Disclosures about breach of UID/Aadhaar database has compromised right to privacy of citizens

Aadhaar-protest (1)

By Gopal Krishna*

The planned Joint Citizens Protest against world biggest Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR) of 12 –digit biometric Unique Identification (UID)/Aadhaar numbers happened at the Parliament Street from 3 pm onwards on 12th of January, 2018.  More such protests are planned across the districts and cities in the country.  Several speakers at the protest site demanded immediate stoppage of the biometric UID/Aadhaar number database project.  There were concerns expressed at citizen’ deaths as a consequence of UID/Aadhaar menace.

There was talk about how disclosures about breach of UID/Aadhaar database by
“The Tribune” reveal something similar to what Edward Snowden did albeit in an Indian context. It has compromised national security and the personal sensitive information of present and future Presidents, Prime Ministers, judges, legislators and officials handling sensitive assignments besides all the Indians. This has compromised both the right to privacy of citizens and national security.

The current UIDAI chief Satyanarayana finds mention in the report Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology that examined the work of Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY), Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, asked about the surveillance by National Security Agency (NSA) of the US. It states that in the context of privacy of data, the Committee desired to know the Department’s stand on the issue of surveillance by US and interception of data sent through e-mails. To this, Satyanarayana, as Secretary, DeitY, responded during the evidence as under:

“Sir, about the US surveillance issue, there has been a debate, as you are aware, this morning in the Rajya Sabha itself and the hon. Minister has addressed this issue. He also emphasised that as far as the Government data and Government mails are concerned, the policy, the copy of which I have given to the Committee earlier, is going to address a large part of it. Hopefully, by the end of this year, if it is implemented, the things will be absolutely safe and secure…x.x.x.x…In the reply, the Hon. Minister also said that we have expressed our serious concern about the reported leakages and in the name of surveillance, the data that has been secured from various private sources, internet resources by the US Government. We have expressed it formally to the Government of the US and also during the Secretary of State’s visit a few weeks ago in India, this has been reinforced on a person to person basis.”

He added:

“We have been assured that whatever data has been gathered by them for surveillance relates only to the metadata. It has been reiterated and stated at the highest level of the US President that that only the metadata has been accessed, which is, the origin of the message and the receiving point, the destination and the route through which it has gone, but not the actual content itself. This has been reiterated by them, but we expressed that any incursion into the content will not be tolerated and is not tolerable from Indian stand and point of view. That has been mentioned very clearly and firmly by our Government.”

In effect, the Government of India has formally communicated to the US Government that India has no problem if they conduct surveillance for metadata, seeking to suggestg that while this is acceptable and tolerable,  but “incursion into the content will not be tolerated and is not tolerable.”

Contrary to the claims of the promoters of biometric Unique Identification (UID)/Aadhaar like Nandan Nilekani that “Millions of people without any ID, now have an ID”, the fact is that of all the Aadhaar numbers issued to Indian residents till date – 99.97 per cent had pre-existing identification (ID) documents. This has been revealed in a reply to an application under Right to Information (RTI) Act by Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).

aadhaar-protestThe reply reveals that out of the 83.5 crore UID/Aadhaar numbers issued till then, only 2.19 lakh residents (0.03 per cent) have been given numbers based on the introduction by the introducer system because they did not have a  pre-existing ID. This proves that that ‘an inability to prove identity” has not a major barrier to access benefits and subsidies. Now it has emerged that UIDAI’s project and its proponents have been complicit in engineering free flow of data to US and its allies contrary to government’s written submission on e-commerce opposing free access to citizen’s data base at 11thWTO Ministerial. Notably, companies like Accenture (USA), Safran Group and Ernst & Young have been given access to sensitive data of present and future Indians.

At the protest site there was reference to the presentation of J Satyanaraya, the chairman of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) on “People Hub: …the Core of DBT” dated 22nd, July 2016 wherein he revealed the purpose of People’s Hub is to have “Getting a 360 degree view of Citizens” that alters the relationships between citizens, government and the business enterprises.

As per IBM, a “Single View of a Citizen” is required because it “Provides authorized access to citizen master data as a service.” It “supports security and privacy requirements for the access and control of data”. It “provides data quality management to establish a “enterprise” record for a party.” It “Performs as a synchronization point to control the distribution of citizen master data in a standardized way.”  It “Increases service and accuracy, and decreases the cost of serving the public.”It provides “flexible platform capable of supporting multiple data formats and allowing for new sources to be readily added as requirements change. It also “provides analysis and discovery services to resolve identities and discover relationships.”

It may be recalled that Edwin Black’s book “IBM and the Holocaust” revealed IBM’s strategic alliance with Nazi Germany. IBM and its subsidiaries helped create enabling technologies, “step-by-step, from the identification and cataloging programs of the 1930s to the selections of the 1940s.” Notably, IBM was in the census business. The book reveals that IBM technology was used to organize nearly everything in Germany and then Nazi Europe, from the identification of the Jews in censuses, registrations, and ancestral tracing programs to the running of railroads and organizing of concentration camp slave labor. Coincidentally, IBM is involved in UID/Aadhaar project as well.

Note: The Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL) had appeared before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance that examined and trashed the Aadhaar Bill, 2010, which was reshaped and introduced in Rajya Sabha. It remained pending there till 3rd March 2016 when it was withdrawn and supposedly a new Bill was introduced as Money Bill that got enacted as Aadhaar Act 2016 amidst vociferous objection by Rajya Sabha and peoples movements. It faces constitutional challenge before Supreme Court’s Constitution Bench.

*Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL)

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