Digital Racism

‘Aadhaar’ Promotes US Interests-I

[ The Aadhaar Bill opens the door to mass surveillance. This danger needs to be seen in the light of recent attacks on the right to dissent. No other country, and certainly no democratic country, has ever held its own citizens hostage to such a powerful infrastructure of surveillance.
The Aadhaar project was sold to the public based on the claim that enrolment was "voluntary".
This basically meant that there was no legal compulsion to enrol. The government and the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), however, worked overtime to create a practical compulsion to enrol: Aadhaar was made mandatory for an ever-widening range of facilities and services. It became clear that life without Aadhaar would soon be very difficult. In these circumstances, saying that Aadhaar is voluntary is like saying that breathing or eating is voluntary. Legal or practical, compulsion is compulsion. Following is a briefing paper on "Adhaar" issued by Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties. ]

Aadhaar was launched on September 29, 2010.... This is the fastest digital platform to reach a billion, the only non-US one and the only one by a government, claims Nandan Nilekani, former Chairman, Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). The claim of biometric unique identity (UID) / Aadhaar number being a non-US digital platform isn't factually correct.

The documents accessed through RTI reply dated 25th October, 2013 reveal that this is an impudent misrepresentation of facts. In the contract agreement between the President of India for UIDAI, as purchaser and L-l Identity Solutions Operating Company, and Accenture Services Pvt Ltd accessed through RTI at clause 15.1, it is stated, "By virtue of this Contract, M/s Accenture Services Pvt Ltd/Team of M/s Accenture Services Pvt Ltd may have access to personal information of the Purchaser and/or a third party or any resident of India, any other person covered within the ambit of any legislation as may be applicable." The purchaser is President of India through UIDAI. The clause 15.3 of the agreement reads, "The Data shall be retained by Accenture Services Pvt Ltd not more than a period of 7 years as per Retention Policy of Government of India or any other policy that UIDAI may adopt in future." Copies of the contract agreement are available with the author. This clearly implies that all the biometric data of India which has been collected so far is now available to US Government and French Government because of Patriot Act and French government's stake in the company in question.

The disclosures by Wikileaks about the keen interest of US administration in the Aadhaar project underlies that it is interested in knowing about biometric database of the world's largest democracy. General Keith Alexander, as director of USA's National Security Agency (NSA) had instructed information gathering saying, "sniff it all, know it all, collect it all, process it all and exploit it all". The 'Aadhaar' and related schemes are unfolding in this backdrop.

When asked "whether or not you think by the year 2050 there could be a global system... (which) would be a real influence on knocking down the nation state, which I think needs knocking down." Nilekani admitted, "There is nothing technologically limiting in having the whole population of the world on the system." This poses a grave threat to sovereignty of the citizens and the country. He and his project appear quite complicit in unconstitutional act of surrendering the country's interest in favour of a global system led by ungovernable and undemocratic business enterprises not by democratic legislatures.

It is not known whether Nilekani took oath of office for a Cabinet Minister of the Union of India given the fact that he was chairman of UIDAI in the rank of a cabinet minister and was responsible for the creation of world's most sensitive database using personal sensitive information of Indian residents with the help of transnational corporations from USA and other countries.

Given the sensitivity of the assignment and given his rank of cabinet minister as per the Constitution of India, he should have been made to take oath saying: "I, Nandan Nilekani, do swear in the name of God/solemnly affirm that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established, that I will uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India,] that I will faithfully and conscientiously discharge my duties as a Minister for the Union and that I will do right to all manner of people in accordance with the Constitution and the law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will".

The contract documents revealed through RTI underline that in the absence of such an oath subversion of the Constitution has happened whose implications have been ascertained by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance and Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology.

It has not been revealed till date whether Nilekani himself enrolled for biometric unique identification (UID)/Aadhaar number.

As per the Constitution of India, Nilekani should have taken oath saying: "I, Nandan Nilekan , do swear in the name of God/solemnly affirm that I will not directly or indirectly communicate or reveal to any person or persons any matter which shall be brought under my consideration or shall become known to me as a Minister for the Union except as may be required for the due discharge of my duties as such Minister."

It merits exploration as to how likes of Nilekani will be penalized if they formally hand over the Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR) of UID / Aadhaar numbers to foreign governments and companies. What will happen to him and his successors now that it is clear that in the name of awarding contracts to biometric technology companies from US and other countries have been handed over biometric and demographic details of Indian residents? It is noteworthy that his counterpart in Pakistan gave away the entire record of the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) to USA as has been revealed by the diplomatic cables leaked by Wikileaks. This was disclosed on 19th June, 2012.

Speaking on "Technology to Leapfrog Development: The Aadhaar Experience" at Center for Global Development, Washington, Nandan Nilekani admitted, "Now, biometrics has a big history in the world. Biometrics was first used in India in the 1870s when the British used it for land titling, and they also used people's fingerprints to record the registration of documents. Historically, and up until a few years ago, the use of biometrics was essentially in forensics. It was about using biometrics for crime iavestigation and crime protection.... So, fundamentally, biometrics was used for forensic purposes. But, after 9/11, biometrics has increasingly been used for the purpose of surveillance, or security, or for immigration control." He was delivering the Eighth Annual Richard H. Sabot Lecture on 22nd April, 2013 as Chairman, UIDAI. It is evident that Parliament, State legislatures and citizens besides the Supreme Court has been kept in dark about the ulterior motive of the collection of biometric data by foreign companies from USA and other countries.

After Statement of Concern by 17 eminent citizens like Justice V R Krishna lyer, adverse report of the multi-party Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance, the judgment of the Punjab & Haryana High Court, the order of National Human Rights Commission to the Union Home Secretary Affairs, the admission of a complaint regarding illegal, illegitimate and unconstitutional subordinate legislation for biometric Aadhhar/UID by Parliamentary Committee on Subordinate Legislation, in a series of statements on Twitter, Narendra Modi, the Prime Ministerial candidate of BJP and Gujarat Chief Minister has asked the Indian National Congress led Government, "Were all states on board on Aadhaar?" in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's order of September 23, 2013 rebuking the Government for making it mandatory. Have these concerns become irrelevant for the present Prime Minister?

Modi had said, "When the SC raised those points, the PM must tell nation that did all states and departments approve Aadhar? But you just spent huge money. You need to answer nation for that. What the Supreme Court said today, I raised the similar point three years ago. I told him to convene a National Security Card meeting, consult Chief Ministers, but he did nothing. Nation wants to know from the PM how much money was spent on Aadhaar card? Who gained from it? What about the questions the SC raised?" It is noteworthy that even as he raised these questions Gujarat Government continued to act as per the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), it signed with the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) for the implementation of aadhaar project. The MoU was signed by V N Maira, IAS, Principal Secretary (Planning), General Administration Department, Gujarat Government on 9th June 9, 2010.

State Governments, especially the ones ruled by opposition parties ought to withdraw from the MoUs they have signed with UIDAI. So far they have failed to apply their legal minds to it the way they did in the case of National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC). They have failed to appreciate that UID, NPR, NCTC and National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) is linked and is being linked with Census and Voters' database.

Unmindful of threat to federalism most States including Bihar, Odisha, Tripura, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal have signed a MoU with UIDAI. Surprisingly, the States which were quite vocal about threats to federal structure from Union Home Ministry's National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) and National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) that integrates 21 sets of databases have been caught unawares by the creation of UID's Centralized Identities Data Register (CIDR) disregarding the fact that CIDR is going to be converged. State Governments have chosen to listen to consultants who are more interested in making a quick sale of their biometric, identification and surveillance technology products.

In 1906, another Gujarati, Mahatma Gandhi had encountered a similar Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance proposed by the Transvaal Government in the August 22 issue of the Government Gazette required all Indians in the Transvaal region of South Africa, eight years and older, to report to the Registrar of Asiatics and obtain, upon the submission of a complete set of fingerprints, a certificate which would then have to be produced upon demand. Fingerprints were then demanded only from criminals, and the subjection of women to such a requirement had no other objective but the humiliation of Indians. Gandhi understood well that the Ordinance effectively criminalized the entire community and must be challenged. At a meeting held in Johannesburg, 3000 Indians took an oath not to submit to a degrading and discriminatory piece of legislation. This gave birth to Satyagraha. Gandhi later wrote that the ordinance illustrated hatred towards Indians which, if passed, ''would spell absolute ruin for the Indians in South Africa."

The opposition parties must ponder over: How is CIDR of Aadhaar and NPR which also generates Aadhaar number different from the 'register of Asiatics' opposed by Mahatma Gandhi? If Indians forget the lesson of this resistance movement it would "spell absolute ruin for the Indians" of the present and future generations.

A historic eight-year-long resistance campaign against biometric identification happened from August 1906 to January 1914 in the British colony of Natal, and Boer Republic of Transvaal, South Africa. In August 1906, the Asiatic Law Amendment Ordinance was signed into law in the Transvaal. It was a humiliating and discriminating law forcing Indians in the Transvaal to register with the 'registrar of Asiatics', submit to physical examinations, provide fingerprints, and carry a registration certificate at all times. Otherwise, Indians and other 'Asiatics,' as they were called, could be fined, imprisoned, or deported. A delegation of Indians sailed to London to meet with British Secretary of State Lord Elgin. In 1912, Gopal Krishna Gokhale visited South Africa and expressed his support for the struggle against biometric idnctification. In early 1914, an agreement was reached with the protestors and the Black Act seeking biometric identification was abolished.

Historians rightly say that all history is contemporary history. It was reported on October 6, 2011 that Gujarat Chief Minister wrote to the Prime Minister questioning the need for biometric data collection for National Population Register (NPR) by Registrar General of India & Cersus Commissioner, Union Ministry of Home Affairs. Gujarat stopped collection of biometric data for creation of the NPR. In his letter to the then Prime Minister, Modi raised objections over both the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which is creating Unique Identification (UID)/Aadhaar Number and Registrar General of India, which is creating the NPR, collecting biometric data. In his letter to the then Prime Minister, Modi wrote, "there is no mention of capturing biometrics in the Citizenship Act or Citizenship Rules 2009". He added, "In the absence of any provision in the Citizenship Act, 1955, or rules for capturing biometrics, it is difficult to appreciate how the capture of biometrics is a statutory requirement. Photography and biometrics is only mentioned in the Manual of Instructions for filling up the NPR household schedule and even in that there is no mention of capturing the Iris". After Gujarat stopped collection of biometric data, the then Union Minister of Home Affairs sent a letter to Modi in August 2011 pointing out that creation of the NPR was a "statutory requirement" under (he Citizenship Act, 1955, and "once initialized, has to be necessarily completed". The Union Minister of Home Affairs had also requested the CM to instruct state government officers to cooperate in creation of the NPR. This was when the entire media, the citizens and the political class was hoodwinked into believing that there was a rift between UIDAI and Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

But Modi chose to side with UIDAI in an apparent rebuff to MHA. Modi kicked off UID/Adhaar project in Gujarat on 1st May, 2012 by giving his biometric information for his Aadhaar/UlD number and enrolled under the UIDAI project. Strangely, Modi did not object to his biometric identification under UID as he did with regard to NPR. Modi did so despite the fact that Yashwant Sinha headed Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) on Finance rejected the UID project and the UID Bill in its report to the Parliament on December 13, 2011. However, it may be noted that one sentence of the PSC report appears to endorse biometric NPR. Was it a case of Sinha trying to side with Chidambaram and Modi trying to side with Nilekani? It appears that Modi has been taken for ride with regard to the UID/Aadhaar and Sinha with regard to NPR as they failed to see through the 'approved strategy'. Now it is clear that the staged rift that was created between Home Ministry and Planning Commission, UIDAI on UID and NPR was motivated and was meant to take legislatures, citizens, States and media for a ride. Both Modi and Sinha got misled because Chidambram left the Home Ministry and became the Finance Minister. Notably, the UIDAI was proposed by the Ministry of Finance in 2009. Thus, both were outwitted by Chidambaram. Modi's letter to the Prime Minister objecting to the biometric data collection sought by Chidamabram was made irrelevant. Modi's biometric data is now the property of UIDAI and because UIDAI and NPR data is to be collated 'as per approved strategy' it is also the property of Registrar General of India's NPR to which he had objected.

The Terms of Reference No. 8 of Planning Commission's notification dated January 28, 2009 that created Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) in pursuance of the 4th meeting oi' the Empowered Group of Ministers, states, "Take necessary steps to ensure collation of NPR and UID (as per approved strategy)".
[To be concluded]

Vol. 48, No. 42, Apr 24 - 30, 2016