UNIQUE IDENTIFICATION PROJECT- A TOUCHSTONE OR A CURATE'S EGG?
• Ms. Anumeha Jha
UID- Concept & Need for UID
One of the biggest impediments preventing the poor in India from accessing public services, welfare benefits and subsidies is the inability to prove their own identities. This is especially detrimental for the underprivileged and the backward classes who live in India's "social, political and economic periphery." The public as well as private sector agencies require proof of identity before providing services, which these groups are unable to provide. As a result, every time one of them tries to access a benefit or service, he must undergo a full cycle of identity verification. This approach is especially unfair to the marginalized who find it difficult to meet the costs of multiple verification processes.
In this context the UID number fulfils a long felt need. A single, universal identity number will not only eliminate fraud and the problem of duplicate identities, but also restructure and augment the delivery of social welfare programs.
This essay gives a short commentary on UID, its projected benefits, experiences of similar schemes from across the world and an appraisal of what it has achieved so far or seeks to achieve in the future.
The idea of providing a unique identity card for all residents evolved from an initial scheme called the Multipurpose National Identity Card (MNIC) Project, launched by the NDA Government in 2002. This Project aimed to create a national ID for every Indian citizen with the objective of increasing national security, managing citizen identity and facilitating e-governance. It envisaged providing unique National Identity Number (NIN) to each person in the National Population Register (NPR). As per a press note released by the Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, on March 4, 2008, the project was implemented on an experimental basis covering a population of 30.95 lakh in the selected areas in 12 states and a Union Territory. Under the project, smart identity cards were issued to the citizens of age 18 years and above. The project's importance was underscored by President Abdul Kalam in his 2006 Independence Day eve address to the nation.
While the Registrar General of India was engaged in the creation of the National Population Register and issuance of Multi-purpose National Identity Cards to citizens of India, the concept of a unique identification number was being discussed and worked upon in 2006. It was given administrative approval on March 3, 2006 under the title- `Unique ID for BPL families. It was to be implemented by the NIC over a period of 12 months. After several rounds of discussions by various stakeholders and on the recommendation of theEmpowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) for collation of the two schemes - the National Population Register (NPR)/MNIC under the Citizenship Act, 1955 and the Unique Identification Number (UID) of the Department of Information Technology, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) was constituted and notified by the Planning Commission on January 28, 2009 under the Chairmanship of Nandan M Nilekani as an attached office. The UIDAI was given the responsibility of laying down the plan and policies to implement the scheme, to own and operate the UID database and be responsible for its updation and maintenance on an ongoing basis.
The Prime Minister constituted the Council of UIDAI and a Cabinet Committee on UIDAI (called CC-UIDAI) on July 30, 2009 and October 22, 2009, respectively.
Name and logoIt was decided that the brand name of the Unique Identification number (UID) would be Aadhaar and the logo would be a sun in red and yellow, with a fingerprint traced across its centre. Together, the name and logo communicate the essence and spirit of the UID 1.UID SchemeThe UIDAI's mandate is to issue to every resident a unique identification number linked to his or her demographic and biometric information. This would be used as an identity document anywhere in India, and enable the bearer to access a host of benefits and services. Each number is connected with three types of biometric data: iris scans, fingerprints and a picture of the face. This unique identification number can be verified and authenticated in an online, cost-effective manner, which is claimed to be robust enough to eliminate duplicate and fake identities.A resident who seeks to obtain an Aadhaar number shall provide his / her demographic and biometric information to enrolling agencies appointed by Registrars. A resident who does not possess any documentary proof of identity or proof of address can obtain an Aadhaar number by being introduced by an introducer.
What will the UIDAI do?
The UIDAI will:
• Issue a unique identity number (Aadhaar) to a resident based on basic demographic and biometric information of the person; and
• Authenticate the identity of a person based on the unique identity number
UIDAI has headquarters in Delhi and a technology centre in Bangalore. It also has 8 regional offices in Chandigarh, Delhi, Lucknow, Ranchi, Guwahati, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bangalore.
Agencies/Departments involved in the scheme
The UIDAI plans to achieve the objective of issuing UID numbers through a partnership model. It will augment the existing infrastructure of government and private agencies across India. In addition, the Authority will partner with a number of agencies at the central and state levels who will be `Registrars' for the UIDAI. Registrars will process UID applications, and connect to the CIDR (Central Identities Data Repository) to de-duplicate resident information and receive UID numbers. These Registrars can either be enrollers, or will appoint agencies as enrollers, who will interface with people seeking UID numbers.
The Authority will also partner with service providers for authentication. Various departments like the Census Department, the Postal Department, Income Tax Department, State and Central Government departments planning and implementing various social welfare schemes can all be Registrars/Enrollers. UIDAI has started consultations with the various ministries/departments and agencies at the Central and State level but is yet to enter into any formal arrangements .2
The Ministry of Planning in its submission before the Standing Committee on Finance, 2011, has stated that "…..Aadhaar number is an enabler…... The benefits of Aadhaar number are:-
"For residents: The Aadhaar number will become the single source of identity verification. Once residents enrol, they can use the number multiple times they would be spared the hassle of repeatedly providing supporting identity documents each time they wish to access services such as obtaining a bank account, passport, driving license, and so on. By providing a clear proof of identity, the UID will also facilitate entry for poor and underprivileged residents into the formal banking system, and the opportunity to avail services provided by the government and the private sector. The UID will also give migrants mobility of identity.
"For Registrars and enrollers: The UIDAI will only enrol residents after de-duplicating records. This will help Registrars clean out duplicates from their databases, enabling significant efficiencies and cost savings. For Registrars focused on cost, the UIDAI's verification processes will ensure lower Know Your Resident (KYR) costs. For Registrars focused on social goals, a reliable identification number will enable them to broaden their reach into groups that till now, have been difficult to authenticate. The strong authentication that the Aadhaar number offers will improve services, leading to better resident satisfaction.
"For Governments: Eliminating duplication under various schemes is expected to save the Government exchequer a substantial amount. It will also provide Governments with accurate data on residents, enable direct benefit programs, and allow Government departments to coordinate investments and share information".
The Ministry of Planning further added that "......the reason for starting the project is not for overriding existing Ids…..All the above documents are relevant to a domain and for a service. Aadhaar number is to be used as a general proof of identity and proof of address".
India will be the first country to implement a biometric-based unique ID system for its residents on such a large scale. The UID will serve as a universal proof of identity, enabling the government to get a clear view of India's population, thus facilitating target and effective delivery of services, achieving greater returns on social investments and monitoring of money and resource flows across the country.
The Economic Survey of 2010-2011 claimed that an Aadhaar Payments Bridge had been designed and was being tested on pilot basis for MGNREGA payments in Jharkhand. This would enable the transfer of funds directly into the bank accounts of beneficiaries on the basis of the Aadhaar number and considerably simplify the process of disbursement of welfare funds by government departments. The Survey suggested that the incorporation of the Aadhaar number in the rural employment guarantee scheme would assist in addressing some of the major challenges like payment of wages to rightful claimants and eliminating ghost beneficiaries. Aadhaar could also meet the needs of documentation for the standard Know Your Customer (KYC) drills, making the opening of a bank account significantly simpler. The Survey further pointed out that by using Aadhaar, it was possible to route the subsidy directly to the target households, which could then purchase their food items from any Public Distribution store or even non-PDS shops.
The estimated cost of the Phase-I and Phase-II of the scheme spread over five years is Rs.3170.32 crore (Rs.147.31 crore for Phase-I and Rs.3023.01 crore for Phase-II). The estimated cost includes scheme components for issue of 10 crore UID numbers by March, 2011 and recurring establishment costs for the entire scheme up to March, 2014. The approved Budget for Phase-III of the scheme is Rs.8861 crore.3
The UIDAI started issuing UIDs between August 2010 and February 2011. It plans to cover 600 million people within 4 years. This can be accelerated if more Registrars partner with the UIDAI for both enrolment and authentication. The adoption of UIDs is expected to gain momentum with time, as the number establishes itself as the most accepted identity proof in the country.
The first set of numbers were issued on September 29, 2010, when the UID project was officially flagged off by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi in Tembhali village in Maharashtra's Nandurbar district. The first recipients were ten tribals4. After a slow start, the project is gradually gaining momentum. The latest figures as of August 21, 2012 are 19, 30, 92, 798 enrolments, of which 30.86 percent are in the age group of 16-30 years. Most of the enrolments have happened in three states: Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka.5
Is Aadhaar mandatory?
V. Narayanasamy, Minister of State in the Ministry of Planning and Parliamentary Affairs in his reply to a question put up by Neeraj Shekhar in the Lok Sabha categorically averred that "As of now, there is no proposal to make Unique Identification (UID) number for residents mandatory or replace the existing identification cards"6. The reality though seems to be different.
Jean Dreze, noted economist and member of National Advisory Council, notes that: "Aadhaar is not compulsory it is just a voluntary "facility" is one of the many half truths propagated by UIDAI. He asserts that "UIDAI's concept note stresses that `enrolment will not be mandated.' But there is a catch: `... benefits and services that are linked to the UID will ensure demand for the number.' This is like selling bottled water in a village after poisoning the well, and claiming that people are buying water voluntarily. The next sentence is also ominous: `This will not, however, preclude governments or Registrars from mandating enrolment.'
That UID is, in effect, going to be compulsory is clear from many other official proposals and documents. For instance, the Planning Commission's proposal for the National Food Security Act argues for `mandatory use of UID numbers which are expected to become operational by the end of 2010' (note the optimistic time-frame). No UID, no food. Similarly, UIDAI's concept note on the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) assumes that `each citizen needs to provide his UID before claiming employment.' Thus, Aadhaar will also be a condition for the right to work so much for its voluntary nature"7.
R. Ramakumar, Associate Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences also contends that "Aadhaar has stealthily been made mandatory. Aadhaar is explicitly linked to the preparation of the NPR. The Census of India website notes that data collected in the NPR will be subjected to de-duplication by the UIDAI. After de-duplication, the UIDAI will issue a UID Number. This UID Number will be part of the NPR and the NPR Cards will bear this UID Number.
"The NPR is the creation of an amendment in 2003 to the Citizenship Act of 1955. As per Rule 3(3) in the Citizenship Rules of 2003, information on every citizen in the National Register of Indian Citizens should compulsorily have his/her `National Identity Number.' Again, Rule 7(3) states that `it shall be the responsibility of every Citizen to register once with the Local Registrar of Citizen Registration and to provide correct individual particulars.' Still further, Rule 17 states that `any violation of provisions of rules 5, 7, 8, 10, 11 and 14 shall be punishable with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees.'
"The conclusion is simple: Aadhaar has been made compulsory, even before passing the concerned Bill in Parliament. Under the project's guise, the State is coercing individuals to part with personal information; this coercion comes with a threat of punishment"8.
A report in The Hindu, dated Oct 31, 2011, validates the above comments: "The Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas has brought in an amendment to its Liquefied Petroleum Gas (Regulation of Supply and Distribution) Order 2000 making the Unique Identification Number (UID) under the Aadhaar project a must for availing LPG refills."
UID- Mired in Controversy
This "unique identity" (UID) scheme, launched in 2010, has been steeped in controversy since its very inception. From within the government itself to other state governments, from policy makers and bureaucrats to activists and general public, the scheme has faced harsh criticism from various quarters.
An attempt is made in the following paragraphs to present an overview of some of these.
The 42nd Report of the Standing Committee on Finance, to whom the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010 was referred for examination and report, has made a scathing commentary on this ambitious scheme. In its report laid in Parliament on Dec 13, 2011, the Committee has conveyed its objections to the Bill in its present form and recommended that the data already collected by the UIDAI be transferred to the National Population Register (NPR), if the Government so chose. It further urged the Government to "reconsider and review the UID scheme and the proposals contained in the Bill in all its ramifications and bring forth a fresh legislation before Parliament".
Some of the significant points raised by the Committee were:
i. The Committee was critical of the Government for beginning Aadhaar enrolments without the approval of the Parliament for the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010. Currently, UIDAI enjoys only executive and no statutory authority. The Committee report goes on to mention that since "The NIDAI Bill is pending for consideration before the Standing Committee on Finance, implementation of the provisions of the Bill, issue of Aadhaar numbers and incurring expenditure from the exchequer by the Government is a clear circumvention of Parliament, and therefore, should be kept in abeyance awaiting debate in and decision of both Houses of Parliament".
The rejoinder provided by the Ministry of Law & Justice that "the powers of the executive are co-extensive with the legislative powers 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" failed to convince the Committee. The Government also cited the advice of the Attorney-General, which noted that "the Authority presently functioning under the Executive Notification dated January 28, 2009 is doing so under valid authority and there is nothing in law or otherwise which prevents the Authority from functioning under the Executive Authorisation". This justification failed to satisfy the Committee which pointed out that "while the executive power of the Union, and of the States, is co-extensive with the legislative power of the Union and the States, this is a provision that sets out the limits of the power. 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".
ii. The Committee expressed its misgivings on the "rationale of expanding the scheme to persons who are not citizens", as this would entail "numerous benefits proposed by the Government". It apprehended that the scheme would extend to "even illegal immigrants entitled for an Aadhaar number".
iii. The Committee has further disapproved of the "flaws in the enrolment process followed by the UIDAI, citing cases where people have got Aadhaar numbers on the basis of false affidavits". The report goes on to mention "that issues of liability and responsibility for maintaining accuracy of data on the Register, conducting identity checks and ensuring the integrity of the overall operation of the UID scheme have not been resolved". Therefore the enrolment process "compromises the security and confidentiality of information of Aadhaar number holders," and has "far reaching consequences for national security" due to "the possibility of possession of Aadhaar numbers by illegal residents through false affidavits/introducer system."
iv. The Committee observed that the issue of unique identification number or Aadhaar number is riddled with "serious lacunae" and this problem could be traced to conceptualisation "with no clarity of purpose" and implementation in "a directionless way with a lot of confusion." This was apparent from an observation by the Ministry of Finance, which felt that there was "lack of coordination" across the six agencies collecting personal information, leading to "duplication of efforts and expenditure."
v. The report criticized the government for proceeding with the project without "enactment of a national data protection law," which was a "pre-requisite for any law that deals with large-scale collection of information from individuals and its linkages across separate databases."
In its submission to the Committee, the government had taken a dismissive view of the right to privacy of individuals. It had noted that "collection of information without a privacy law in place does not violate the right to privacy of the individual." The Committee rejected this view, and commented that in the absence of legislation for data protection, "it would be difficult to deal with the issues like access and misuse of personal information, surveillance, profiling, linking and matching of databases and securing confidentiality of information."
vi. The report also objected to "the hasty manner" in which the project was cleared. It noted that a "comprehensive feasibility study…ought to have been done before approving such an expensive scheme" after the government's admission to the Committee that "no committee has been constituted to study the financial implications of the UID scheme," and that "comparative costs of the Aadhaar number and various existing ID documents are also not available."
vi. Lastly, the report questioned the faith placed on biometrics in proving the unique identity of individuals. It noted that the scheme was built upon "untested, unreliable technology." It has criticized the UIDAI for disregarding (a) the warnings of its Biometrics Standards Committee about high error rates in fingerprint collection; (b) the inability of Proof of Concept studies to promise low error rates when 1.2 billion persons are enrolled; and (c) the reservations within the government on "the necessity of collection of IRIS image." The report concluded that, given the limitations of biometrics, "it is unlikely that the proposed objectives of the UID scheme could be achieved."
The scheme has faced criticism from various other quarters too:
According to a report published in the Dec 5, 2011 edition of Outlook magazine, "UIDAI's system of using introducers to identify and provide numbers to the homeless and those without documents is another grey area. Says a senior official from an enrolment agency, "Many agencies are asking for additional data but they are not communicating to the people that everything is not mandatory and they don't have to fill up everything in the form."
"On the ground, enrolling agencies too are facing problems. They are finding it difficult to get people to enrol in rural areas. Says Binod Mishra of Glodyne Technologies, an enrolment agency: Initially it took about Rs 22-24 per number, now the cost is many times that amount." Other agency officials say that despite the project being targeted at financial inclusions, it takes a long time to convince villagers to enrol as they are not sure what benefit UID will give them."As reported in the article under reference, senior bureaucrats also had alleged that UIDAI was not following proper procedures while seeking sanctions. Even the Aadhaar holders were complaining that since no services had yet been attached with UID, they were unclear about its purpose and utility.
The same edition of Outlook also mentions that UIDAI's processes have also come under flak from activists. According to legal expert Usha Ramanathan, "The whole emphasis is on enrolment with no planning on how this is going to be used. And to push the agenda of enrolment, they have a multiplicity of registrars, which is leading to duplication as people who do not get their numbers within a stipulated time are re-enrolling." She also points to a dichotomy in UIDAI's approach-it has always said getting the number is a voluntary affair but is pushing service providers to make it mandatory for availing those services. UIDAI's system of using introducers to identify and provide numbers to the homeless and those without documents is another grey area. Activists also question UIDAI's authority to collect biometric data. Says human rights and UID activist Gopal Krishna,"There is ambiguity about biometric data. It is not clearly defined in the National Identification Bill. UIDAI also provides for storing biometric data fingerprints forever while even the Prisoners' Act provides that this data should be destroyed on acquittal."
Thus the Rights Activists have been especially critical of the UID scheme on the issues of privacy and security of individual data, defective data collection methods and enrolment agencies seeking more information than needed
Another criticism which arose was whether Aadhaar would survive in its present form beyond the 200-million enrolments after March 2012, the month it had targeted for achieving the 200 million cap. In early September 2011, the Expenditure Finance Committee, at which the UIDAI was also represented, debated the proposal for extending Aadhaar enrolments beyond 200 million individuals. The meeting did not conclude in Aadhaar's favour. In the same month, UIDAI put in a fresh proposal for universal coverage under Phase III, thereby raising concerns both in the Home Ministry and the Planning Commission9.
Clarifications by UIDAI
Nandan Nilekani in an interview published in the Dec 5, 2011 edition of Outlook magazine on the controversies facing the project, affirmed that "we will finish the 200 million (enrolments) before March 2012". (16, 91, 57, 794 Aadhaars have been issued as on April 16, 2012) "The issue is before the cabinet, it will take a view on whether beyond this we will continue to have this multiple-registrar approach or the NPR will provide all the data. The multiple registrar model offers a lot of convenience and choice to the aam aadmi. There is no duplication: the government set up a convergence group to converge the two sets of data. But now they (the NPR) have taken a view that they cannot use our data collected through other partners".
On the issues related to piracy and data security, Mr. Nilekani assured that "the data is very secure and is completely encrypted from our enrolment stations...there are a host of things we are doing to keep the entire infrastructure secure".
R.S. Sharma, Director-General and Mission Director, UIDAI, in his response to an edit in the July 17, 2011 edition of The Hindu titled "Aadhaar: on a platform of myths" by R. Ramakumar pointing to the failure of the U.K. National I.D. card project, the non-mandatory nature of the Social Security Number (S.S.N.) of the United States, and the possible failures of the biometric identification system, offered the following clarifications:
Firstly, the need for the intervention has to be understood. Millions of residents in India, especially the marginalised, lack nationally valid and reliable proof of identification. Aadhaar backed by biometric de-duplication is a secure and robust identification infrastructure that covers two shortcomings in the existing identity databases: fraud and duplication. Importantly, mandating Aadhaar in other databases for improvements in service delivery is the prerogative of the departments concerned. Moreover, UIDAI has consistently held that while it will not mandate Aadhaar, service providers could do the same while ensuring that there have been adequate opportunities for residents to enrol for Aadhaar. Secondly, viewing the Aadhaar exercise through the U.K./U.S. prisms is unfair since both those highly developed nations face problems that are dissimilar to those faced by India. Resultantly, the solutions also may need to be different.
The S.S.N. scheme in the U.S. was originally established for the sole purpose of administering the Federal government's social security pension scheme. However, it has evolved from a single-purpose to a multi-purpose identifier and acts as the de-facto identifier for taxation purposes, to open bank accounts, to receive benefits from the state and for private services.
Though the S.S.N. is not mandatory for U.S. residents, it is a requirement for all employed residents and some other categories of individuals.
With regard to biometrics, Mr. Sharma further said,
The UIDAI recognizes that no single technology is perfect but a combination of technologies can help reduce the possibility of inaccuracy. Therefore, in addition to collecting fingerprints, UIDAI also captures iris scans and a photograph. The Authority is aware of the technological limitations and is therefore using technology as appropriate and as required for the purpose of developing the identity infrastructure for India. Furthermore, since services cannot be denied in cases where residents may not have adequate and/or imperfect biometric attributes, the Authority has put in place an exception handling mechanism which ensures that the technology is reasonably supplemented so that it does not become an impediment between entitlements and beneficiaries.
He concluded by asserting that the Aadhaar project was pro-poor with an inclusive agenda and would lead to better delivery of services and enhanced transparency in governance.
The current debate around UID project relevance, technology, security and privacy, duplication of efforts, costs, etc indicate that the policy makers are having second thoughts. Is India willing to believe that technology-led solutions can enhance governance and transparency in the country? Should good be given away for the sake of perfection?10
A query that surely needs to be reflected upon and answered!
Tug of War
The Planning Commission and the Home Ministry were locked in a tussle over the continuance and implementation of the Unique Identification Number Project. While the Home Ministry maintained that the Registrar General of India under it had been mandated to collect the data through the National Population Register, the UIDAI had also been authorized to gather similar information. Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram therefore sought clarity on the status on who will capture bio-metric data, RGI or UIDAI.11Expressing concern over the controversy on collection of biometric data under the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) scheme, he requested Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's intervention to bring the issue to the cabinet "immediately" so that differences could be sorted out.12
In response, "Dr. Manmohan Singh supported the Unique Identification Authority of India's (UIDAI) effort to enrol all residents of India under the Aadhaar card scheme and instructed the Planning Commission to bring a proposal before the Cabinet to provide statutory powers to UIDAI to enrol beyond the present limit of 20 crore people.
"This proposal would mean that the two government agencies UIDAI and Home Ministry's Census Commissioner would independently record the biometric details of residents probably leading to duplication of effort and resources.
"The Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia said it wasn't possible to avoid duplication as the Home Ministry refused to amend its rulebook to accommodate the UIDAI adding that while the Home Ministry's initiative was security-related, the UIDAI was a development initiative".13
A truce in the battle of biometrics between the Ministry of Home Affairs and the UIDAI has now been reached with the Government approving a compromise formula on January 27, 2012. Both the UIDAI and the MHA's National Population Register (NPR) project will now continue to collect biometrics in the states where they are operating and accept each other's data. However, should there be a discrepancy, the NPR's will be considered the master database and its biometric data will override the UIDAI's. Mr. Nandan Nilekani informed the media on August 21, 2012 as follows.
"Both Aadhaar and NPR are complementary...both processes are working together on this. NPR is mandatory while Aadhaar is voluntary. However, if you enrol through NPR you will also get Aadhaar. Now everything is properly aligned."14
The Authority will now start the third phase of issuing the 12-digit Aadhaar number to another 40 crore citizens in the 16 states and Union Territories it is already working in. It will also get an additional Rs. 5000/- crore, with its tenure running well into 2017. By March, 2012 the UIDAI would have issued 20 crore numbers at a cost of Rs 3, 023 crore. "I am very happy that both the NPR and UID will now go ahead in tandem," said Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, at a joint press conference on Jan 27, 2012 where P. Chidambaram and Nandan Nilekani were also present. He further added that "while the UID will only give Aadhaar number in 16 states and UTs to 40 crore more people, the NPR will continue to cover the entire Indian population "with minimum biometric duplication.15
The Economic Survey, 2010-2011 stated that the UIDAI had commenced interaction with Ministries/Departments for developing applications leveraging the Aadhaar number, Aadhaar-enabled transactions and infrastructure to improve the service delivery of various social-sector schemes. The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology of India has notified that Aadhaar shall be treated as a valid proof of identity (PoI) and proof of address (PoA) after confirming identity and address through the Aadhaar authentication procedure; the Department of Health and Family Welfare has decided to recognize UID numbers (Aadhaar) as Pol and PoA for extending financial assistance to BPL patients who are suffering from major life threatening diseases and receiving medical treatment at any of the super specialty hospitals/ institutes or other government hospitals under the Rashtriya Arogya Nidhi (RAN); the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has issued necessary instructions for recognition of Aadhaar as PoI/ PoA for evidence of age and address for issuing a driving licence and for registration of vehicles. Many other similar proposals are in the pipeline in the different Central Government Ministries.
The Aadhaar number has also been recognized as valid PoI/PoA for obtaining new LPG connections. The state governments of Sikkim, Tripura, and Andhra Pradesh have also declared the Aadhaar number valid Pol and PoA for their various schemes. Karnataka too has drawn up a plan for implementation of the Aadhaar project and also for the Karnataka Resident Data Hub for integration of the Aadhaar number with various services.
The Standing Committee on Finance, in its report on the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010 had cited the experience from the United Kingdom, where a similar ID scheme was shelved. The Government had argued that "there are significant differences between the UK`s ID card project and the UID project and to equate the two would not be appropriate". The Committee had dismissed the government's contention saying that "there are lessons from the global experience to be learnt," which the Ministry of Planning have "ignored completely." It said that UK shelved its ID card project due to various reasons which included issues of cost overruns, fallacies of technology and risks to the safety of citizens, and "as these findings are very much relevant and applicable to the UID scheme, they should have been seriously considered." 16
The debate on the systems of identification remains in the international spotlight — several nations are considering implementing such systems. It would make interesting comparison at this stage to share with our readers some initiatives/ experiences from other countries:
Among the European Union Members, 17 countries make it mandatory for their citizens to have ID cards while four do not.
• 13 countries issue traditional ID cards, eight issue cards containing contact and/or RFID chips, two countries do not currently issue ID cards (Norway, UK)
• Of the eight countries that issue electronic ID cards with the capacity to store biometric data, six have chosen to do so.
(Belgium, Italy, Lithuania, Portugal, Spain and Sweden)17
After many deliberations and public debates, the "UK National Identity Card Scheme" was scrapped in 2011 by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition. Some of the primary reasons cited were the (a) huge cost involved and possible cost overruns; (b) too complex; (c) untested, unreliable and unsafe technology; (d) possibility of risk to the safety and security of citizens; (e) potential danger to the public interest and to the legal rights of individuals and (f) requirement of high standard security measures, which would result in escalating the estimated operational costs.
In France, the ID card is voluntary. Police can request confirmation of ID but cannot demand the card. This card is used to prove ID to open bank accounts, in financial transactions and as a travel document within the EU. The card contains basic personal information, but no biometric data. It cannot be used to get health or education services.18
In Japan, the ID card is voluntary. It is used to access family records, open bank accounts, apply for passport and driving license or as a form of ID itself. Driving licences with photo is used for ID. Foreigners living in Japan need Alien Registration card for tax, health care and public services19 The Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan had announced in June 2010 that a comprehensive `smart' `Number System for Social Security and Taxation' would be launched in January 201520
United States of America
In the United States, "The debate over the merits of a national identification card system centers on four issues: (1) its potential effectiveness in deterring and apprehending terrorists, (2) the extent to which it would impinge on privacy rights, (3) whether it would be abused by law enforcement officials, and (4) the financial costs associated with implementing such an ambitious program"21.
Americans have rejected the idea of a national ID card. When the Social Security Number (SSN) was created in 1936, it was meant to be used only as an account number associated with the administration of the Social Security system. Though use of the SSN has expanded considerably, it is not a universal identifier and efforts to make it one have been consistently rejected. In response to the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, there was renewed interest in the creation of national ID cards. The public continued to debate the issue, and there were many proposals for the creation of a national identification system, some through the standardization of state driver's licenses. The U.S. Congress passed the REAL ID Act of 2005, which mandated federal requirements for driver's licenses22 but the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on March 5, 2011 postponed the effective date of the Real ID Act until January 15, 201323.
In 1985, there was a failed proposal to create an Australia Card. The concept of a national ID card returned to the political agenda in the wake of the London bombings in mid-2005. The suggestion of a national ID card brought comments from civil liberty groups and others, and raised issues about its effectiveness, cost and privacy considerations.
Compulsory government ID cards already exist for those working in some industries. These include an Aviation Security Identity Card (ASIC) and a Maritime Security Identity Card (MSIC).24 In 2006 the Australian Government announced the introduction a non-compulsory Access Card that would act as a gateway to services administered by The Department of Human Services but this project, was terminated in November 2007. Class A identification documents in most Australian states include Driver's License (issued by the state government), 18+ Card (issued by the state government), Australian Passport (issued by the Federal government), foreign passport, or Residency/Citizenship documents (issued by the Federal government)25.
On December 30, 2010, the Government launched a new ID card, to be called the Civil Identity Registry (Registro de Identidade Civil RIC), which would replace the existing national identity document.
With the issuance of the new ID cards, each Brazilian would be registered under a unique national number, which would avoid registration of individuals in more than one state. The card will come with a chip containing the person's fingerprints, Internal Revenue Service number, and voter card number; information on gender, nationality, date of birth, and filiation; and photograph, signature, and issuing registrar. The new ID card has 17 security features designed to deter fraud and is expected to completely replace the old cards by 201926.
From an overview of the initiatives in the systems of identification in the countries mentioned above, it is clear that efforts to introduce a digitised multi purpose identity card for each citizen has not been very successful and also not popular among the citizens. According to a news article reported on March 5, 2011 on CBSNEWS, the National Conference of State Legislatures in the US has listed 16 states with laws forbidding them to comply with Real ID and eight states including Colorado, Hawaii, and Illinois that have enacted resolutions effectively boycotting it. This is an indicator of the lack of consensus for introduction of such an identity card.
In 1996, Privacy International27 in a survey of ID cards around the world had observed that "An analysis of identity cards around the world reveals a number of interesting patterns. The most significant of these is that virtually no common law country has a card. Nor does the economic or political development of a country necessarily determine whether it has a card. Generally speaking, however, the vast majority of developing countries have either an ID card system or a document system, often based on regional rather than national authorization." It had also expressed concern over privacy dangers: "In short, the implications are profound. The existence of a person's life story in a hundred unrelated databases is one important condition that protects privacy. The bringing together of these separate information centers creates a major privacy vulnerability. Any multi-purpose national ID card has this effect."28
Since the UID project was initiated on the apparent premise that the poor faced great hurdles in accessing benefits and subsidies due to the inability to provide proof of their identity, would it mean that the unique identity can ultimately replace ration cards, credit cards, school and degree certificates?
The answer is probably in the negative as Som Mittal, President, NASSCOM categorically points out that "Just as UID will not substitute the need for a passport, ration card, voter ID, PAN number etc, a UID holder cannot claim citizenship. Aadhaar is only a proof of identification".
So far UID Project has raised questions related to the rationale and necessity of Aadhaar number, inter ministerial collaboration, individual's right to privacy, civil liberties, financial implications, duplication of efforts, role of state governments and the centre, potential of possible use of Aadhaar numbers by illegal residents and even the technical feasibility of the project. Claims that UID will enable better management of welfare schemes like MGNREGA and the PDS have also begun to be questioned.
As discussed in the earlier paragraphs, there was disquiet within the Government, specifically between the Ministry of Home Affairs and the UIDAI over issues such as the manner and processes followed by the UIDAI, duplication of efforts between NPR and Aadhaar, security of data, etc. Though a compromise formula between the MHA and the UIDAI has been agreed upon it is to be seen how things proceed from here.
Further, despite these major concerns, there has been scarce public discussion about key aspects of the UID project, leading to a sense of confusion and lack of understanding within the general population about UID. From a study of the arguments put forth both by the detractors and the proponents of the UID scheme, it can be construed that any new and ambitious scheme of such colossal proportions and implications, in terms of finances, infrastructure, coordination, (between multiple agencies), technology or a billion target group, etc, cannot be completely infallible or water tight.
In a country like India much of public welfare is in the form of daily- wage employment funded by the government. Amidst grinding poverty, even access to food rations and benefits stemming from welfare measure focussing on health care and housing, is hijacked and manipulated to siphon the benefit from groups of vulnerable people it is intended for, by means of fraudulent and benami entries. The UID may be an honest attempt by the government to reduce corruption by tracing down the intended beneficiary. Aren't concepts like invading privacy, etc, meaningless when there are large sections of our population groaning under the boot of devastating poverty and corrupt and fragmented systems of public delivery?
"India plainly needs better data protection laws, but even if the existing rules remain unchanged, the threat to liberty would be dwarfed by the gains to welfare: to people who live ten to a room, concerns about privacy sound outlandish. Therefore, for a country that fails to meet its most basic challenges-feeding the hungry, piping clean water, fixing roads-it seems incredible that India is rapidly building the world's biggest, most advanced, biometric database of personal identities". 29
A report in the January 14, 2012 edition of The Economist emphasizes the positive facets of UID scheme. It contends that "For the poor, having a secure online identity alters their relationship with the modern world. No more queuing for hours in a distant town and bribing officials with money you don't have to obtain paperwork that won't be recognised if you move to another state looking for work".
To all the cynics and critics who have misgivings and reservations about the efficacy and utility of the UID scheme, the same report lucidly articulates the numerous benefits of this ambitious scheme, such as electronic transfer of money directly into the beneficiary's account either at a bank or at a village shop, gradual dwindling of `ghost labourers', phasing out of middlemen, etc. Additionally, the very nature of the welfare state would undergo a change as armed with the system, India would be able to cut back on benefits in kind and market distorting subsidies, instead turning to direct cash transfers into the bank accounts of the neediest. There are lessons that even other countries can learn from this ambitious scheme. "One is that designing such a scheme as a platform for government services, not security, keeps the cost down and boosts the benefits. Another is to use the private sector" judiciously, and "the third is that..even a brilliant idea has enemies…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".
Also, equating India with the UK as has been done in the report of the Standing Committee on Finance would be specious. In a country like UK where the GNI per capita is 38, 370 US$ 30 and where almost everyone already has access to basic services, the remote chance of `loss of privacy' may, possibly be a morally justified reason to withhold introduction of identity infrastructure. But in a country like India where the per capita GNI is 1330 US$31 and basic services are also not available to a significant chunk of our population and there is appalling leakages from the PDS, moral justifications of deliberately withholding the introduction of a foolproof identity infrastructure seem absurd.
To quote Som Mittal, as reported in Times of India dated Jan 17, 2012, "India has unique problems and would need unique solutions that are robust, scalable and most likely have no precedence. While the debate on citizen versus resident is important, India needs a credible way to provide a unique identity to residents. Citizenship and other applications can leverage this platform based on data from relevant ministries. To reach masses, reduce the digital divide and have inclusive growth, development initiatives like UID are a game changer. Let us put our convictions together to resolve the issue and put UID back on fast track".
1. Aadhaar Handbook for Registrars
5. http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2012-03-15/news/31197029_1_aadhaar-project- unique-identification-authority-uidai-s-aadhaar
6. Standing Committee on Finance Forty Second Report on "The National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010
7. Unique Identification Authority of India's Strategy Overview Document (Planning Commission, Government of India, April, 2010)
8. The Economic Survey of the Ministry of Finance -2010-2011
* Ms. Anumeha Jha is Research Executive in Common Cause
2 http://22.214.171.124/LssNew/psearch/QResult15.aspx?qref=80134 (Minister of State in the Ministry of Planning & Minister of State in the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs (Shri V.Narayanasamy) in response to a question by Shri Anandrao Adsul in Lok Sabha
3 Report of the Standing Committee on Finance, 2011-2012
7 Jean Dreze in The Hindu, Nov 25, 2010
8 R. Ramakumar, Associate Professor with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai in The Hindu, July17, 2011
9 Outlook magazine dated Dec 6th, 2011
10 Som Mittal, President, NASSCOM as reported in Times of India dated January 17
11 Economic Times-Jan 20, 2012
12 Indian Express-Jan 20, 2012
14 http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics/nation/unique-identification-authority-of-india-targets-to-enrol-40-crore-people-for-aadhar -cards-nandan-nilekani/articleshow/15587134.cms
15 As reported in the January 28 edition of The Indian Express, Lucknow.
16 Report of the Standing Committee on Finance
20Privacy Laws & Business International Report, Issue 109, 22, February, 2011 (http://www2.austlii.edu.au/~graham/home/ID_systems.html)
21 The Debate over a National Identification Card The Century Foundation Homeland Project
27 PI is a UK based pvt. Ltd. Co whose mission is to defend the right to privacy across the world, and to fight surveillance and other intrusions into private life by governments and corporations
28 Graham Greenleaf 's , (Professor of Law & Information Systems, University of New South Wales, December 2, 2010) essay on `National ID Systems-Surveying a Growth Area
'29 The Economist, January 14, 2012