Enemy At The Aadhaar Gates

The structural basis is being laid out for future authoritarianism at the behest of foreign biometric and surveillance technology

Enemy At The Aadhaar Gates

What distinguishes Barack Obama and David Cameron from Narendra Modi? Obama and Cameron oppose biometric identification but Modi supports it.

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, a legacy of George Bush years. Following people's resistance Obama opposed it during his presidential campaign and during his Presidency.

In UK, Tony Blair-led Labour Party was providing National Identity Cards based on demographic and biometric details. David Cameron announced that the scheme would be scrapped if he come to power. Cameron stopped the project. But Modi has let it happen.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitely has wrongly claimed that the data collected from residents would remain private, and not be shared with other agencies and only requirements of national security will be an exception. The Aadhaar project is the largest biometric capture and identification project in the world. There are 'ownership risks (Ownership of the project by stakeholders), technology risks and privacy concerns.

The documents accessed through RTI reveal an impudent misrepresentation of facts. In the contract agreement between the President of India for UIDAI, as purchaser and L-1 Identity Solutions Operating Company, and Accenture Services Pvt Ltd accessed through RTI, 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 for 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." This clearly implies that all the biometric data of Indians 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.

Fearing rejection of the controversial Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016 like The National Identification Authority of India Bill 2010, Jaitley introduced the former as a Money Bill on March 3, 2016 in an exercise which is a fraud on the Constitution. Clause 2 (g) of the Aadhaar Bill, 2016 defines 'biometric information' and includes human DNA Profiling and voice samples by mentioning "other such biological attributes of an individual" by any future regulation, apart from "photograph, fingerprint and Iris scan.

In the Lok Sabha, Section 33 of this Bill provides for disclosure of information including identity information or authentication records, if it is done "in the interest of national security in pursuance of a direction of an officer not below the rank of Joint Secretary to the Government of India". Such disclosure is permitted without the consent of the individual concerned. It does not disclose as to how disclosure of 'identity information' will be reversed once the disclosure is done.

As per Identification of Prisoners Act, 1920, biometric measurements like fingerprints of prisoners are taken with the permission of a Magistrate and these records are destroyed on acquittal. But in case of Aadhhar, records will be stored forever without any legal mandate.

While providing for a dignified treatment of the citizens of India, Section 15 of the Census Act establishes that "Records of census are not open to inspection nor admissible in evidence". Aadhaar Bill, 2016 fails to incorporate such healthy provisions.

It has been admitted that the entire Aadhaar exercise has provided market for biometric and surveillance technology companies. It is noteworthy that the World Bank has launched eTransform Initiative with partners like IBM, Gemalto, Intel, Safran Group, Microsoft, and Pfizer. There is an extraordinary dependence of Aadhaar on such corporations; many of whom have close links with foreign intelligence agencies.

Aadhaar has the potential for use in undertaking surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting of Indian residents and citizens on basis of caste, religion, political opinion and regional bias. The linking of Aadhaar with essential services and citizens' entitlements like LPG implies that the right to have rights is being made dependent on biometric data based Aadhaar.

The true nature of Aadhaar Bill 2016 gets revealed when it is compared with report on the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010, which was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in December, 2010, and was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance on 10th December, 2010. The observations of Yashwant Sinha, headed Committee exposes the nature and character of Aadhaar Bill 2016. In its 48 page report, the Committee had observed: "The Committee are constrained to point out that in the instant case, since the lawmaking is underway with the bill being pending, any executive action is as unethical and violative of Parliament's prerogatives as promulgation of an ordinance while one of the Houses of Parliament being in session."

Thus, under the circumstances, Speaker, Lok Sabha was under a logical compulsion not to give the Certificate of Money Bill to Aadhaar Bill, 2016. This Bill is in furtherance of an executive action which is admittedly "unethical and violative of Parliament's prerogatives as promulgation of an ordinance" while Parliament has been in session. As such, it is apparent that the Speaker erred in allowing the introduction of the Bill.

Clause 57 of the Aadhaar Bill 2016 brings the ulterior motive behind the entire scheme to light. It says that it is meant not only for the purposes of allocating entitlements, subsidies, benefits or services but also for commercial transactions whether conducted by any natural person or legal person (body corporate). This is applicable to every law and contract for any purpose.

Disregarding such questions, Aadhaar Bill, 2016 was allowed to be introduced without it being discussed in the Business Advisory Committee. "It is a question of saving of Rs. 20,000 crore to the country," argued M. Venkaiah Naidu, Union minister of parliamentary affairs without disclosing how much expense will be incurred in the Aadhaar project.

None of the concerns raised by eminent citizens like Dr Usha Ramanathan, Justice VR Krishna Iyer, Prof Romila Thapar, S.R.Sankaran, Prof. Upendra Baxi and Justice A.P. Shah have been responded to so far. Nor have queries raised by concerned citizens like Prof. Anil Sadgopal in August 2015 or the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee for that matter.

It is apparent that the structural basis is being laid out for future authoritarianism through despotic projects at the behest of the ungovernable and unregulated foreign biometric and surveillance technology companies. The collection of biometric data supports the ideology of biological determinism with its implicit and explicit faith in the biometric technologies. There are hitherto unacknowledged dangers of trusting such technological advances for determining social policies. The specter of unlimited government — a government which does not allow itself to be limited by the Constitution — is on the horizon.

Gopal Krishna is with Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL). He had appeared before the Parliamentary Committee on Finance that examined Aadhaar Bill, 2010.