Both Barack Obama and David Cameron-Nick Clegg stood by their words and abandoned national ID schemes. Unfortunately, Narendra Modi and BJP, which promised to scrap biometric Aadhaar during their election campaign, have gone back on their words
The US’ Department of Homeland Security is creating a global biometric system ofidentification and economic control, so that biometrics becomes the common international denominator identifying us to governments and corporations. Such a system destroys national sovereignty, removing control of the people over their government. This system threatens religious freedom, privacy, states’ rights, the rights of representation and our ability to redress grievances, state sovereignty and national sovereignty. –Mark Lerner in Systematic Plan for a Single Global Biometric ID System
The national identity card scheme represents the worst of government. It is intrusive and bullying, ineffective and expensive. It is an assault on individual liberty which does not promise a greater good. The Bill is, therefore, partly symbolic. It sends a message that the Government is going to do business in a different way. We are the servants of the people, not their masters, and every action that we take must be considered in that context.
-Theresea May, Secretary of State for the Home Department, UK while introducing Identity Documents Bill to abolish ID cards and the nationalidentity register that contained the biographic and biometric fingerprint data of cardholders and to destroy all information recorded in the nationalidentity register on 9 June 2010
Every institution is becoming an “inspection regime” – recording, watching, gathering information and storing data…the shadow of the prison, which is no longer separated from society as an institution of total surveillance. Instead, it is increasingly the general condition of society as a whole. Everyone is living under a surveillance panoptican in which living means living as criminals. It is part of a “military metaphysics” – a complex of forces that includes corporations, defense industries, politicians, financial institutions and universities.-Henry A Giroux in The Violence of Organized Forgetting: Thinking Beyond America’s Disimagination Machine
Businesses and governments exploit big data without regard for issues of legality, data quality, disparate data meanings, and process quality. This often results in poor decisions, with individuals bearing the greatest risk. – Marcus R. Wigan, University of Melbourne & Roger Clarke, Australian National University in “Big Data’s Big Unintended Consequences,” Computer, vol. 46
Heralding a hitherto unknown biometric- global economic system based on catalogued humanity, 28 January 2009 for India and 11 May 2005 for US has become one of the saddest days for civil rights due to the illegitimate advances of the State. On 28 January 2009, the Prime Minister headed Planning Commission issued a notification creating Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) which failed to get Parliament’s endorsement despite repeated attempts. It functioned with Ram Sewak Sharma as its Director General from August 2009 to March 2013 under whose tenure Narendra Modi as Chief Minister of Gujarat was biometrically profiled for Aadhaar in spite of the fact that he himself had categorically questioned the legality and legitimacy of biometric data collection by Dr Manmohan Singh-led government. After that Sharma was made the Chief Secretary of Jharkhand, where he implemented Aadhaar related civilian schemes in violation of the Supreme Court’s order with impunity. He was appointed Secretary, Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DEITY), Union Ministry ofCommunications and Information Technology from 1 May 2014 ahead of Modi assuming office of Prime Minister on 26 May 2014. Now, he has been given the additional charge of Secretary, Department of Telecommunications for three months with effect from 1 July 2014 or until further orders, whichever is earlier.
On 11 May 2005 in the US, the Real ID Act for a national ID was rushed through US Congress and the US Senate with utmost urgency as part of a bundle of legislations, a toxic legacy of George Bush years. Following people’s resistance Barack Obama opposed it during his presidential campaign as a candidate of the Democratic Party and during his tenure as US President Real ID was declared “dead on arrival DOA” by Janet Napolitano, US Secretary of Department of Homeland Security in July 2009. At least 43 US states have submitted legislation to oppose Real ID nationwide. Some 24 States have nullified the Real ID Act after passing laws against its implementation so far.
In recent times, it all started with the US Department of Defence using the tragic event of 11 September 2001 as an excuse to get the first post-September 11 anti-terrorism legislation passed through its legislature. Now it has reached India’s Ministry of Defence, besides all the agencies of the central government. A letter from Department of Defence Production, Ministry of Defence, Government of India on the subject “Aadhaar Enabled Biometric Attendance System (AEBAS) in Central Government offices dated 11 August 2014 has been sent to DGQA, DGAQA, Directorate of Standardisation, Directorate of P&C, Defence Exhibition Organisation, OFB, New Delhi Office and Local Office of DPSUs. This letter was sent in response to a letter dated 4 August 2014 from Ram Sewak Sharma, Secretary, Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DEITY), Union Ministry of Communications and Information Technology addressed to Radha Krishna Mathur, Secretary, Department of Defence Production, and Union Ministry of Defence. In this regard an email dated 7 August 2014 was sent by Nandita Chaudhry, Deputy Director General, HOG, National Informatics Centre (NIC) Defence Informatics Division, and Government of India on subject of Aadhaar Based Biometric Attendance Monitoring System to concerned departments.
The paragraph 5 of Ram Sewak Sharma’s letter reads, “I may add that the aforesaid attendance system has been in operation in the State of Jharkhand since 1 January 2014 and is being recently tried on Pilot Basis in the Department of Electronics & IT, Ministry of Communications & IT, New Delhi. You may like to visit the dashboard of the aforesaid system at attendance.jharkhand.gov.in and deity.gov.in/attendance respectively for familiarization.” It adds that the preparatory step be taken in this regard by 10 August 2014 “keeping in view the urgency of the matter”.
In India, Prime Minister headed Planning Commission’s UIDAI consistently said that the 12-digit unique identification (UID) number branded as aadhaar is meant for civilian application not meant for defence application. Aaadhar has emerged as an exercise in breach of trust reposed in the government by the citizens. From the outset, aadhaar was promoted as being ‘voluntary’ identification exercise for usual residents of India. Going back on its promise, it was made mandatory. Supreme Court heard the matter and passed the order saying it cannot be made mandatory. The introduction of Aadhaar Enabled Biometric Attendance System for central government employees is an act, which is manifestly in contempt of court.
It must be recalled that as per Biometrics Design Standards for UID Applications prepared by UIDAI Committee on Biometrics headed by Dr BK Gairola, Director General, NIC, “From the standpoint of the biometrics industry, the UID system is a civilian application of biometrics. Although the primary focus is the UID system, the Committee believes that the specifications should meet the needs of all civilian applications.” Notably, Ram Sewak Sharma as Director General, UIDAI was the Member and Convener of the UIDAI Committee on Biometrics. Dr C. Chandramauli, Registrar General of India (RGI), Union Ministry of Home Affairs, responsible for biometric National Population Register (NPR), was also one of the 10 members of this committee. This committee of Government of India was set up on 29 September 2009 under the signature of Ram Sewak Sharma.
The report of the Committee categorically states its scope and unequivocally underlines that the UID/ aadhaar system is a civilian application. Given the fact that Director General, NIC headed this committee comprising of Ram Sewak Sharma that limited the application of UID system to civilian application, the letters of Ram Sewak Sharma in his role as Secretary, Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY), Union Ministry of Communications and Information Technology addressed to Radha Krishna Mathur, Secretary, Department of Defence Production, Union Ministry of Defence and the letter of Nandita Chaudhry, Deputy Director General, HOG, National Informatics Centre (NIC) seeking compliance with aadhaar based biometric attendance and monitoring is structurally problematic and constitutes serious dereliction of duty on their part. This merits high level inquiry pending which the order seeking compliance with aadhaar based biometric attendance must be recalled in the interest of national security.
It is a matter of record that the origins of the UID process within the US Department of Defense started under Michael Wynne, former Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (AT&L) during 2003- 2005. They signaled the arrival the UID industry. Within NATO, two documents deal so far with unique identification of items. The first one is standardization agreement, which was ratified in 2010. The second one is a “How to guide for NATO members willing to enter in the UID business”. Its aim is to undertake universal identity surveillance by adopting these technologies. They have an ulterior motive of merging biometric ID database with the internet amidst legal uncertainty about privacy rights in general and electronic privacy rights in particular.
But quite unlike Obama and Democratic Party, who stood by his words and abandoned Real ID Act in US, Narendra Modi and Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) that promised to scrap biometric aadhaar identification number during the prime ministerial election campaign has gone back on their words in a glaring and historic act of somersault compromising their trustworthiness for good.
As has been the case in US, in UK too, Tony Blair-led Labour Party got The Identity Cards Act 2006 (c 15) passed from the Parliament of the United Kingdom to provide National Identity Cards based on demographic and biometric details like fingerprints and iris scan.
This was cited as an example by companies like WIPRO who worked for the Planning Commission to argue for UID/ aadhaar identification system for Indian residents.
The coalition of Conservative and Liberal Democrat party in UK announced that the biometric ID card scheme would be scrapped. The current David Cameron-Nick Clegg government stood by their promise unlike Modi and got The Identity Cards Act repealed by the Identity Documents Act 2010 on 21 January 2011. “This marks the final end of the identity card scheme: dead, buried and crushed,” UK Home Office Minister Damian Green said. “What we are destroying today is the last elements of the national identity register, which was always the most objectionable part of the scheme.” Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister who was in India to meet Modi recently had participated in the civil disobedience campaigns by refusing to register for the biometric ID card.
The fact is that US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to create a “Global Security Envelope of internationally shared biometric data that would permanently link individuals with biometric ID, personal information held by governments and corporations.”
The release of the Cabinet titled ‘Digital India – A programme to transform India into digital empowered society and knowledge economy’ issued by Press Information Bureau (PIB) on 20 August 2014 fits into the scheme of US’ DHS. PIB presents it as a follow up of the key decisions taken on the design of the programme during the meeting of the Prime Minister on Digital India Programme on 7 August 2014. This programme has been envisaged by Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY) and implemented by the entire government at an overall estimated cost of Rs1 lakh crore in ongoing schemes and Rs13,000 crore for new schemes and activities. The power point presentation on the subject of Digital India issued by the PIB states, “The weaving together makes the Mission transformative in totality”. It claims that “Digital India is a Programme to prepare India for a knowledge future.” It reveals that the Programme pulls together many existing schemes. These schemes will be restructured and re-focused. They will be implemented in a synchronized manner. It underlines that the common branding of programmes is being referred to as Digital India to highlight their transformative impact.
Framing cradle to grave “digital identity” -unique, lifelong, online and authenticable as infrastructure utility for every citizen, it claims to provide “Shareable private space on a public cloud” and “Safe and secure Cyber-space.” Digital India entails “Seamlessly integrated across departments or jurisdictions”, availability of all citizen entitlements, documents/ certificates and portability of all entitlements on the cloud.
As per DeitY’s proposed programme, Broadband Highways, Universal Access to Phones, Public Internet Access Programme, E-Governance – Reforming government through Technology , eKranti – Electronic delivery of services, Information for All, Electronics Manufacturing, Electronics Manufacturing – Target NET ZERO Imports, IT for Jobs and Early Harvest Programmes are nine pillars of Digital India. The fourth pillar envisages “Government Business Process Re-engineering using IT to improve transactions” through use of online repositories e.g. school certificates, voter ID cards, etc., integration of services and platforms – UIDAI, Payment Gateway, Mobile Platform, Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), an electronic communication system that provides standards for exchanging data via any electronic means and electronic databases – all databases and information to be electronic. EDI was developed in 1996 by US National Institute of Standards and Technology. By adhering to the same standard, two different companies in two different countries can electronically exchange documents. It underlines that it is to be implemented across government because it is “critical for transformation”.
A Monitoring Committee on Digital India comprising of Prime Minister as the Chairman and Finance Minister, Minister of Communications & IT, Minister of Rural Development, Minister of Human Resource Development and Minister of Health as members and Principal Secretary to PM, Cabinet Secretary, Secretaries of Expenditure, Planning, DoT and Posts as Special Invitees with Secretary, DeitY as the Convener has been set up.
A Digital India Advisory Group chaired by Minister of Communication and Information Technology (MCIT) will supervise DeitY and an Apex Committee chaired by Cabinet Secretary will supervise the Line ministries and state governments along with DeitY.
The words “transformation”, “digital identity”, “public cloud” and “secure cyber-space” used by Prime Minister headed Monitoring Committee on Digital India merit attention.
The word “transformation” is one of the latest conceptual weapons unleashed by World Bank through its e-Transform Initiative launched on 23 April 2010 at a World Bank Spring Meeting in collaboration with France, South Korea, Gemalto, IBM, L1, Microsoft, Pfizer and Intel attended by developing country ministers of finance and communications.The core idea is promote e-governance through e-identity to ensure convergence of private sector, public sector and citizens sector. Also, it will ensure 24 X 7 financial surveillance by the global institutions of imperial countries. The international financial and military institutions have initiated a transformational government project to which government seems to have subscribed unwittingly.
The word “digital identity” is simply an echo of Bank’s e-identity, NATO’s unique identity, US Govt’s Real ID and INTERPOL’s proposed electronic identity card (e-ID) system. Notably, INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald K Noble emphasized the need for a globally verifiable electronic identity card (e-ID) system in April 2011 at the ID WORLD forum in the presence of Tariq Malik of Pakistan’s National Database & Registration Authority (NADRA), World Bank Integrity Vice-President Leonard McCarthy, European Commission Head of International Affairs, Directorate General Home Affairs, Luigi Soreca, the UAE’s Head of Identity Authority, Ali Al Khouri besides Pakistan’s Minister of Interior Rehman Malik, who was later found to be a British citizen by the Pakistan Supreme Court. Wikileaks revealed that Rehman Malik handed over the database of Pakistani citizens collected by NADRA to US agencies.
“Public cloud” refers to a form of cloud computing in which a company relies on a third-party cloud service provider for services such as servers, data storage and applications, which are delivered to the company through the Internet. A public cloud can free companies from the potentially expensive costs of having to purchase, manage and maintain on-premises hardware and software infrastructure. This means citizens’ biometric data (the way it has happened with electoral data) will be available online for Big Data corporations of all ilk for data mining. In effect, the proposal of the new Government to put citizen’s documents and entitlements on public cloud ignores the recommendations of the Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) on Information Technology on Cyber Crime, Cyber Security and Right to Privacy made in February 2014 revealing how aadhaar number and NPR number compromise national security and citizens’ sovereignty for good. The database of these numbers is being stored on cloud which is beyond India’s jurisdiction. The servility of the previous regime towards agencies like NSA and their infantile reactions recorded in the report of the PSC in the face of evidence that the entire union cabinet was under NSA’s surveillance must be remembered as one of the dark chapters of Indian history. In their abject meekness Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) did not hide even an iota of information from the NSA but it has been reluctant to share its correspondence with Nandan Nilekani under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. But the new government does not appear to have factored disclosures by whistleblowers like Wikileaks, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden.
As to “secure cyber-space”, one thing which guaranteed in the cyber world is that no online database is ever secure. Will aadhaar database be more secure than those of Pentagon and NSA?
Isn’t Government of India simply imitating the proposals of US, NATO, World Bank, INTERPOL and the initiative of Pakistan without examining its far reaching strategic implications refusing to learn to from China, Australia, UK, France and US who have abandoned national ID projects?
In India, states, municipalities, organisations, schools and media organisations and companies are already using biometrics, like facial recognition, digital fingerprinting and iris recognition without realizing that it is a slow methodical filling databases with personal-biometric information for global enrollment process underway.
Our personal sensitive data is being mined and owned by entities with ulterior motives. In the era of data science, isn’t our personal data being misused to spy on us and bombard us with motivated advertisements of all ilk? “Dataclysm: Who We Are” (When We Think No One’s Looking) authored by Christian Rudder, a mathematician reveals that our personal sensitive information is being abused.
Our legislatures and even informed citizens have not pondered over the implications of information asymmetry between the citizen, state, government and the business enterprise. Michel Foucault noted long back that the prison begins well before its doors. It begins as soon as you leave your house – and even before.
Richard Thomas, as UK’s Information Commissioner prophetically said, “My anxiety is that we don’t sleepwalk into a surveillance society.” In an act of ultimate betrayal of trust, the Modi-led Government has reneged on its electoral promise on biometric aadhaar and is bulldozing Indians into a global surveillance regime, which is beyond the overall might of Government of India at the behest of agents of the empire.