Excerpts from the proceedings of the Press Conference on “Are Aadhaar like biometric identification projects in India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan legitimate?” organized on 30th March, 2016 at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of South Asia, New Delhi, amidst announcement that the Chief Justice of India would head a five judge bench in the Aadhaar matter:
In the matter of Aadhaar Act, 2006, P D T Achary, former Secretary General, Lok Sabha said that it “comes under the category of financial bills under Article 117” and not under the category of Money Bill. He said, “Article 110(3) confirms finality on the speaker’s decision on the question of whether a bill is a money bill. But this constitutional provision cannot be seen as a convenient tool to deal with an inconvenient second chamber. The Constitution reposes faith in the speaker’s fairness and objectivity. Article 110(1) provides the touchstone of the decision to be taken by the speaker under Article 110(3). Any decision actuated by extraneous considerations can’t be a proper decision under Article 110(3). The speaker’s decision needs to be in conformity with the constitutional provisions. If not, it is no decision under the Constitution.”
He underlined that Aadhaar legislation which dressed up as Money Bill on a fake ground because Aadhaar is incidental to the subsidy. He stated that tomorrow even if ‘subsidy’ can be abolished Aadhaar will continue to be there. He said that Supreme Court will have to examine whether Lok Sabha has the competence and power to expose people to grave risks. Speakers’ power is not absolute under the Constitution of India. It can be challenged in a Court of law.
In a statement for the Press conference Dr. M Vijayanunni, former Registrar General and Census Commissioner and former Chief Secretary of Government of West Bengal said, “China, which is the other country in the world comparable to India in terms of size and diversity of population, abandoned its universal ID system midway in the face of insurmountable problems encountered during its implementation, despite the supposed advantage of their totalitarian system in pushing through such a humongous but ill-advised project.” He states, “While the USA has the social security number for all residents, it does not intrude into the privacy of the individuals and is so liberally implemented that it does not block or stand in the way of getting any deserved benefits from the state or from availing of any services from other agencies.”
Dr. M Vijayanunni stated that “The government’s attraction to the project is the supposed reduction achieved in disbursal of subsidies through avoidance of duplicate and bogus claims. This has to be achieved through other administrative modalities in each individual scheme rather than by steamrolling it through an uncaring denial of thousands of claims based merely on faults in the biometric and data retrieval systems. The real pressure for continuance of the scheme will be from the police and secret surveillance systems to pry into the privacy of everyone which gives them unlimited powers over the lives of helpless individuals and enjoy unchallenged supremacy in the days to come. That will sound the death-knell of freedom and democracy.”
He said, “There have been umpteen complaints from the affected citizens in the actual collection and collation of the biometric and personal data in the field so far and the project is engulfed in the tears and curses of lakhs of people of all social strata up against the uncaring ways of the officials doing the aadhaar exercise. It is pulling wool over one’s eyes if it were to be claimed that it has been perfectly implemented so far.”
Dr Usha Ramanathan, a jurist said, “Biometrics, unlike passwords or pin numbers, cannot be replaced. What is a person supposed to do if their biometrics get compromised? We know now that fingerprints, for instance, can be faked, that they can be `lost’ because someone `stole’ them, that they can become unusable because of a range of reasons, including that their work wears out their fingerprints or that working in the sun affects iris recognition. This is a risk that is being foisted on the people, and no one else is willing to accept liability for the harm and loss that this may cause.” She said, “in making biometrics compulsory for the poor, the poor are being told that they do not have any interest in privacy, and that they should only care about the money they may get from the government or the food that may be provided. This reduction of citizenship of the poor person to a rightless welfare recipient is itself unconstitutional.” She stated, “This project has made it necessary to remind the governments that the Constitution is not about the power of the state over the people. It is about the limits of state power.”
In a statement for the Press Conference Col. Mathew Thomas, a defense scientist and a petitioner before the Supreme Court of India against Aadhaar said, “Putting the biometric and demographic data of all Armed Forces personnel into a database, which is accessed by foreign private companies, hands over the entire deployment of the Nations Defenses to foreigners. I think that UID is more dangerous than Masood Azhar. He can at best try a terror strike. UID makes our nation subservient to a foreign power. It takes away our freedom. Is there anti-nationalism that is worse than handing over the entire biometric and demographic data of the Nation to private foreign contractors and hiding the fact from its people?”
He said, “The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance has repeatedly said that UID is a threat to national security. The present National Security Adviser and a cabinet minister are on record on camera saying that UID is a threat to national security. The danger to national security is not only from illegal immigrants entering UID database, but from the foreign private companies who are providing biometric technology to UIDAI. These foreign firms were founded by former CIA and FBI officials and are contractors to US intelligence agents. Clauses 15.1 of Annexure ‘A’ and 3.1 ‘B’ of the contract of UIDAI with M/s L 1 Identity Solutions Operating Company, a foreign company, provide it access to ALL personal data in the UID database and the use, transfer, processing and linking of the data with personal data of specific individuals.
Putting the biometric and demographic data of all Armed Forces personnel into a database, which is accessed by foreign private companies, hands over the entire deployment of the Nations Defenses to foreigners. The biggest threat is NOT just the UID database, but linking it through “seeding” of the UID Number to all other databases of the Nation, like, PDS, LPG, salaries, scholarships, health records, pensions, SEBI, voter lists etc. India and Pakistan are two countries which are using the same foreign private companies for biometric technology for setting national databases – UID in India and NADRA in Pakistan. No greater stupidity can ever be imagined. With this India will not just be “re-booted”, it will be booted (kicked) into a vassal state of a foreign power along with its neighbor, Pakistan.”
Dr Gopal Krishna of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL) said, following the footprints of Pakistan, Government of India set up Unique Identification Authority (UIDAI) of India in January 2009 for biometric identification of Indian residents. The biometric data based Unique Identification (UID) Number branded as Aadhaar is being made structurally irreversible. The transnational companies likeErnst & Young. L1 Identities Solution, Safran and Accenture are involved in it. Ironically, these companies are taking the personal sensitive information for “seven years” and Government is paying for it. At no stage was the political class briefed about the far reaching implications for right to privacy, national security and national sovereignty. Government’s ambitious Digital India project seeks to link mobile SIM cards with the unique identity number (UID) or Aadhaar. The development comes close on the heels of the Cabinet approving the blueprint for the Digital India project. It will also provide “high-speed internet as a core utility” down to the gram panchayat level and a ‘cradle-to-grave digital identity – unique, lifelong, online and authenticable’.”
One of the most successful examples of implementation of biometric identification is Pakistan. Even SIM card for mobile in Pakistan is done based on biometric identification. Pakistani authorities May 16, 2015 said they have authenticated 75.5 million SIM cards through biometric verification. In an interview, Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks informed Imran Khan about the grave act of omission and commission. Assange said, “…we discovered a cable in 2009 from the Islamabad Embassy. Prime minister Gilani and interior minister Malik went into the (US) embassy and offered to share National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) – and NADRA is the national data and registration agency database. The system is currently connected through passport data but the government of Pakistan is adding voice and facial recognition capability and has installed a pilot biometric system as the Chennai border crossing, where 30,000 to 35,000 people cross each day.
This NADRA system is the voting record system for all voters in Pakistan. A front company was set up in the United Kingdom – International Identity Services, which was hired as the consultants for NADRA to squirrel out the NADRA data for all of Pakistan. What do you think about that? Is that a…? It seems to me that that is a theft of some national treasure of Pakistan, the entire Pakistani database registry of its people.” The interview was conducted on June 19, 2012.
In a related development, on December 16, 2015 Bangladesh introduced: mandatory biometric registration for all SIM card owners. With this new system in place, every mobile phone SIM card will be associated with its user’s identity as it appears in the national identity card database of the Election Commission. Every SIM card owner will be asked to verify their identity by providing their fingerprint, which will be checked against the fingerprint data associated with their national identification. Each person will be allowed to register a maximum of twenty mobile phone SIM cards to their national identity card. This scheme connects communications data together with individual, government-assigned identities. By implication it allows the government to have unprecedented oversight on daily lives of Bangladeshi citizens.
In an email communication dated March 30, 2016, Aneek R Haque, lead lawyer from Dhaka, Bangladesh informed, “Although the hearing was to take place today, but the Govt. today wasted the day by arguing question of maintainability. Ultimately the High Court ruled their objection out and fixed sunday for hearing.” Like in India the biometric project faces legal challenge before the High Court Division of Bangladesh Supreme Court.
Responding to a complaint Nepal’s Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC) raised a national security concern over the contract to be awarded to Morpho Safran, a French company working in India, for preparing the national identity card on 4th January, 2016. Its members argued that any firm belonging to, or working in India or China, should not be awarded such a sensitive project as preparing the national identity card that contains all vital information on Nepali citizens. The National Identity Management Centre (NIDMC) has chosen Morpho Safran to print the national IDs, the same firm that had been disqualified earlier for a conflict of interests. Only Morpho Safran was deemed “technically eligible” to set up infrastructure and print the ID cards. While the selection has to be approved by the funding agency, Asian Development Bank (ADB), the fact that only one firm was found to be technically eligible has raised many an eyebrow. PAC members claimed that Morpho’s subsidiary firm is involved in many projects in India including in preparing a similar kind of national identity card (Aadhaar).
The NIDMC of Nepal’s Home Ministry qualified Morpho Safran technically among five other bidders namely, Gemalto (France), IRIS Corporation (Malaysia), Informatics (Sri Lanka), Dermalog and Arjowiggins (France). Nepal’s PAC formed a panel to see if there are irregularities in picking only one firm. In June, 2015 the Nepal Government had called a global tender for procurement and installation of hardware at its offices and all project sites. The Asian Development Bank extended an $8 million loan for the project while the rest is to be financed by the World Bank. The report is yet to see the light of the day.
It is evident that governments of Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India are following the footprints of an experiment which has tried, tested and failed in the developed countries.
For instance, has NADRA been made accountable for this theft of national treasure of Pakistan? Will these governments be made accountable if “rich data assets” are stolen or sold? Has anyone been made accountable till date in such situations?
It may be recalled that on 23rd April 2010, the World Bank had launched its eTransform Initiative by signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with France and South Korea besides transnational companies like L-1 Identity Solutions, IBM, Gemalto, Pfizer and others. It was launched in the presence of Ministers of Finance and Communications from many developing countries. The World Bank is currently funding 14 projects related to e-government and e-ID around the world. These projects are unfolding under the influence of international finance and not because there was a domestic need for it.
Let us ponder over few questions:
Is it a coincidence that the similar schemes are unfolding in South Asia? Isn’t there a design behind persuading and compelling developing countries to biometrically profile their citizens? Is it too early to infer that international bankers, UN agencies and western military alliances wish to create profiles in their biometric and electronic database for coercive use of social control measures? Is it not true that uninformed citizens, parliamentarians and gullible government agencies are too eager to be profiled and tracked through an online database? Would freedom fighters have approved of mass surveillance by any national or transnational agency? Is it not clear that UN agencies, World Bank Group, transnational intelligence companies and military alliances are working in tandem to create the bio-electronic database of Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshi as per their pre-determined design? Is this design structured to safeguard the interest of present and future generation?
The section of political class which has resisted the Faustian bargain so far must examine these questions and put these biometric agencies to rigorous scrutiny to make them subservient to people’s will. Citizens must compel these national governments to explain how national security of US, France and their allies converge with the national interest of India, Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
There is evidence in public domain that indicates that under the influence of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and World Bank, Governments of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan have been compelled to adopt biometric identification for its residents. In the aftermath of disclosures by Wikileaks, Edward Snowden, Citizen Four, Glenn Greenwald and the surveillance by unaccountable institutions, now that the fearful ramifications are visible on the horizon, the question is who is stopping, the political class in the region to desist from allowing subjugation of their fellow citizens to be subjugated by transnational imperial powers.
Now that Aadhaar Act, 2016 has been notified in the Gazette after it received the President’s assent, the press conference is aimed at examining the constitutionality and legitimacy of such initiatives in a global and South Asian context. Supreme Court of India is seized with the matter. Election Commission of India has refused to link Aadhaar with Voter ID in compliance with Court’s order. Governments of India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal appear to have been compelled to adopt biometric identification for its residents ignoring the fact that countries like UK, USA, China, Australia, and France have abandoned either their identity projects or indiscriminate use of biometrics. But the same has been bulldozed in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal. It is evident that illegitimate advances of transnational entities are being legalized. Mass surveillance is harming democracy. It is silencing minorities of all ilk.
Those who shared their views with the media included P D T Achary, former Secretary General, Lok Sabha, Dr Usha Ramanathan, noted jurist, Dr. M Vijayanunni, former Registrar General and Census Commissioner and Dr Gopal Krishna of Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL). Other eminent citizens also shared their views