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Usha Ramanathan – AADHAAR – A Real Identity Crisis  #UID

When the attorney general denied the existence of the fundamental right to privacy , to many, it represented an admission that the unique identification (UID) project, Aadhaar, does violate privacy . There’s technology in the project, but it is more than about technology . It is about a shift in the state’s power, and other data-controllers, over the people. Data-basing a whole population, `seeding’ in multiple databases, and having the people reporting to the database is central to the project.Enrolment for Aadhaar, though marketed as voluntary , has been made mandatory in various ways, most strikingly by making it a prerequisite for access to services closely linked to people’s lives. So, while the UID number was made necessary for being on the public distribution system (PDS) or for getting NREGA work, the threat of losing LPG subsidy was to bring the middle classes into the system. Since 2012, registration of marriage, wills, trust deeds, rental agreements, property transactions, car purchase, caste certificate, domicile certificate, scholarships and school admissions needed the number to be `seeded’.

In hardly any of this was authentication done. It was only about putting the number into the database. Quickly , Employees’ Provident Fund, financial assistance for tribal girls at the time of their marriage, pensions…more and more areas mandatorily required the UID number. Even after the Supreme Court had said -three times, on September 23, 2013, March 24, 2014, and March 16, 2015 -that Aadhaar cannot be mandatory for providing any service, coercion continued.

In some places, the official document did not speak of it being mandatory , but it was impossible to complete transactions if the number was not provided. People were told that the software won’t work without the number.

It is by flouting the Supreme Court’s order that the database was expanded.This database that has been constructed by disobeying court orders is being flaunted as a fait accompli. In affidavits to the court, the government and the UID Authority of India (UIDAI) claim that the enrolment of 80 croreplus people has been `voluntary’ and with `informed consent’.

This is untrue, given the threat of exclusion and coercion that has accompanied every stage of the making of this database. Given that even the UIDAI has been promoting the UID as an `identity platform’ with no predetermined use, what is it to which those enrolled have consented?
Having reached a critical number in enrolments, the UIDAI has been working on institutions to `seed’ the number in its database. The Election Commission (EC) was roped in and began the exercise in March this year. But unlike other agencies that have refused to respect the Supreme Court’s orders, the EC pulled back soon after the court’s orders of August 11, 2015, when it directed that, other than in distribution of food grain and fuel in the PDS, and for LPG distribution, the information shall not be used for any other purpose. The government has ignored the order, including where the court asked it to advertise the order so that people may know of it.

Since its inception, the UIDAI has asserted that its use is in ridding the system of `ghosts’ and duplicates. In a recent affidavit to the court, the UIDAI has attempted to demonstrate that this is indeed happening. Check out the figures.

In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, according to the UIDAI, bogus ghost workers have been eliminated. The numbers? A total of 12,78,724, of whom 2,73,933 were dead and 8,09,275 had migrated. Perhaps the UIDAI had meant ghosts literally , and migrant workers get classified by it as `bogus’.

Even in 2010, those reading the UIDAI-generated papers on `UID and PDS’ and `UID and NREGA ‘ had commented on how it was the UIDAI that was piling on to these fields for its purposes, and that, in fact, the UID would only be one more barrier for people to encounter while accessing food, fuel or wages. This is proving to be true.

Among the yet-to-be-answered national security challenges to the project is something that the American whistle-blower Edward Snowden has made us aware of, but about which the government and the UIDAI seem not to have heard: privacy , the absence of law, the unworkability of biometrics, the dubious credentials of the companies involved in the project (including their closeness to the CIA and to foreign governments), concerns about surveillance, tracking and tagging.

There is only the court’s orders to rein in the UIDAI and the government.It’s just that they don’t seem to be in any mood to respect those orders.

The writer works on the jurisprudence of law and poverty


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