“The national identity card scheme represents the worst of government. It is intrusive and bullying. It is ineffective and expensive. It is an assault on individual liberty that does not promise a great good…” – Theresa May (British Home Secretary) announcing the complete dismantling of the UID project in the UK in June 2010.
The UPA’s National Identification Authority of India Bill has been approved by the Union Cabinet, and subsequently the UPA has already launched its much-touted and ambitious Unique Identification project (UID) in some parts of the country. It is to be noted that this massive project, which has tremendous repercussions for democracy in India, is being introduced without even a formal clearance by the Indian parliament, let alone a broad-based, country-wide discussion on its implications. It is also ironical that the UPA is promoting the UID project in India at a time when several countries across the world (including the USA, the UK, Australia, China, Canada and Germany) have scrapped similar projects. As the powers-that-be try to convince us of the ‘advantages’ of the UID project, let us have a look at certain facts about this project:
False Claims of ‘Better Delivery of Social Sector Schemes’:
This project is being promoted under patently false premises – according to the UPA, the UID will enable ‘inclusive growth’ by providing each citizen with a verifiable identity. If we were to believe the likes of Manmohan Singh and Nandan Nilekini (who is in charge of implementing the project), the UID will ‘facilitate delivery of basic services’, and ‘plug leakages’ in public expenditure. However, the fact remains that exclusion from social sector schemes are NOT caused by the inability to prove identity – they are caused by the deliberate manipulation of the system by those who have the power to control the flow of benefits. When BPL families are unable to make use of their valid ration cards, when students from deprived backgrounds are unable to avail of scholarships meant for them, when workers are not paid the legally mandated minimum wages, or when women workers in NREGA schemes are paid less than their due, the reason is NEVER their lack of ability to prove their identity. And therefore, none of these problems will be solved by the possession of a UID number; the UID scheme cannot guarantee benefits.
Violation of Privacy and Civil Liberties:
The UID scheme will mean a large-scale violation of our right to privacy, which has been guaranteed to us both by the Indian constitution as well as by a host of international and domestic laws. The proposed draft bill empowers the National Identification Authority of India (NIDAI) to disclose personal data on an order of a court or in case of “national security”, and therefore opens the doors to gross misuse by persons in power. Now, information collected through the national census process will be made available to several agencies (both public and private), which is in contravention to the provisions of the Census Act. As a result, 11 security and intelligence agencies, including RAW, the IB, the National Investigation Agency, the CBI and the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence will have access to the data. This raises the specter of gross violations of human rights. Also, many of these agencies are completely out of the ambit of democratic control – they are not open to public scrutiny (since they don’t even have to adhere to the Right to Information Act) and cannot by held accountable for what they do with the information.
What is really at stake is not just the privacy of individuals: the UID has all the ingredients for dangerous and fascist social control of the state over its citizens. Sensitive personal information will be provide to state as well as private agencies, which can be used as a weapon of war, and to victimize ethnic groups, minorities and political adversaries. The UID project in fact leaves us with a distinct sense of déjà vu: let us not forget that during the Second World War, the Nazis used extensive databases created by the International Business Machines (IBM) for targeted profiling of the Jews and subsequently for confiscating their assets, pushing them into ghettos and finally killing them.
The fact of the matter is that the UID shows that the state wants to treat each of its citizens as potential ‘criminals’, ‘terrorists’ and ‘security threats’! This is the very basis of tracking and profiling of individuals. For a long time, the state has shamefully routinely treated poverty as a ‘crime’ to be ‘punished’ (the laws governing beggary are proof enough of this). Time and again, the state machinery has been accused of being communal; various governments have been indicted of involvement in torture, fake encounters and forced disappearances. Given this situation, the UID will be potential weapon of war in the hands of any government – and that is something no democracy can accept.
The Smokescreen of ‘Voluntary Participation’:
The UPA is trying to hide the draconian aspects of the UID project by claiming that providing information will be ‘voluntary’. However, it has already become clear that this claim is completely bogus, since several agencies (like banks and the LIC) can and in fact will insist on their customers having UID numbers! The upcoming legislation on the UID does not even bother to speak the language of democracy – according to the provisions of the proposed bill, one can be penalized for not updating the information provided to the UID project.
Possible Exclusion of the Poor From Schemes:
Shockingly, instead of facilitating inclusion, around 150 million people are likely to be excluded from benefits because of the UID scheme. This is because of the inappropriate and unproven technology which will be used, which will lead to so-called ‘low-quality’ fingerprints taken from millions of Indians working in agriculture, construction workers and other manual labourers who have worn-out fingers due to a lifetime of hard labour. Ironically, the UID scheme is being introduced in the name of precisely these people (who are most likely to be excluded).
The current costs are estimated at whopping Rs.45,000 crores. And this is probably a gross underestimate. Operationalising the UID scheme on the ground for NREGA and the public distribution system would require placing fingerprint readers at every panchayat office and every ration shop. The total costs of placing fingerprint readers in each PDS outlet and in each of India’s 600,000 villages have not been taken into account in official cost calculations.
Bypassing of Democratic Decision-making Processes:
The UID Authority has been set up with considerable powers and resources, without any approval from Parliament or discussion in the public domain about the necessity of such a scheme. India already has 15 different identification schemes: why then do we need yet another scheme? When there are so many grave issues involved, why is the government promoting the UID scheme in such a secretive manner, without sufficient debate? And, if the poor as merely the excuse being used to promote this scheme (as progressive and democratic voices have pointed out), then who is the real driver behind it?
In order to implement the UID scheme, the UIDAI (UID Authority of India) has already signed several MOUs with various national and multinational companies (including several banks and the LIC), state governments and other ministries. Notable amongst these is L-1 Identities Solution, a company which works with various US intelligence agencies and whose main client is the US government’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). According to the company, American and foreign military services, defense and intelligence agencies rely on it to help determine ‘ally from enemy’. Another company involved in the UID project is Accenture, which is working with US Homeland Security in their Smart Borders Project. The company states that its “solutions include developing prevention tactics, streamlining intelligence gathering and maximizing new technologies.” And these companies are implementing India’s UID project!
Also, actively promoting the UID project is the World Bank, which has a long history of promoting similar initiatives and is currently funding 14 projects related to e-government and e-ID around the world. It is therefore clear from all the available information that all the data collected under the UID scheme will be leaked to the global public domain sooner or later.
The proposed NIAI Bill must be looked at along with other Bills in the offing such as Draft Land Titling Bill, 2010, Draft Paper on Privacy Bill, 2010, Draft DNA Profiling Act, 2007 and Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations (PIII) for a National Knowledge Network. Besides this, National Intelligence Grid (Natgrid), meant to integrate existing 21 databases with Central and state government agencies and other organisations, and National Population Register (which is quite different from Census) will end up undertaking surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting of Indian residents.
The UID scheme is a blatant attempt to convert a resident into a number, the Indian population into a global market and then citizens in to subjects. The revolving door phenomena – where corporate honchos dictate, guide and execute public policy – is very much visible in the UID project too. Which explains their unadulterated enthusiasm for this project. Clearly, the UID project will open the doors to an unprecedented access of our personal and financial information to the corporate world; paving the way for misuse and manipulation of such information.