UID is Against Basic Human Values
Citing migrant workers to justify UID appears to be an exercise in sophistry. The National Commission on Rural Labour, which submitted its report in 1991, studied the problem of inter-State migrant workmen in depth. This commission recommended third parties to file complaints to protect workers, ensure the liability of contractors and principal employers, setting up of Special Courts and changing the migration policy to reduce exploitation. Has any financial newspaper in particular deputed its reporters and editors to pursue it?.
The most vulnerable and exploited migrant workers of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Orissa who work in Alang, Bhavnagar, Gujarat in a Guatanamo bay like condition akin to slaves with no rights. Their rights needs to be protected my genuine measures and not by fake initiatives like UID scheme. When The Financial Express took an editorial position to market Nandan Nilekani's Image of India and his conception of identity of Indian citizens, M K Venu, the Managing Editor looked like a writer of a paid feature (advertorial). It does not engage with the issues raised by the majority of Indians who are as skeptical of UID as most political parties are of Electronic Voting Machines (EVM)which has been declared unconstitutional in Germany, scrapped in Ireland and many other countries. Notably, "Security Analysis of India's Electronic Voting Machines" a research paper to be presented in October, 2010 at the ACM Computer and Communications Security conference led to the arrest of Hari Prasad, the co-author of the paper although some 16 political parties representing almost half of the Indian parliament have expressed serious concerns about the use of electronic voting amidst intriguing silence by those who support UID project. It appears that somehow the mindset that promotes unquestioned use of EVM with a touching faith in likes of Nilekani is the same mindset that promotes UID project with astounding concerns for those Below Poverty Line and the migrant workers.
Venu quotes Isaiah Berlin, a British philosopher and his concept of liberty implicitly underlining that UID does entail the issue of civil liberties. Did this newspaper ever take a position for migrant workers who face apartheid by local state governments and callousness from central government? The editor of this financial paper has failed examine why UK has abandoned a similar UID project because of massive and unprecedented people's opposition. Had Isaiah Berlin been alive (he died in 1997)he would have supported his fellow British citizens in rejecting the party and the government that "oversold the advantages of identity cards" like Nilekani and his acolytes are doing. In UK, during the 2010 General Election campaign, the published manifestos of the various parties revealed that the Labour Party planned to continue the introduction of the identity card scheme, while all other parties pledged to discontinue plans to issue ID cards. The Conservative party also explicitly pledged to scrap the National Identity Register.
In the Conservative Party – Liberal Democrat Party Coalition Agreement that followed the 2010 General Election, the new UK government announced that they planned to scrap the ID card scheme, including the National Identity Register (akin to our National Population Register) as part of their measures 'to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour Government and roll back state intrusion.'
In May 2010, the new UK government announced that the scrapping of the identity card scheme which would save approximately £86 million over the following 4 years, and avoid a further £800 million in maintenance costs over the decade which were to have been recovered through fees. Indian government will also save millions like UK did by scrapping Nilekani's idea and accepting the opinion of majority of Indians who reject Nilekani's allergy with citizens being sovereigns because it comes in the way of a toxic notion of industrial development. Isaiah Berlin had rightly said, "All forms of tampering with human beings, getting at them, shaping them against their will to your own pattern, all thought control and conditioning is, therefore, a denial of that in men which makes them men and their values ultimate." UID project denies those non-negotiable values and is being marketed like a commercial commodity.
UID is an Identity Crisis in the Making
AN EXERCISE is currently underway to enter every resident in India on a database. In a few years, the unique identification (UID) is intended to become a ubiquitous number, to be used in many operations: enrolling in a school, maintaining a bank account, ticketing for travel, seeking treatment in a hospital and having one’s death recorded in a mortuary register.
The sales pitch for the UID is, like most advertisements, intended to mislead. Enrolment is said to be voluntary. But, and as is now acknowledged, other agencies may refuse to provide a service if an individual is not enrolled, making it compulsory. The Working Paper of the UID Authority of India (UIDAI), which has been the basis of many discussions, starts with a claim that the UID will bring down barriers that prevent the poor from accessing services; but quickly adds: “UID will only guarantee identity, not rights, benefits and entitlements.”
The Public Distribution System (PDS) is the moral fulcrum on which the UID poises itself. Yet, the UIDAI admits to its interest in PDS being closely linked with completing its enrolment targets. Listing the ‘benefits to the UID’ that can flow to it from PDS: “The ration card is today the most prevalent form of identity in rural areas. If the UID enrolment is integrated into the process of the creation of a beneficiary database for PDS, the coverage of UID will improve significantly.” This is such a giveaway.
As with banks, those who have no documents to vouch for them would face exclusion
The potential that the number may have to enable tracking, profiling, mounting surveillance and ‘convergence’ of information, which will aid market profiling, is being studiously ignored. There are deeply disconcerting facts about the project that should wake up even those dwelling in the slumber of denial.
There has been no feasibility study preceding the setting up of such a pervasive project. There has been no cost-benefit analysis of the project. All calculations are of the back-of-theenvelope variety. Data theft is a serious threat. But other than asking us to leave it to the experts, there is nothing more that we know before we give information to the UIDAI. We have as yet no law relating to privacy.
The infallibility of biometrics, including fingerprints and iris scan, is still being tested: evidence has begun to emerge that callused hands, corneal scars and cataract induced by malnourishment may leave many millions outside this pattern of identification. Even as enrolment is poised to begin, authentication is still an unstudied field.
The promise of inclusiveness is belied by the ‘approved’ introducers; that is, where the poor are unable to provide any supporting documents to prove their identity, a network of approved introducers are to “introduce and vouch for the validity of a resident’s information”. UIDAI’s website admits this idea has been borrowed from the account opening procedure in commercial banks.
So, as with banks, those who have no documents to vouch for them would be threatened with exclusion. Where being a legal resident is to be closely tied in with having a UID number, it could render the poor vulnerable to having the legitimacy of their staying in the country being placed in the shadowy terrain of illegality and exclusion.
In an interview telecast on 14 August, UIDAI chairman Nandan Nilekani explained: “I think the core thing will be our ability to show that it is beneficial for people to have this number. If our ‘customer’, the resident of India, sees value in this number, if he sees that possessing it will bring in a material change in his life, he will come and take it. If he doesn’t do that, then we have lost what seems to be a marketing battle.” The State may have some explaining to do.
The author is an independent law researcher