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On March 2nd 2013 the Centre for Internet and Society and the Say No to UID campaign held the workshop “UID, NPR, and Governance” at TERI Bangalore. The workshop focused on understanding the present state of the UID and the NPR project and its impact on governance. Questions that were discussed included “What is the UID and NPR”, “how do the NPR and UID transform governance”, and “how do NPR and UID impact citizenship.”

Speaking at the conference, Usha Ramanthan, legal researcher and human rights activist, discussed the differences between the UID project and the NPR project. For example, NPR is legally backed by a statute (though the collection of biometrics under the NPR scheme is not legally backed) whereas the UIDAI is backed only by an executive order. UID will issue a number, while the NPR is the prelude to the National Citizens Register. Thus, it is only a Register. NPR is mandatory while the UID is voluntary. On this note she highlighted the fact that though according to the UIDAI the UID number is voluntary, the UIDAI does not stop, and in fact encourages, other organizations and entities to make the number mandatory. In this way the UID number is becoming compulsory through other means. She also pointed out that the UIDAI stated in a notification that that it will own the data collected and stored in the database. Thus, when individuals hand over information, they are handing over ownership of their data. She closed her presentation by highlighting that not only has the Indian government not bothered to amend the Citizenship Rules to include the collection of biometric data, but also that when the State chooses to implement projects while not following traditional legal procedures, it essentially empowers itself to function in a non-legal way. In this way, it is not necessarily about the UID or the NPR, but instead it’s more about the idea of the state profiling citizens and the technologies which enable it.

Anant Maringanti, geographer at Hyderabad Urban Lab and Right to the City Foundation, spoke on UID and governance. Opening his presentation, he discussed how initially the UID had the potential to be enabling, as it had the ability of creating a way to connect an individual’s presence via an identity. This is particularly important as India’s economy and governance system is dramatically changing. For example, there is mobility of financial capital in India today. Yet, it is concerning that no one is challenging the way in which the UID is being pushed through across the country and the way it is being implemented. For example, students in various states in India are being required to obtain numbers as a prerequisite to attend school. Furthermore, 77 lakh duplicate UID numbers have been found, yet no action has been taken other than discarding one of them. Closing his presentation he noted that for many people the UID is no different than the ration card. This is problematic as the data collection through the UID is vastly different from the ration card, especially as linking biometric data to various databases exposes the data to the potential of fraud.  He also noted that the UID targets marginalized groups with the promise of an identity, yet the UID could expose some of the most vulnerable groups in India.

Other topics discussed at the conference included RTI’s sent to the UIDAI, the impact of the UID and NPR on less privileged classes, and ways to take pro-active action. The audience asked questions about whether UID was mandatory or compulsory, if biometrics were necessary in either scheme, and whether the NPR will also issue UID numbers.