UID an assault on individual liberty, say activists

News Posted - 2010-05-28

The Centre’s plan for a unique biometric-enabled number to every Indian resident is facing opposition from social activists who say it will impact civil liberties, state-citizen relations and privacy.

Members of the National Advisory Council (NAC) and other organisations have expressed their dissent against the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) — the nodal agency responsible for implementing Aadhaar.

The Central Employment Guarantee Council (CEGC)) had also raised concerns, objecting to the linking of the UIDAI project to the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme.

In a letter addressed to Rural Development Minister C P Joshi last week, Jean Dreze and Aruna Roy, members of the CEGC and NAC raised objections to the ministry's decision to link UID to job cards without consulting the council.

The UID is to be experimented first with NREGA workers linking their payments to their numbers. “It would be particularly dangerous and inappropriate to proceed with any linking before the legislative framework of the UID project has been worked out. We suggest that decisions related to the linking of UID with NREGA are put on hold in the meantime,” said the letter.

Dreze told Business Standard that UID is a national security project in the garb of a social policy initiative. “I am opposed to the UID project on grounds of civil liberties. Let us not be naive. This is not a social policy initiative — it is a national security project.”

He said the underlying implications of the UID was what has been stated by former intelligence Bureau Chief A K Doval in an interview to Tehelka — it was intended to wash out aliens and unauthorised people. But the focus appears to be shifting and is now being projected as a development-oriented initiative, lest it ruffle feathers.

Dreze said the UID will help achieve unprecedented levels of surveillance on ordinary citizens and this may have dangerous consequences for privacy civil liberties and social justice. Echoing Dreze’s view, Roy said the project is a threat to democratic norms and civil liberties and it should be opposed.

Anil Chaudhury, a member of Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF), said the UID scheme violates right to privacy and the state can misuse it for targeted attacks and discrimination against certain communities.

Wilfred Dsouza of INSAF argued that a centralised identity pool is always fraught with risks. It can be hacked and misused by terrorists. He said the Labour Government had faced opposition from the Tories on similar grounds when it tried to introduce the Identity Cards Act 2006.

The UK Home Secretary had been quoted as saying that the “The national identity card scheme represents the worst of government. It is intrusive and bullying. It is ineffective and expensive. It is an assault on individual liberty that does not promise a great good.” Source: BS 4/9/10

UID project shortlisted TCS, Wipro, TechM, IBM, NEC.

Domestic information technology (IT) services majors Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Wipro Technologies and Tech Mahindra and global players like IBM and Japan-based NEC are among the 10 shortlisted companies for the Nandan Nilekani-headed Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) biometrics job.

“This is the second stage of shortlisting. These firms are now qualified for a request for proposal (RFP). In the next five-six weeks, the final bidder will be announced,” said a source close to the development. The size of the contract could not be confirmed.

Meanwhile, the UIDAI has also started issuing RFPs for the data centre management work of the project. Bidders will be shortlisted over the next four-six weeks.

Biometrics will be the second IT contract from UIDAI. The first was for application development services, worth Rs 19 crore, bagged by Bangalore-based IT services provider MindTree. The first UID contract to become a consulting partner for UIDAI, of the size of Rs 7.05 crore, was bagged by Consultancy firm Ernst & Young.

Biometrics (which includes fingerprint, facial and iris scans) and computing power hold the keys to Nilekani’s UID project, which is estimated to offer a Rs 15,000-20,000 crore opportunity to computing, database, smartcard and storage vendors, besides systems integrators. For every rupee of IT spend on the UID project, industry experts estimate around 60 per cent of the spending will go to hardware vendors.

According to biometrics tender details, the bidder shall have at least 2,500 agents employed in delivering in-bound contact centre services and have at least 500 physical in-bound contact centre seats operational at a single location in India as on March 31. The firms shall have demonstrated capability of serving customers in Hindi, English, and at least one of the required languages in each of the regions mentioned herewith — South (Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam), West (Gujarati, Marathi), East (Bengali, Oriya, Assamese).

The bidder shall also have proven experience in implementing and ongoing management of large in-bound contact centre solutions. The bidder shall have handled at least 5 million in-bound calls a month for every month in FY ’09 –10 or an equivalent average.

The first set of UIDs will be issued between August 2010 and February 2011. Nilekani plans to issue 600 million UIDs over the next five years.

Nilekani had earlier told this newspaper that no single IT contract is likely to cross Rs 30 crore. “It is true UIDAI is looking for best-of-the-breed service providers. In principle, we desire to build a system to prevent vendor lock-in and this is likely to bring down the cost of procurement for IT systems and software,” said Nilekani.

Source: BS 28/5/10