Editorial/Advertorial champions undemocratic practice for citizens profiling

Press Note

Advocacy of Judicial Fascism for Biometric data collection for UID/Aadhaar Condemned

Editorial/Advertorial champions undemocratic practice for citizens profiling

New Delhi, 23 Aug: Arindam Chaudhury, Editor-in-Chief of The Sunday Indian (TSI) in an editorial piece titled ‘Why the UID card should be made every citizen's constitutional right’ states, “...in its current form, the project is more of a political initiative of the UPA government, like their other developmental projects – which simply means that in the near future, it can be abandoned or can be stopped by any other political party in power.” This has already happened in UK. Democratic mandate is against projects like UID and related initiatives like National Population Register (NPR), National Intelligence Grid, Human DNA Profiling, National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), Land Titling Bill, 2011 and Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance (which has been dismissively referred in the TSI piece) has taken on board studies done in the UK on the identity scheme that was begun and later withdrawn in May 2010 when the proponents of ID project were defeated in the elections. The Committee took note of the problems like "(a) huge cost involved and possible cost overruns; (b) too complex; (c) untested, unreliable and unsafe technology; (d) possibility of risk to the safety and security of citizens; and (e) requirement of high standard security measures, which would result in escalating the estimated operational costs" in undertaking such projects.

Disregarding these established and indisputable concerns, Chaudhury recommends, “In such a scenario, where the future of this brilliant project is under stake, the Supreme Court should immediately take it under its purview and set an independent body to examine the project’s feasibility, post which the UID should be listed among essential documents, in the same league as a PAN card or voter identification card.” This is in keeping with autocratic stance of the proponents of UID project which are executing the project with a notification from Planning Commission without legislative mandate. He is advocating judicial intervention to insulate the project from the heat of democratic process.

Echoing massive opposition of informed citizens and their concerns, the Parliamentary Committee has noted that the government has “admitted that (a) no committee has been constituted to study the financial implications of the UID scheme; and (b) comparative costs of the aadhaar number and various existing ID documents are also not available.” In view of such glaring omissions, the Committee denounced the UID/aadhaar project as `unethical and violative of Parliament's prerogatives' and as akin to an ordinance when the Parliament is in session.

It is noteworthy that Supreme Court of Republic of the Philippines July 23, 1998 rejected the National ID program initiated by President Fidel V. Ramos on December 12, 1996 through "Adoption of a National Computerized Identification Reference System" in its 60 page judgment on two important constitutional grounds, viz: one, it is a usurpation of the power of Congress to legislate, and two, it impermissibly intrudes on our citizenry's protected zone of privacy. In India, High Courts of Madras and Mumbai are seized with the matter.

Debunking pre-existing government data of all ilk and the “gloomy state of social indices and their non-scientific projections,” Chaudhury categorically articulates his assessment saying, “Undoubtedly, such biometric cards are imperative for a nation with a billion plus population (and for a nation with 80 per cent plus corrupt officials at every level)” without any scientific application of mind. He betrays complete ignorance about the global developments against biometric data collection. UK, Australia, Philippines, USA and China have abandoned biometric data based National ID projects.

He also refers to ID schemes of Chile and Denmark. The fact is it is already admitted that it is the only project in the world that is using fusion biometrics, which distinguishes it from anything happening elsewhere. It has also been repeatedly established that biometric technology is inherently fallible.

Chaudhury says, “The government named this project Aadhaar…which will further allow the agency to maintain all data and biometric information at a single centralized server”. He claims, “in other words, the government assigned number acts as a one-stop data source.”

What he ignores that once such a database is ready it can be used to eliminate minority communities, migrants and political adversaries by some regime which finds them unsuitable for their political projects. The fact is a centralized electronic database and privacy both are conceptually contradictory. It is advisable to let it remain in decentralized silos something which even the central government’s Discussion Paper on Privacy underlined. The fact is creation of Centralized Identities

Data Register (CIDR) will create a bullying Database and Surveillance State through its ‘black box’.

In a related development, the unanimous decision of 17 judges the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) about violation of the right to privacy and family life by biometric profile retention in criminal justice databanks, they found that the “blanket and indiscriminate nature” of the power of retention of the fingerprints, cellular samples, and DNA profiles of persons suspected but not convicted of offenses, failed to strike a fair balance between competing public and private interests and ruled that the United Kingdom had “overstepped any acceptable margin of appreciation” in this regard. This decision is relevant for UID, National Population Register (NPR), Human DNA Profiling and voice print through Radio Frequency Identification (RFID).

In the era of Paid News journalism, this piece published in TSI which claims to be India's Greatest News Magazine, appears to be an advertorial of UIDAI, a paid editorial. CFCL deprecates TSI’s contempt towards Parliament and Parliamentary Committee whose approval for the biometric data collection and UID/Aadhaar has conspicuously has not yet been taken. Such editorials reflect manifest bias in favor undemocratic practices.

Given the fact that TSI is published in some 14 languages including Tamil, Kannada, Bhojpuri, Telugu, Malayalam, Gujarati, Marathi, Assamese, Oriya, Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu and Bengali, the piece about UID does a great disservice to its readers by misrepresenting facts. Such misinformation campaigns merit the attention of the Press Council of India.

For Details: Gopal Krishna, Member, Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL), Mb: 9818089660, E-mail: krishna1715@gmail.com, New Delhi


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