The Unique Identity of a Standing Committee – The UID in Parliament: Taha Mehmood
This long guest post by TAHA MEHMOOD, who has been independently researching surveillence, biometrics and identification techonologies for a long time dissects the discussion and discourse around the Unique Identification Database scheme of the Government of India
- The Discreet Charm of UID
The January 2012 issue of The Economist, a magazine published from London, has an article on India’s national ID card scheme, titled, The Magic Number. The article focuses on how UID is progressing. The brave hero of the story is of course Nandan Nilekani and villain is ‘India’s stubborn home minister, P. Chidambaram,’ who ‘is now blocking a cabinet decision to extend the UID’s mandate, which is needed for the roll-out to continue’. According to the unnamed author of the article, ‘Indian politics hinge on patronage—the doling out of opportunities to rob one’s countrymen. UID would make this harder. That is why it faces such fierce opposition, and why it could transform India.’ This article appeared in The Economist days after the report of Standing Committee of Finance was released. What went on in the deliberations of this standing committee?
A Committee at Work
In December 2011, the 42nd report of Standing Committee of Finance (SCoF) rejected the National Identification Authority of India Bill 2010. The collective view of the committee members was expressed clearly in the 13th paragraph of the recommendations of the report-
‘The UID scheme, particularly considering the contradictions and ambiguities within the Government on its implementation as well as implications, the Committee categorically convey their unacceptability of the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010 in its present form.’ Forms play a strategic role in determining the perspective with which one views reality. The NIDAI bill is one of many ways in which the state is trying to shape our sense of reality therefore I think we must give our utmost attention to any expression about its proposed form.
Most media reportage and analysis that followed the publication of the report focused on a few words – such as contradiction, ambiguity, and unacceptability with respect to the national identification bill. Pro business commentators were aghast. They choose to remain silent. Apart from the reportage of the pro-business set one felt a sense of euphoria from the rest. Few commentators felt that the standing committee of finance’s disagreement with the NIDAI indicates that the time is now ripe to disown the idea of a unique identity number. I think the time is perhaps never ripe to lay claim to such a horrendous idea in the first place. But I want to consider neither the timing of a policy, nor the conclusions of a report. Rather, I want to look at the report from a different perspective.
The fact of that the SCoF did not accept the proposal for national identification bill in its present form was an opportunity for the Ministry of Planning to frame the bill afresh. What form would be suitable for SCoF? Why would SCoF accept that form? The Ministry of Planning may consider these questions. I want to ask how the SCoF come to a conclusion that NIDAI Bill was unacceptable in its present form in the first place? What evidence did it consider? What action did it take when the evidence was presented to it? Before looking at these questions in detail, let us first look at the form of SCoF itself.
The form of SCoF
The Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha appoint members of any standing committee. The term of members is for one year. The task of a standing committee is to carry out surveillance over administration. The Indian parliament has 17 department related standing committees. The standing committee of finance is made up of 32 members of Parliament and four bureaucrats. Ideally it could have 45 members. About one third members of the committee are drawn from the Congress party. Yashwant Sinha, a BJP member, is the Chairman of the committee. BJP has one fourth of the total members. Provincial political parties such as Shiv Sena, BJD, RLD, BSP, SDF, DMK, AIADMK, CPI, CPI(M), JD(U) and NCP have one member each while two members of parliament are from SP. According to the draft report, it appears, that the committee met on at least 22 occasions between 2010 and 2011. On each occasion the committee invited witnesses drawn from Ministry of Planning, Unique Identification Authority of India, National Human Rights Commission, Indian Banks Association, Confederation of India Industry and independent experts such as Reetika Khera, an economist, Usha Ramanathan, a legal scholar, R. Ramakumar, an economist and Gopal Krishna, a civil liberty advocate, to present their views about the proposed bill. Sometimes the standing committee asked witnesses to present oral arguments, at other times, to submit written answers. The report presents a brief history of the idea of unique identity. Till five years ago the Indian state did not intent to provide UID to every Indian citizen but only to people living below the poverty line.
A part of 42nd report of the standing committee of finance conveys how in a so-called deliberative democracy like India, a parliamentary committee collects evidence, frame arguments and thinks about issues. The report also highlights how parliamentarians disagree with each other and what are ways in which they articulate their disagreement?
Forms of dissent
In a note of dissent attached with the draft report, Raashid Alvi, a Congress politician from Bijnore and a member of parliament of Rajya Sabha representing the state of Andhra Pradesh says, ‘I do not agree with the paragraph ―13– of the draft Report on ―The National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010.’ Paragraph 13 is the one, which I have cited above, it deals with the question of form of the proposed bill. Raashid Alvi does not care to explain why he does not agree with paragraph 13. His suggestion is simply, ‘to delete ―”this para”.
Another Member of Parliament, Prem Das Rai, joins Raashid Alvi in presenting a dissent note. Prem Das Rai, a Member of Parliament from Sikkim Democratic Front, went to IIT Kanpur and later to IIM Ahmedabad before entering politics. C.D Rai, a politician, is the father of P.D. Rai.
In his note of dissent Prem Das Rai writes, ‘Since I have been inducted into the Committee recently I do not have the inputs that went in when the stakeholders and other Government departments were giving witness.’ But this lack of access to inputs did not deter Prem Das Rai to come up with a conclusion that, ‘The linking of a person to a number and then being able to make give access to the right to that person is transformational. It is the next phase of transformation that technology can bring about in our own country.’
One is tempted to ask why is linking of a person to a number- transformational, what is transformed. And I could not get what was this reference to ‘next phase’ about?
Manicka Tagore, a congress MP from Virudhunagar, writes a note of dissent saying how he, ‘could not attend this meeting on adoption of the draft report on the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010 because a very important discussion on the price rise was going on in the Lok Sabha.’ If the rest of people could attend this meeting why couldn’t he? Why give two jobs to a Member of Parliament when he cannot attend both. Not attending the meeting does not deter Manicka Tagore from criticizing the members of standing committee, ‘It is surprising to know that the committee members have not yet recognized the value of UID. This system will cut down fraud and corruption in every area of administration.’ How could any one measure the value of the identity of a human being? How?
In no note of dissent does one gets a sense of why these worthies are dissenting but one senses the presence of a childlike whim:
One could imagine an exchange that goes like this,
“Delete the para!…”
“Just delete the para!”
“Or link the number to a person”
“Because it is transformational”
How is it transformational?
“You don’t know the value of UID”
I think the dissent note was an excellent opportunity to present arguments about the political necessity (or lack of) of having the NIDAI bill passed in its present form but sadly that opportunity was lost. However on the day when the report was released Raashid Alvi, came to blows with SS Ahluwalia, who is his colleague in the standing committee. Raashid Alvi, a Congress MP, thought that SS Ahluwalia, a BJP MP, had leaked the report to a journalist. Raashid Alvi alleged that, that a journalist called him thinking he was SS Alhuwalia to ask few questions about the report. When Raashid Alvi confronted Alhuwalia about the alleged leak, Alhuwalia denied any role in the leakage. So Alvi tried to snatch Ahluwalia’s phone to get the journalist’s number. Ahluwalia in turn pushed Alvi away. The electronic media in India spent the entire day talking about this ‘embarrassing incident’ while devoting very little time to discuss the form of actual report. Questions like ‘how was the report formed?’, ‘what kind of questions did the SCoF put to witnesses who deposed before it?’ and ‘how did it come to a conclusion that the bill will not work in its present form?’ – all of these were ignored.
Forms of question asked by SCoF
The conversation between SCoF and various witnesses may have taken place in the following manner. This is a speculative scenario, but the manner in which the SCoF came to its conclusions makes this exchange highly plausible.
SCoF: ‘Why was the matter of conferring statutory status to the UIDAI deferred?’
Ministry of Planning: ‘Because we were planning to take it up later.’
Remember the original idea for UID involved only BPL families, so SCoF asked:
SCoF: ‘Why was it necessary to extend it to all Indians?’
Ministry of Planning: ‘To gradually do away the de novo exercises each time for field level data collection.’
Before I began writing this, I didn’t know that the expression – De-novo – means to begin anew. But now that I know what it does mean, I wonder what’s wrong with beginning anew?
Why does the Ministry of Planning assume that once it has done with UID data collection exercise, biometric or demographic attributes of Indians will not change or conversely all changes can be added as a layer to the existing master-database, even though iris and fingerprint technology is not sound, even though the state has no data about all Indians and even though not all Indians are registered at birth. In such a situation why can one not begin anew?
There is something else. A lot of Indians live temporarily or permanently in urban and rural localities, some live in dense forestlands, others in the middle of far away deserts. Many Indians access utilities, which require identification of consumers on a local basis. Most utilities such as the electricity, gas, food, fertilizers, internet, telephone are delivered locally so why can’t a local agency collect, verify and store data on their behalf. Although I am not at all convinced whether or not someone can map and reproduce the individual identity of a person as a document but even if I let go of this fact for a second, I do not understand why one can’t have local registers of identification. Why does one need a national authority to oversee this exercise? And that too a fictional national authority that does not even has a legal basis. When SCoF put across the question of legality of the UIDAI to Ministry of Planning, its answer might well have been as follows.
Ministry of Planning: We referred the matter to the Ministry of Law and Justice. The Ministry of Law and Justice said that ‘it is a settled position that powers of the Executive are co-extensive with the legislative power of the Government and that the Government is not debarred from exercising its executive power in the areas which are not regulated by specific legislation.’
So what’s happening here, A asks B – ‘are you legal ?‘ and B replies ‘yes‘ , A asks ‘how’ and B replies – ‘…because C says so‘. Why can’t the Ministry of Planning answer on its own ground whether one of its programs has a legal foundation?
Apart from the issue of executive power there was another issue – what came first-a fruit or a seed. Now I am no constitutional expert. I have a naïve sense of constitutional procedure. In my view people elect parliament. The largest group in the parliament makes the government. The government appoints ministers. A Minister runs a department. The department is run as per an established law. The parliament makes laws. Government proposes. Parliament disposes. Therefore going by my naïve sense of things the working of the UID borders on absurd.
To run the UID the government appoints a Chairman and gives him a status of a cabinet rank minister. But this faux cabinet rank minister is not even elected. He is given powers to run a department. However the power does not come under any law. The parliament does not know whether it has a say in the matter. Even if the parliament thinks it can do something about UID, it chooses to remain silent. After having run the department for over a year the government asks a committee of parliamentarians to weigh and consider a proposal for a bill so that a department that is headed by a man who is not elected can function legally. This man will work for people of India, in the name of people of India under a rank given to representatives of people of India. The people of India have not chosen him. The Attorney General of India seems to think that implementing a Bill without parliamentary approval is not a bad idea . In fact it ‘underlines the supremacy of Parliament’.
Attorney General: The present Bill being implemented without Parliaments‘ approval does not set a bad precedent in the Parliamentary form of Government. On the contrary, the fact that the Authority is sought to be converted from an Executive Authority to a statutory authority, it underlines the supremacy of Parliament. (STANDING COMMITTEE ON FINANCE (2011-12) FIFTEENTH LOK SABHA ,Ministry of Planning , THE NATIONAL IDENTIFICATION AUTHORITY OF INDIA BILL, 2010, LOK SABHA SECRETARIAT NEW DELHI, p-12 http://tahaz.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/sc_uid_report1.pdf)
Usha Ramanathan, a legal expert, disagreed with the idea that executive has the power to initiate any exercise.
According to Usha Ramanathan, ‘It is a plain misconception to think that the executive can do what it pleases, including in relation to infringing constitutional rights and protections for the reason that Parliament and legislatures have the power to make law on the subject’
(STANDING COMMITTEE ON FINANCE (2011-12) FIFTEENTH LOK SABHA, Ministry of Planning, THE NATIONAL IDENTIFICATION AUTHORITY OF INDIA BILL, 2010, LOK SABHA SECRETARIAT NEW DELHI, Part-D, Issuance of Aadhar numbers pending passing the bill by the parliament, Section-16, p-13. .pdf link)
SCoF let Usha Ramanathan have the last word on this matter suggesting, ‘any executive action is as unethical and violative of Parliament‟s prerogatives as promulgation of an ordinance while one of the Houses of Parliament being in session’
(STANDING COMMITTEE ON FINANCE (2011-12) FIFTEENTH LOK SABHA ,Ministry of Planning , THE NATIONAL IDENTIFICATION AUTHORITY OF INDIA BILL, 2010, LOK SABHA SECRETARIAT NEW DELHI, Part-II, Observations and recommendations, Paragraph 1, p-28. .pdf link)
Later, it asked UIDAI to explain how they were running the scheme. Below is a fictional account of a conversation that may have taken place between members of SCoF and representatives of UIDAI. This account is from my point of view which is based on a minute reading the report and closely following the various activities of UID that has appeared in reports published by UID from time to time.
UIDAI: ‘We want the people of India to register to access utilities. The registration is a voluntary exercise‘.
SCoF:‘ how will you know if someone with no UID number is genuine recipient?’
UIDAI: ‘We don’t know therefore we may not provide a citizen of India with a utility if they do not present a UID number’.
SCoF: ‘So UID number is compulsory’.
UIDAI: ‘No. Like we said, it is voluntary’.
SCoF: ‘How will you register data?’
UIDAI: ‘We will appoint registrars.‘
SCoF: ‘What will a registrar do?’
UIDAI: ‘The registrar will enroll’
SCoF: ‘How will you make sure that registrar is motivated to work?’
UIDAI: ‘We will give an incentive of 50 Rupees per enrollment.’
SCoF: ‘What other work will he do ?’
UIDAI: ‘He will supervise a verifier.’
SCoF: ‘…and the verifier, how will he work?’
UIDAI: ‘He will work with introducers’
SCoF: ‘And the introducers will…’
UIDAI: ‘They will vouch for people who do not have a documentary history.’
SCoF: ‘Like they do in a bank.’
SCoF: ‘But what about those who have documents to prove who they are?’
UIDAI: ‘Well! They can come to us on their own, can’t they?’
SCoF: ‘And what about migrant laborers, some of them may have genuine documents but may have gone for work when your enroller goes for a round.’
UIDAI: ‘We will organize special camps for them.’
SCoF: ‘Special camps??’
UIDAI: ‘Yes special camps for them to register!!’
SCoF: ‘And you think they will come?’
UIDAI: ‘No. but if we give them an incentive of 100 Rupees to enroll, why will they not come?’
Nandan Nilekani, the chairman of UIDAI, is a great promoter of the idea of incentive. In his view any citizen living below the poverty line can be given an incentive of 100 Rupees to get enrolled with UID. (MEHDUDIA.S, February 2010, Big boost for UIDAI, The Hindu)
Shiv Vishvanathan, a sociologist, describe corruption as structural to any society where there are gatekeepers who control access to entitlements. (Visvanatha.S, September 2011, ‘The beauty of corruption is that, it converts any act of being into something which is rentable’, Tehelka) In such a society, the gatekeepers often do not allow information about a resource to circulate symmetrically, thereby producing information asymmetries. In order to access information you pay. Some call it corruption. others think of it as incentive.
I think there is a lesson to be learnt with UIDAI because perhaps it is for the first time that a state is looking at the personal identity of a citizen as a resource. As a result it considers the citizen, as a gatekeeper of this resource. The state does not mind paying 100 rupees to a person to access information about finger and iris prints. UIDAI is so serious about this incentive business that it convinced the 13th Finance Commission to reserve Rs 3,000 crore for the project for giving an incentive of Rs 100 to every poor citizen who enrolled for a UID.
The SCoF kept on tossing questions to witnesses about various aspects of NIDAI Bill. On occasions when it couldn’t get an answer from witnesses the standing committee relied on news reports to form an opinion about UIDAI. This made me wonder about mediatization of standing committee. What sort of a role did media reportage of UID play in sensitizing the SCoF about the form of UIDAI?
III. The Committee Reads the Newspapers
Media reportage of UID seems to have had a considerable impact on the ways in which members of SCoF perceived it. The standing committee of finance mentions news items on thirteen different occasions. On some occasions it asks the Ministry of Planning to respond but on most occasions it appears that SCoF takes media reports prima-facie. The SCoF relies on media reports to believe that the enrollment process followed by UID may be flawed. Some registrars may not have adhered to laid down procedures. Operationalization of UID may not be of an order that makes it possible to ensure that the ‘beneficiaries’ have been correctly identified. Ministry of Home Affairs is of the view that it would not be preferable to rely entirely on private sector players‘ for biometric enrolments. The Citizenship Rules, 2003 ,do not approve of linking biometrics with personal information. And so on. The UID project has become focus of the ire of various arms of the government for rather disparate reasons. Ministry of Home Affairs has pointed out uncertainties in the UIDAI‘s revenue model. One of the representatives of the UIDAI has admitted that the quality of fingerprints is bad because of the rough exterior of fingers caused by hard work and this poses a challenge for later authentication. Ministry of Home Affairs have questioned the security of citizens‘ biometric data in UIDAI.
We do not know the sources of these news reports. We do not know where they appeared. We do not know who wrote them. We do not know what are the contexts under which correspondents who filed these news reports came to the above cited conclusions. We also do not know what the members of the SCoF discussed when they read these news reports. Who said what? What were the arguments and counter arguments? Why the did the committee decide to take these news reports prima facie? I wonder whether all of these reports are even true. For instance, is it true that Citizenship Rules 2003 does not approve linking of biometrics with personal information? Nevertheless, many of these extracts and distillations of purported ‘news items’ did find their way into the conclusions of the standing committee report. For instance, a conclusion such as –
‘The Committee feel that entrusting the responsibility of verification of information of individuals to the registrars to ensure that only genuine residents get enrolled into the system may have far reaching consequences for national security’ – is close (in the actual text of the report) to as ‘media report’ which suggests, ‘enrollment process followed by UID may be flawed, some registrars may not have adhered to laid down procedures.’ (STANDING COMMITTEE ON FINANCE (2011-12) FIFTEENTH LOK SABHA ,Ministry of Planning , THE NATIONAL IDENTIFICATION AUTHORITY OF INDIA BILL, 2010, LOK SABHA SECRETARIAT NEW DELHI, Part – C, Evaluation of UIDAI, Sec 21, p-14 – .pdf link )
The report mentions observations made by the Ministry of Home Affairs on twelve different occasions. But on not a single instance does SCoF ask the Ministry of Home Affairs to clarify or give evidence for its various claims about inappropriateness of UID. In a few cases it seeks the Ministry of Planning’s view in order refute the ‘negative’ media coverage of UID. However in one instance, SCoF cites a media report, but asks an unrelated question to the Ministry of Planning:
SCoF: ‘A media house has reported that the total cost of UID may come at 1,50,000 Crore Rupees. What is the estimated cost of all existing documents like Voter ID Card, Pan Card, Driving License and Aadhar.’
Ministry of Planning: The comparative costs of the documents mentioned above are not available.
The question about the cost of UID is important, but I wonder what was the intent of asking this question to the Ministry of Planning? How can the Ministry of Planning answer a question, which clearly involves ministries and departments other than its own?
SCoF was trying to perceive workings of UIDAI by observing all the evidence that it could access. The question about cost of all existing identity documents may have come as a response to a note that the Ministry of Planning had submitted to SCoF. In the said note, Ministry of Planning suggests that ‘Aadhaar (UID) number is cost-effective compared to other alternate targeted solutions to the problems identified in delivering services and benefits such as eliminating duplicate and fake identities’. How did Ministry of Planning know that Aadhar number is cost effective? Remember, theMinistry of Planning is good at approaching experts to help solve its own problems. Just like it asked Ministry of Law and Justice to explain whether UID is legal, so too it asked M/s. Ernst & Young Pvt. Ltd to find out whether UID is cost effective.
IV. The Importance of Being Earnst and Young
So now the scene is as follows: the Ministry of Planning does not know whether UID scheme is feasible. The UIDAI does not know whether UID scheme is cost effective. And of course there is no other agency of the government of India, which is competent enough to prepare a Detailed Project Report (DPR) about a Government of India scheme, which naturally leaves M/s. Ernst & Young Pvt. Ltd to do the job.
However we do not know what M/s. Ernst & Young Pvt. Ltd explained in the Detailed Project Report as it is not publicly available. Just as we do not know what Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) wrote when it submitted the feasibility report for the earlier MNIC project.
Ernst & Young seems to be dealing with many government agencies all across the world. E&Y’s business practice seems to be fine and world class, however over the years many government departments and independent investigating agencies have highlighted instances of discrepancies in its business practice. Over the course of researching for this commentary I came across many cases of E&Y, which were spread over across time and space. I present a selection of cases below from what I have encountered during the research. These cases belong to countries from both the so-called first and the third world and have emerged in the last ten years. In my view, these cases offer a critical perspective on the work culture of E&Y. Last year, for example, the Ministry of Power in Delhi banned E&Y from taking any projects in the sector.
E&Y was banned because PS Bami, a technocrat, found that E&Y wilfully committed errors while evaluating the bids for Sassan power project. Sassan is the name of a village located near the city of Sidhi in Madhya Pradesh. The project went to Reliance Power after it quoted the lowest tariffs. I could not find the actual report on the web but I am very curious to know exactly what in Mr. Bami’s view was objectionable in E&Y’s business practices.
The Delhi based Power Finance Corporation banned E&Y some time before the Bami report came out. The Power Finance Corporation was not the first institution to question E&Y’s business practices.
Incidentally, the US government and its agencies have also had to spurn the services of E&Y from time to time. Only eight years ago i.e. in 2004, Brenda Murray, a Washington based SEC (What is SEC) judge, ruled that E&Y ‘should not accept new auditing work for six months from Securities and Exchange Commission-listed companies.’
E&Y was seen to be having ‘substantial joint business relationships with PeopleSoft Inc. during the period 1994 through 2000, the firm claimed to be “independent” from Peoplesoft in audit reports it issued on PeopleSoft’s financial statements throughout the relevant period, each of which was included in PeopleSoft’s public filings with the Commission.’
Brenda Murray, the Chief Administrative Law Judge for SEC, observed that, E&Y’s conduct was “reckless, highly unreasonable and negligent.“
In 2007, a ten-member ethics committee of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka (ICASL) decided that prima facie cases of professional misconduct by E&Y exist in the case of privatization of Sri Lanka Life Insurance Corporation (SLIC). The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka ordered to remove Ernst & Young as the Auditors of SLIC, and ‘subsequently ordered that the Auditor General carry out an audit for the entire period during which SLIC was under privatized management.’
In Dublin, E&Y is facing a disciplinary hearing after a civil servant John Purcell found that the auditors allowed Anglo Irish Bank to make undisclosed loans to its ex-chairman Seán FitzPatrick and Willie McAteer. Barry O’Halloran and Suzanne Lynch reporting for Irish times suggest that ‘If it is found to have breached regulations, Ernst & Young could be banned from describing itself as a chartered accountants’ firm for a specific period, barring it from audit work, while its partners could be fined €30,000 each.’
In Boston, Massachusetts, Peter C. O’Toole was working as a partner for E&Y. When the Washington based, Public Company Accounting Oversight Board wanted to conduct an audit of E&Y, Peter C. O’Toole ‘authorized others under his supervision improperly to alter, add, and backdate documents in the external working papers.’
Life may not have been nice for E&Y in Washington, Colombo, Dublin and Delhi but all’s well with E&Y and UIDAI. In May 2010 E&Y won a contract as a consulting partner for UIDAI for Rupees 7.05 crore. Booz & Allen, PA Consulting and Capgemini also ran for the race.
Sunil Chandiramani, Partner and National Director-Advisory Business Leader-Government Services is E&Y’s pointman for UIDAI, he suggests
‘We are technology consultants. Our role is to help UIDAI select and procure technology including procuring the managed services provider. We also have to manage the implementation. This is something we hope to do over the next three years. The work would involve setting up the core — technology and the processes — followed by the rollout. The core work has to be done right and we cannot afford to fail.’
A company with a known record of fudging evaluation of bids, whose business practice is described as ‘reckless, highly unreasonable and negligent’, a company which ought to be ‘banned from describing itself as chartered accountants’, a company whose employee has authorized others under his supervision improperly ‘to alter, add, and backdate documents in the external working papers’ will advise the UIDAI on how to set up the Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR) and will help choose the Managed Service Provider (MSP). Can you store data of personal identities of citizens of India with private companies? UIDAI believes that storing data with private companies does not lead to a violation of privacy or security. At present, UIDAI does not have its own permanent facility to house its data centre. Therefore, it has hired75 sq.ft of data centre space from M/s. ITI Ltd. on a rental basis. If the pilot fails then UIDAI may look for other options. We could only know if privacy of citizens was compromised when someone gets caught and a court of law convicts someone. I wonder under what law will the court convict such a person. However till then, from UIDAI’s point of view, all talk about infringement of privacy is perhaps speculation.
By late November of 2011 E&Y was offering its expertise of evaluation of bids to process more than 50,000 nominations to choose one winner for IndiaMart’s ‘Leaders of Tomorrow’. A company whose business practice was once described as reckless, highly unreasonable and negligent in the empire has now donned a new role as arbitrators of status in the homeland security market in India. Surely something must be going right for them.
E&Y selected Dr. Sreeni Tripuraneni, Chairman & CEO of 4G Identity Solutions. N.R. Narayana Murthy, a businessman, gave the IndiaMart’s ‘Leaders of Tomorrow’ award to Dr. Sreeni Tripuraneni. Later 4G Identity Solutions won “Aadhaar Excellence Award” from Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) in Enrolment Agency category for its excellent efforts in Aadhaar Enrolment services.
4GID is the first licensee of Iridian’s latest image acquisition technology called IrisChip™. Iridian Technologies exercise a monopoly in the Iris Scan market. In the US after the 9/11 attacks, a committee expressed its concern about the costs of this technology suggesting that Iris recognition technologies are ‘traditionally among the most expensive biometric technologies, costing tens of thousands of dollars. The significant price of computer hardware and cameras, have brought the price down. However, an Iris recognition system, still costs approximately between $4,000-$6,000.’ Even the Pentagon found Iris Scan Technology to be not reliable. In 2006 Viisage, a large US defense contractor, took over Iridian Technologies. Later that year defense firms like Viisage, Stamford and Identix Inc merged to form L-1 identity solutions. In 2011 France’s state owned defense firm Safran took over L-1 identity solutions for a one billion dollars all cash deal. Safran appointed Barbara McNamara, a US intelligence officer, Deputy Director of the National Security Agency from October 1997 until June 2000 and winner of US Intelligence Community’s highest award, the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal, together with William Schneider Jr an avid supporter of nuclear strikes as board of directors at L-1. With such a stupendous background it sure makes absolute sense for E&Y to give an award to Safran’s stooge in India Dr. Sreeni Tripuraneni. By relying on non-reliable technologies such as Iris Scans the UIDAI is not only making utilities available to unintended users but it is also helping create technology jobs and sustain lives in France and America.
I wonder why did the standing committee of Finance not raise a single question about the efficacy of E&Y to chalk out a detailed project report for UID?
Acceptable forms of national identity cards
In 2006 the Registrar General of India was conducting a pilot project to test whether a Multiple Purpose National Identity Card could be rolled out for all Indians. The original idea was to give an identity card to people living in villages close to international borders. At that time the Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology came up with the concept of a Unique Identity Card for Below Poverty Line Families. We do not what happened in the next three years. But by 2009 the state decided to initiate the UID scheme under the Ministry of Planning. The Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology responded to this departmental challenge by starting their own version of UID calling it the Bharatiya – Automated Finger Print Identification System (AFSI) to collect biometric information of the people of India. The Ministry of Planning maintains that the ‘quality, nature and manner of collection of biometric data by other biometric projects may not be of the nature that can be used for the purpose of the aadhaar scheme and hence it may not be possible to use the fingerprints captured under the Bhartiya-AFSI project.’
The SCoF is severe in criticizing NIDAI bill and UIDAI in its present form. However it does not mean SCoF is hinting that a political consensus around a unique identity card cannot be formed. The SCoF seems to indicate a form that it may accept as an alternative, it makes an appeal for ‘considering better options available with the Government by issuing Multi-Purpose National Identity Cards (MNICs) as a more acceptable alternative.’ Taken as a whole it appears that the standing committee on finance, notes of dissent withstanding, as much believes in the need to have a national identity card, as the journalist who wrote The Economist’s story on UID. The key issue seems to be which form is more acceptable.