Usha Ramanathan in Statesman
UID is an acronym for unique identification. But first, this is not an identity scheme; it is a system that leverages emerging technologies to help various governmental and commercial agencies identify and database persons. That is why concerns about the UID project include the hugely increased potential for convergence of data, tracking, profiling, tagging and the violation of norms of privacy.
Then, as we have been told many times over, UID is not a card, but a number. Some have mistaken the paper which is used to communicate the number to the resident to be an ID card. Mr Nandan Nilekani — Chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) — explained, during a talk to the World Bank on 24 April 2013: “First of all, this is not an ID card project. There is no card. There is a number. It’s a virtual number on the cloud, and we don’t give a physical card. We do send you a physical letter with your number, which you keep in your pocket, but the real value of this is the number on the cloud.”
The identification is to be done by matching the number to biometrics that are collected and kept on a Central Identities Data Registry.
The uniqueness of the number depends on the biometric system being failsafe; but biometrics is still at an experimental stage. All we have for the moment are some proof-of-concept studies, and the “faith”, “belief” and “conviction” of the project proponents that peppers every document and speech.
Third, while the driving licence, voter ID and PAN card may be used as
identity cards, the UID
number is different. The UID is synonymous with another acronym ~ KYC, or Know Your Customer. The UID proposes to partner with Authorised User
Agencies (AUA), which may be any agency including banks, mobile companies, LPG service providers, insurance companies, departments with the state and central governments, hospitals and so on. When the AUAs decide to use the UID, they will have to deploy fingerprint and iris scanners, which will be used to “authenticate”, that is, verify if the person is who she says she is.
This is a business model, where the UIDAI proposes to make its profits on authentication — the Strategy Overview document calculates that once the project reaches a “steady” state, it should be able to make Rs 288.15 crore.
Four, the UID is supposed to be voluntary, but that was a deliberate untruth put out as part of the marketing exercise for the project, and because the UIDAI has no power to force anyone to enrol. After all, their legal status is highly suspect.
In the first two years of enrolment, it was evident that there was little enthusiasm to get on to the database. After all, it was not even clear what the point of the UID number was. Fact is it is still not clear.At the World Bank talk in April 2013, Mr Nilekani said, in answer to a question: “Obviously people don’t know what benefits will come from this — even I don’t know what benefits will come from this…But broadly, they know that this is some kind of a gateway to the future. There will be benefits. What these benefits are, they don’t know…”
Declaring that the UID was mandatory changed things for people. How the idea of making the UID mandatory was sold to the various governments is not widely known. We do know that the UIDAI had banked on the UID being made mandatory by different agencies even when it put together its Strategy Overview. The strategy was for the UIDAI to continue pretending that it was voluntary. This deceit is a part of the way that the UID project has been rolled out.
Five, the words `universal’ and `ubiquitous’ are used to describe the ambitions of the project. By getting everyone on the database, there is to be “universal” coverage. And by getting every possible agency to subscribe to the UID as a KYC, it is to be “ubiquitous”. Mr Nilekani, of course, explains that the UID is an “identity platform”. It is “open architecture” on which many “apps” may be built. Unlike the driving licence, ration card, voter ID, the UID has no purpose of its own. It is just an “ID verification system” and all manner of “apps” can be built on it. Direct Benefit Transfer is such an “app”. And in explanation of what it will do, he says: “You can use the ID and create a credit history…or you could build an electronic health system.” Since it is on a cloud, your health record will be portable and “you can take it with you wherever you go”. Of course, this also “gives you complete traceability”, of persons and their transactions. “Obviously,” he admits, “it doesn’t solve the problem of eligibility. You have to build some other systems for that.”
The casual disregard of the law, the authoritarian demands to hand over personal and intimate information, creating databases that put people at risk, and passing off half truths and outright lies as facts are some among the disturbing features of the UID.
The writer is an academic activist. She has researched the UID and its ramifications since 2009.
“The real beneficiary (of mandatorily linking the UID to bank accounts to be eligible for cash transfers) is neither the finance ministry nor the nodal ministries or citizens but the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which has struggled to meet its target of covering large sections of the population. Compared with the average monthly enrolment of 7.4 million people in the last seven months, it needs to add 25 million a month to meet its target of 600 million by 2014. In the absence of parliamentary approval, forcing eligible citizens to take Aadhaar cards to avail the existing benefits, will, perhaps, be the most pernicious legacy of this plan, which is nothing more than an effort to rescue UIDAI.”
Himanshu, an economist at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University who has been studying the UID, in the context of cash transfers.