created during 2009-10 and a modest start with an expenditure of Rs 30.92 crore was made.” Parliament has been kept in dark about how Unique Identification/Aadhaar numbers to every resident in India started unfolding without sharing “the linkages of various welfare schemes steered by different ministries/departments of the Government of India“. Not only that, the “reports of the Demographic Data Standards and Field Verification Committee and Biometrics Committee were completed” without any legislative approval. 

The government has ensured that the legislative wing remains unaware about how UIDAI selected the “managed service provider” for the Central Identity Data Repository of Aadhaar numbers. For this a budget of Rs 1900 crores was allocated in the Union Budget 2010-11 by the finance minister. It is admitted that the “CIDR will be handed over to the managed service provider on a long-term contract basis”. The UIDA was given Rs 3,000 crore for fiscal 2011-12. Its details are missing from the public domain. The shifting national identities of MSP and their relationship with external and internal intelligence agencies merit a parliamentary probe.

The explosive and revealing report of parliamentary standing committee on finance specifically raises questions about the legality of the collection of biometrics while creating a citizen / resident database. The report reads (in the section on ‘Observations/ Recommendations): ‘The collection of biometric information and its linkage with personal information 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.’ This reveals that the allocation in the Union Budget was illegitimate and beyond its legislative mandate. 

Unmindful of such a categorical observation of the PSC on finance, the National Population Register project — a comprehensive identity database to be maintained by the Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India, Union ministry of home affairs — is being continued. It is claimed that the objective of creating this identity database is to help in better utilisation and implementation of the benefits and services under government schemes, improve planning and improve security.

The Union Budget speech 2012-13 under the heading ‘Growth, Fiscal Consolidation and Subsidies’ reads: ’23. The recommendations of the taskforce headed by Shri Nandan Nilekani on IT strategy for direct transfer of subsidy have been accepted…This step will benefit 12 crore farmer families, while reducing expenditure on subsidies by curtailing misuse of fertilisers.” Such claims of benefits from direct transfer of subsidy has been debunked in the past, but the government remains adamant to pursue this path under the influence of vested interests.

The Economic Survey 2011-12 reveals: ‘The Aadhaar project is set to become the largest biometric capture and identification project in the world.’ It does not acknowledge that such projects have been abandoned in several countries, a fact which has been recorded in the report of PSC on finance.   

It is admitted by the UIDAI that there are “ownership risks (Ownership of the project by stakeholders), technology risks (nowhere in the world has a project of this size been implemented) and privacy concerns (there may be groups raising privacy issues — many ID projects in Western countries have been stalled due to the opposition of privacy groups).” The UIDAI claims that it is “putting into place risk mitigation strategies to minimise some of these risks” but this has never been shared with the Parliament and the citizens. 

While all this has happened, the PSC report on finance has concluded that Aadhaar platform has been “conceptualised with no clarity of purpose” and is “directionless” in its implementation, leading to “a lot of confusion”. Under the existing legal framework, biometric data is collected only under the Identification of Prisoner Act, that too for a temporary period. In the case of Aadhaar and NPR, biometric data is being collected for permanent safekeeping without any constitutional or legal approval. Aadhaar-related NPR project is being spearheaded by the ministry of home affairs is aimed at the creation of this comprehensive identity database. 

The NPR project consists of two components: demographic data digitisation of all the usual residents and biometric enrolment of all such residents who are aged five and above. The demographic data — refers to the personal information collected during Census 2011 by the census enumerators based on the data fields prescribed by the Registrar General of India for the NPR schedules and by following the process laid down for the purpose and biometric data — refers to the facial image, iris scan of both eyes and ten fingerprints of enrollees collected by the enrolment agency.

The fact is that these actions of the Union home ministry are “beyond the scope of subordinate legislation” but instead, it has issued only guidelines for collection of biometric data under the Citizenship Act 1955 and Citizenship Rules. It states that it is compulsory for every citizen of the country to register in the NRIC. The creation of the NPR is the first step towards preparation of the NRIC. It contends that out of the universal dataset of residents, the subset of citizens would be derived after due verification of the citizenship status. In the absence of any legislative mandate for such far-reaching efforts, it cites to a recommendation of group of ministers on the National Security System for Multipurpose National Identity Card in 2001 for all citizens. This is hardly convincing.

Civil society groups welcome the submission of a memorandum opposing Aadhaar and other anti-people policies to the prime minister along with a big truckload of signatures numbering 3.57 crore on March 14. Against such a backdrop, these signatures seeking the scrapping of Aadhaar underline the illegality and illegitimacy of the entire surveillance project.

The Curious Case of Whose Data is it Anyway?

Tactical Technology Collective and the Centre for Internet & Society invite you to the second round of discussions of the Exposing Data Series at the CIS office in Bangalore on 24 January 2012. Siddharth Hande and Hapee de Groot will be speaking on this occasion.

Like countless others, this title is a convenient adaptation of a 1972 play by Brian Clark, Whose Life is it Anyway?, a meditation on ‘euthanasia’ and the extent to which governments or the law can determine the private life of an individual. In a similar sense we use the title to help frame the second set of conversations in the Exposing Data Series, to zero in on the idea of data and who has the right to decide what happens with it. Philosophically, and also at the level of code, computing and the law, the ownership of data can be a somewhat odd and a contentious thing to grapple with. The only other understandings of ‘ownership’ we really have are those of property and identity and these get imputed onto the intangibility of data. And, in some senses now, many aspects of one’s identity exist as data.

There are a range of experiences of data ownership that we talk about and experience daily. On the one hand you can hoard hard disks with favourite content to retrieve memories and experiences. On the other end of things, you can aggregate your experiences and memories with that of thousands of others, that then gets treated almost like a private hard disk belonging to some mysterious X. Who is this Mysterious X? Is there a Y? Or an XY? What is the trajectory of data in its movement from the individual to a larger, shadowy infrastructure that harvests it? What happens to our idea of data in its reconfiguration from intangible code to an idea of politics and rights? To introduce another provocation, do our existing ideas of data ownership objectify individuals? What does this objectification imply for the notion of personal privacy? For example, does the fetishization of ‘things’ called data obfuscate the idea of personal privacy?

One of the ways in which we may consider looking at open data initiatives for transparency and accountability is to assess it as discourse, and in relation to what happens when communities aggregate data. Open Government Data usually involves a top-down approach in terms of how it is aggregated, collated, shared, whilst community based approaches are more particular, contextual and local. What do these different approaches give us when we bring them to the same table?

The second event in the Exposing Data Series will focus on data ownership, looking into open government data and community-based data aggregation, to explore the various levels of data collection, the movement of data and its exchange, its representation, and dissemination in different contexts.

Siddharth Hande, Transparent Chennai
Hapee de Groot, Hivos, Netherlands

This event is free and open to everyone. However, we would appreciate a confirmation of attendance ahead of time so as to ensure that your space is reserved. To confirm your attendance please write to: yelena.gyulkhandanyan@gmail.com

Date: Jan 24, 2012
Time: 04:00 p.m to 06:00 p.m.
Venue: Centre for Internet and Society, #194, 2nd C Cross, Domlur 2nd Stage, Bangalore – 560071

IIT Seminar on Privacy

Privacy Matters: Analyzing the “Right to Privacy Bill”

Privacy India, and in partnership with the Centre for Internet & Society, International Development Research Centre, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, the Godrej Culture Lab and Tata Institute of Social Sciences, is organizing “Privacy Matters” a public conference focused on discussing the challenges and concerns to privacy in India.

Address of venue

Indian Institute of Technology
79, 2nd Main Road, Gandhinagar Powai, 400076, Mumbai

Event dates and times

Saturday, January 21st, 2012, from 10:00 am – 6:00pm

Event prices

Open & Free to the public.

Nearest train station and bus stop

Kanjur Marg (West) station or Vikhroli (West) station and then take the IITB bus
IIT Bombay Map: http://www.iitb.ac.in/campus/howto/howtoget.html

Telephone number(s)



Contact Details

Natasha Vaz

Opposition to the world’s biggest biometric identity scheme is growing

FOR a country that fails to meet its most basic challenges—feeding the hungry, piping clean water, fixing roads—it seems incredible that India is rapidly building the world’s biggest, most advanced, biometric database of personal identities. Launched in 2010, under a genial ex-tycoon, Nandan Nilekani, the “unique identity” (UID) scheme is supposed to roll out trustworthy, unduplicated identity numbers based on biometric and other data. Any resident who wants one can volunteer. The scheme combines work by central and state governments and a number of other partners—largely technology firms that capture and process individuals’ data. The goal, says Mr Nilekani, is to help India cope with the past decade’s expansion of welfare provision, the fastest in its history: “it is essentially about better public services”.

All that should have been the recipe for a project mired in delays, infighting, empire-building, graft and bad results. Few expected UID to hit its ambitious targets. A year ago, only a few million had enrolled and barely 1m identity numbers had been issued. Warnings about fragile technology, overwhelmed data-processing centres and surging costs suggested slow progress.

Instead this week saw the 110-millionth UID number issued. Enrolments (which precede issued numbers by some months) should reach 200m in a couple of weeks. Mr Nilekani, eagerly hopping about his office to call up data on his laptop, says that over 20m people are now being signed up every month. He expects to get to 400m by the year’s end. That is an astonishing outcome. For a government that has achieved almost nothing since re-election in May 2009, the scheme is emerging as an example of real progress.

By 2014, the likely date of the next general election, over half of all Indians could be signed up. If welfare also starts flowing direct into their accounts, the electoral consequences could be profound. To get a sense of the scale of UID’s achievement, linger at a mosquito-ridden enrolment centre in Uttan Gaon, a coastal village north of Mumbai. Huddled in a damp fire-station a young man connects a laptop, a binocular-style iris scanner and a glowing green machine that records 30 points from a set of fingerprints.

In the gloom, his contraption could be a robot from an early Star Wars film. Employed by Wipro, a technology firm and agent for the UID project, he has to get through 40 to 50 residents a day. His hassles, and those of armies of others deployed all across India, look endless. At times no one comes to enroll. Local government is supposed to run campaigns to lure them in, but indifference, bad weather and non-stop religious festivals keep them at home or partying. Other days, as when a (false) rumour crackles through a nearby slum that 100-rupee notes will be dished out to those who sign up, hordes pour in. Nerdy technicians are ill-prepared to manage frustrated and even violent crowds. To hit his targets, the agent in Uttan Gaon must process each of the residents, who perch in turn on a red plastic chair, in 12 minutes or less. That is fine—but only for the young and educated. The day’s first arrivals are a barely literate rickshaw driver, an elderly couple and a call-centre worker. Each one overruns. By mid-morning a long queue has formed, but the pace picks up. Wipro and the rest work fast, since that is the only way to turn a profit. One of 35 agents active in Maharashtra state, it bid to be paid just 26 rupees (50 cents) for each person processed, with a higher rate in rural areas. It supplies all equipment and staff, and uploads the huge amounts of data to central processors. It also copes with thefts, damp cables that break the iris scanners, and labourers’ fingers so worn that their prints do not show. Still, contractors look far nimbler at solving myriad problems than civil servants, who are still hampered, for example, by rules ordering that all official communication be done on paper (e-mails will not do). Speed matters. An agent hitting targets can bid to take work off laggards.

This flexible “ecosystem”, designed with help from Indians working in Silicon Valley, thus lets the most efficient prosper. To fund it, the central government dishes out 100 rupees, which various partners share, but only once each identity number is issued: “we have built a system where everyone has an incentive to get results”, says Mr Nilekani. And these are striking: Wipro alone has had nearly 6m numbers issued, of more than 22m issued in the state as a whole. As it grows, however, the project is drawing fire. Most pressing, the mandate of the UID authority will expire within weeks—once the 200 millionth resident is signed up. The cabinet has so far failed to extend it, though reformers are keen. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the powerful deputy head of the national planning commission, for example, says he will allocate billions more rupees to UID as “the money will be more than fully covered from efficiency gains from government schemes”.

Total costs are rising as UID expands: its budget has more than doubled from nearly 32 billion rupees ($614m) for the first five years, to over 88 billion rupees for the next phase. But the government’s chief economic adviser, Kaushik Basu, among others, agrees that savings by “plugging leakages”—that is, stopping huge theft and waste in welfare and subsidies—will be “very big, very beneficial”. The real difficulties are political. They fall into two areas. Most immediate is the home minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, who is blocking the new mandate. He says he worries about national security. He also looks annoyed that a rival biometric scheme to build a National Population Register (for citizens, not just residents) has been cast into the shade. Run by his home ministry, by late last year it had only issued some 8m identity numbers. He also has a longstanding rivalry with the finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee, who is associated with UID. The prime minister, Manmohan Singh, will probably have to tell the home minister to give way. Then officials need to respond to a second, much broader, band of critics. Last month, for example, parliament’s powerful finance standing committee issued a 48-page report attacking UID, calling it hasty, directionless, ill-conceived and saying it must be stopped. Headed by Yashwant Sinha, a stalwart of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, the committee was eager to throw all criticism possible at the scheme. Yet the report contains testimony from a range of experts with legitimate objections. Some were procedural, including a demand that UID be based on law passed by parliament, not, as now, on a mere executive order.

Other worries, such as cost, should abate as the unique identities are tied to bank accounts of welfare recipients, and so help track the flow of public money. The omens are good. Last week Karnataka state claimed that by paying welfare direct to bank accounts it had cut some 2m ghost labourers from a rural public-works project.

Yet there are also tougher accusations from activists and development economists, such as Jean Drèze and Reetika Khera, in Delhi. They worry that the voluntary programme will turn compulsory, that individuals’ privacy is under attack and that biometric data are not secure. Along with others, they also oppose the logical next step in welfare reform that UID enables. Once recipients have bank accounts, India can follow the likes of Brazil and replace easily stolen benefits in kind, such as rations of cheap food and fuel, with direct cash transfers.

Not only do these cut theft, but cash payments also let beneficiaries become mobile—for example so they can leave their state to seek work, while not jeopardising any benefits. Yet Ms Khera is wary of change. She points out that well-run southern states get rations efficiently to the poor, and cites a survey which found many recipients, especially women, would prefer to keep getting rations over cash. They fear money is more easily wasted, say on alcohol. Worse, in the most remote places, cash welfare is no use since food and fuel markets do not even exist. Such fears need answering. India will have to pass a law on data protection and privacy.

A shift to cash welfare would have to ensure that mothers benefit most, not feckless fathers. And perhaps only as Indians grow more urban, mobile and well-connected will they see the full advantage of cash over rations. But for all the headaches, applying the UID to an expanding and reforming welfare system opens the way for profound social change. Indians need to get ready.

source- The Economist

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