Nilekani’s aadhaar looks for a legal base

Parliamentary panel wants UID project dumped

samirsachdeva

Samir Sachdeva | December 9, 2011



The officials in the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) are anxiously awaiting some communication from the government on the National Identification Bill 2010. Sources within UIDAI claim that any action on the bill will be taken only after the government’s decision to accept or reject the recommendations of parliamentary panel. However, in case of acceptance of the panel’s suggestion to re-draft the bill, it will be a big setback to UID as the whole process may take another few months delaying the project’s implementation. Awadhesh Kumar Pandey, assistant director general, while speaking to Governance Now mentioned that the UIDAI has not yet received any communication on the above subject.

The parliamentary standing committee on finance had earlier rejected the National Identification Bill 2010 citing several issues which include lack of privacy, inclusion of residents as opposed to citizens, employment of private agencies to enroll, untested technology, duplication of work done by NPR, the initiative being a directionless endeavour and the huge cost of the programme. Even though the government has a right to reject or accept the recommendation of the parliamentary panel, but a rejection will mean a retrospective move for e-governance implementation in the country.

The rejection of bill followed by a possible scrapping of the project will give a shot in the arm of the sections which are resisting the change. On face of it, it appears that there are reasons beyond resistance to change that are behind the derailment of initiative. UIDAI is giving an average of Rs 50 per person enrolled by the enrolment agency. This means that if all the residents are enrolled, it will easily mean an expenditure of Rs 6,000 crore for over 120 crore residents. There lies a possible cause of rift between the ministry of home affairs (MHA) and UIDAI as each would like to control the disbursement of this amount.

The issue of lack of privacy provisions as highlighted by the parliamentary panel is unfounded as well. The enrolment agencies are capturing just limited demographic information like name, date of birth, gender, photo and address. This information for citizens above age of 18 years is already in public domain in form of voter database and hence there should not be issues on the same. The biometric information in form of IRIS and fingerprints is stored and transmitted to Central Identities Data Repositories (CIDR) in encrypted form; therefore, there is no question of privacy concerns there. On the contrary, the National Identification Bill 2010 in sections 37 and 38 provides penalty for disclosing identity information and unauthorised access to CIDR and hence promotes privacy. No other existing law in the country has such stiff privacy provisions as the proposed bill has.

The inclusion of residents as opposed to citizens will help the residents avail social benefits, access to services like banking, mobile phone connections and other government and non-government services. Section 6 of the National Identification Bill 2010 clearly states, “UID number in no way is a proof of citizenship or domicile.” The UID initiative is in essence aimed at social inclusion and not national security. The government notification 43011/02/ 2009 dated January 28, 2009, clearly states the charter of UIDAI and hence calling the authority a directionless endeavour may not be correct. The draft bill as any other bill in its opening words clarifies the purpose of the bill which is “to provide for the establishment of the National Identification Authority of India for the purpose of issuing identification numbers to individuals residing in India”.

The parliamentary panel has also highlighted that the project is using an untested technology. However, before the launch of the UID scheme, three different proofs of concept (PoC) studies were carried to ensure that the scheme is technically feasible. Also the UID concept was first discussed in 2006 in form of Unique ID project for BPL families. The project was then handled by department of information technology and the current UIDAI initiative has evolved from that initiative.

With regards to employment of private agencies by UIDAI, there is a limited option before the government as in the mammoth exercise the private sector needs to be involved. Some state governments have already written to the MHA that they will not be able to provide their existing resources for the biometric capture as is the norm for the census exercise. The registrar general of India (RGI) is also employing private sector organisations for the national population register (NPR). In his note to the prime minister, the union minister for home, P Chidambaram, has written, “The RGI is fully adhering to all the processes and technology prescribed by the UIDA as far as the biometric enrolment is concerned – the software used for the biometric enrolment is supplied by the UIDAI; the biometric devices used in NPR are procured from the OEM certified by the UIDAI; the devices are operated by operators, who are duly enrolled with UIDAI and who have taken the tests, prescribed by them. Thus, as far as biometric enrolment is concerned, the NPR is fully aligned with the UIDAI standards, processes and technology.” So, if RGI is following UIDAI then it is more appropriate that UIDAI be assigned with the overall task. RGI at best should take the role of a registrar in the whole exercise.  

Also the purpose of bringing in Nadan Nilekani as chairman of UIDAI was that the initiative should not be lost in the babudom, corruption and delays. However, various stakeholders are trying to ensure that the initiative meets the same fate as any other government project.

The RGI had been trying to implement the initiative in form of multipurpose national identity card (MNIC) since 2003 and had been caught up in bureaucracy and delays. The security risks as highlighted by Chidambaram while comparing the NPR and UID projects are also unfounded. The UID project under the planning commission aims to improve and target government services requiring authentication. Its mandate is to build a database which is free of duplicates and fakes which it is trying to ensure through de-duplication and online authentication process using biometric verification. Also UIDAI is issuing a unique number only and this number is no proof of citizenship and hence no threat to the national security. This fact is highlighted in the proposed bill as well.

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