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10 big problems with the Aadhaar UID card project

While there is no denying that in a country like India, there is a need for identification that people can create easily and use nationwide, the Aadhaar card project goes way beyond that, and in the process, messes up the basics as well. There are several problems I have with the Aadhaar card. Chief among those are:

Privacy concerns from Aadhaar leaks

Biometric data is not something you can change if cases of misuse crop up. There does not seem to be appropriate care taken by the government to protect the data from unauthorized access.

  • The data is to be privatized through NIUs (National Information Utilities), where once the data is stable, it would not even belong to the government but private utilities, controlling it as a monopoly. The citizen, urged by the government to create the cards is not informed about how their personal information will be used or controlled.
  • Foreign companies with links to foreign intelligence organizations have been given access to the Aadhaar database.
  • Recent revelations show that data once entered in the UID system cannot be removed. This basically means that once you get an Aadhaar card made, your information is out of your control and you will not be able to cancel your own identification data.
  • Storage on servers in the US. The US is getting increasingly data hungry and alarming disclosures of illegal access to databases, where even Google had to encrypt internal traffic to protect privacy have come to light. The US can legally get access to data stored on servers within the country – regardless of your permission or the permission of government of India.

The cost of the Aadhaar project

India is a developing country. We have many priorities on our funds, and it is unclear how an expense of an estimated 150,000 crore rupees helps the Indian citizen or does anything that a far cheaper identity card couldn’t. For example, the cost of India’s census was 2200 crore in 2011. And the census reached every citizen (at least in theory), and has produced information that is of tremendous utility and diverse applications. This is several times our entire health budget encompassing subsidized education, running hospitals, vaccinations, medicine costs, teaching hospitals and what not nationwide.

In contrast, India seems to have spent some 2,500 per card so far, though the citizen is not required to pay anything. Much of this large cost appears to be due to the expenses involved in collecting and working with biometric data, yet the biometric data is neither collected in an efficient manner, nor used at all in verifying identification. Then why is the expense done?

Additionally, while the investment is done using government funds, ready databases will be controlled by private entities (who will profit from offering identification services), and the government will be paying customers of the databases it has already spent a bomb to create. Of course, no citizen has been given any power to refuse his or her information being used for profit by private entities with the blessings of the government.

Coercion to register for Aadhaar – voluntary and mandatory?

What is increasingly evident as a project that will profit specific entities is being forced on citizens who wish to avail of their rights as citizens. Attempts to tie UID identification with everything are increasing. The idea of government subsidies is being replaced by citizens buying at market prices and being reimbursed by the government into their “Aadhaar linked” bank accounts. In other words, spend more on food and fuel, or give us your biometric data. Several instances of schools requiring Aadhaar card details of students have come to light, which is probably a violation of the Right To Education act, since refusing education to children for any reason is punishable under the RTE.

In a country where a fifth of the population is under a poverty line that belongs on “extreme survival” type shows rather than a Planning Commission planning for the well being of a country, essentially this amounts to a direct order to spend what it takes on travel to your Aadhaar card center, get whatever proofs are needed or pay some corrupt officials, invest some money in creating a bank account, raise the money to purchase necessities at market price and wait for the refund to come. Or you can buy at market price and not get a refund. This is as good as holding a gun to the stomachs of the poor and telling them to register for an Aadhaar card.

No legal basis for the UID project

There is no legal basis for UID. The draft bill was rejected by a standing committee in 2010 and has never seen the Parliament ever since. Courts have ruled over and over that people cannot be forced to create Aadhaar cards and they cannot be refused their rights for the lack of Aadhaar cards, but it has no impact on a rogue government that continues to push more and more essentials into dependency on Aadhaar identification, regardless of lack of any legal authority to do so.

False claims of preventing corruption

India is a country where the corrupt are the first to get false papers made. The idea that an Aadhaar card will prevent corruption is bogus. Completely bogus. It has been demonstrated over and over that false Aadhaar cards are being made. These Aadhaar cards can easily be used to create bogus bank accounts or gas connections and so on. With elections coming up, one only wonders how many Aadhaar cards were used to create multiple voter IDs in different places by various elements engaged in election rigging. Replies to RTI clearly demonstrate that the Aadhaar card number attached to various accounts is not verified using the very expensive biometrics. Unsurprising, considering that earlier exposes of fraudulent cards have demonstrated cards for a coriander plant and cards for people who never visit the Aadhaar center as long as they provide a photo. So what biometrics would they be verified against?

The new bailout plan for banks

As bad loans and debt in banks make news, only to fall silent quickly, the government bright idea of forcing citizens to make bank accounts if they want their right to affordable food and fuel is not something to be sneezed at. In a country of the size of India, people keeping a token balance in a bank account will also rapidly total up to a large amount of money. This is in addition to the various entities that will earn interest from the citizen’s investment of the additional price that will later get refunded (only for other citizens to make the investment and so on). This clearly provides the controllers of various services close to power cartels a quick source of cash. At the cost of the citizen, the poorer among which will have no credibility for proper loans and may end up caught in vicious cycles with loan sharks to raise money for the expensive purchase. I am not joking. I imagine over half of India’s population won’t be able to come up with a thousand rupees for a gas cylinder without borrowing from someone to be repaid when salary happens and so on. The refund they will eventually get will earn interest to some already powerful entity for the duration till they get it.

Potential for misuse

As stated earlier, Aadhaar cards can be made very easily and with little verification raising potential for criminals to create alternative identities easily. In a state where police are often found complicit in crimes, syping and persecution, it may be possible for vested interests to plant records of biometric details matching someone they want to target among evidence. Multiple identification can be used to get around limits to profit from government schemes, like getting employment under multiple names under MNREGA or getting more cylinders of gas using subsidies under multiple identities.

Considering that the biometric data is not used to verify identity, there is nothing stopping a person from making several cards in several names at different places – say – in one place for each phase of the polls… to take Sharad Pawar’s “joke” into completely realistic possibility.

Illegal immigration and terrorism

Aadhaar cards could facilitate regularization of illegal migrants or terrorists leading to cartelization of such practices and exploiting government facilities and adding burden on the state. They could be used by political parties for election rigging by manipulating demographics of a place. Given some time, it will be impossible to distinguish an Indian citizen from a migrant, since all their documentation will essentially be authentic.

Unauthorized use of Aadhaar cards

There have been instances reported in newspapers where banks contacted people who got their Aadhaar cards made offering to open a bank account that would link to the card. How the bank got the person’s information including name, Aadhaar card number and address to send the offer to…. should be a thought that will get any sane person paranoid.

And the obvious problem

If at some point we start using the UID data to verify people, there is no proof that it will work, given the extensive problems with the data revealed so far.

There are many other reasons. Basically Aadhaar is a project that has profited many with interests ranging from profiteering to “a historic experiment” and the “largest biometric database in the world”, but it has little to offer the common man that simple registration and cards without biometrics wouldn’t. It isn’t even like we are using the biometrics, or that they are reliable anyway.