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With the number of reversals of pre-election stands this government is doing, it is hardly a surprise that the Modi led government has earned the nickname of "U-Turn sarkar" and is a thriving meme. Here are the top 10 U-Turns of Modi sarkar as posted by Navendu Singh

 Foreign Direct Investment - FDI

How to deal with Pakistan?

Article 370 of the Constitution

Bringing Robert Vadra to justice for alleged crimes

Rail Fare Hike

Black Money

Aadhaar Card

Indo China War Report

Swiss Bank Account holders

Victims of the Anti-Sikh riots of 1984

And with that we come to a close of today's top ten list. Hope you enjoyed the show and good bye till we meet again.

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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.

Nandan Nilekeni, who is contesting from Bangalore, declared assets worth 7,700 crore rupees, making him the richest politician in India - at least officially, on paper. In his interview to NDTV, he described his rags to riches story and described some of his achievements including "My real wealth is however my experience as cofounder of Infosys and as Aadhar Chairman which gave away 60,000 crore identity cards to people of India as promised." [Congress supporters are now saying this number is wrong and he said 60 crore, which creates problems of a different sort. Read on.]

This sounds very wonderful, except as a long term critic of Aadhaar Cards, I wanted to verify.

60 thousand crore is 600000000000.

Now, as per our census, India's population over 7 years of age is 1,051,404,135.

Let us put these two numbers side by side, and you will see what I saw.

600000000000
1051404135

60000,00,00,000
105,14,04,135

Even if every single Indian above age 7 has an Aadhaar card, he has distributed more cards than the population. Not just more, 570 TIMES more.

One can only wonder who got the remaining cards, particularly considering the recent Cobrapost sting about how easy it is to create fake Aadhaar cards.

This is supposed to be an achievement?

Update:

Now people are saying NDTV reported wrong, and he said 60 crore, which makes some sense, as that is the number being used quite frequently (60 crore UID cards, 60 crore saved per year, etc)

So now the numbers look like

60,00,00,000
105,14,04,135

Which, at least looks like a possible number, but now, at an estimated expense of 150,000 crore so far (it was 45,000 crore in 2010) it is looking like we have spent a mind boggling Rs.2,500 on each card "given away"? (If it were 60 thousand crore cards, they'd have cost a very cheap Rs.2.5)

And after all this, what we have is a card anyone can fake (remember the UID card for "coriander" plant?). The data is owned privately and stored on servers in the US, where it will be subject to US laws and could be accessed by the US government (if not already). One only has to wonder what the biometric data will be for people who don't even go in person to get their cards made.

In any case, this ain't looking like something a chap would put as an achievement or learning!

For a reference, the entire health sector was allocated 37,330 crore in the budget - this includes NHM (NRHM + NUHM) - 21,239 crore, AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy) - 1069 crore, 4, 727 crore for medical education, training and research, 150 crore  will be provided for ‘The National Programme for the Health Care of Elderly’, Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana (PMSSY) (medical colleges) - 1650 crore and more.

And we are saying making ID cards and records for less than 60% of the population costs almost 4 times all this?

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While there is nothing new about problems emerging with the government pushed Aadhaar Cards, the scheme is dogged by recurring problems. Cobrapost has done a devastating sting that should put Aadhaar in its grave and see several people arrested, if there is accountable governance in this country.

Unraveling the ‘Uniqueness’ of UIDAI

What was supposed to be a unique identification number providing identification and access to a host of government benefits and services to Indian residents, ‘Aadhar’ has almost unvaryingly been extended to immigrants who have illegally crossed into the Indian border. Almost anyone, be it Indian or an illegal immigrant can get an Aadhar Card made without any proof of identity. More importantly, they get an Indian identity. The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the nodal agency that issues Aadhar cards however seems oblivious to all this. Cobrapost, exposes the underbelly of Aadhar, which was for long touted as Government of India’s most ambitious programme.

The Inside Story:

Posing as a conduit or an immigrant applicant, our Cobrapost reporter poses as a benefactor of refugees from Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, and approached a dozen Aadhar offices. He tells them that these immigrants have no proof of identity or proof of address but need help in getting an Aadhar card. The convenience, with which almost each of the Aadhar enrolment officers gave assurances to not only provide the Aadhar Card but also a proof of Indian identity, wasn’t surprising. Without a prescribed rulebook for the fraud it was up to these officers to make their demands. Most of them were reluctant initially, but gave in when the applicant agreed to the prescribed fees. The negotiations happened and a time was fixed for the applicant to come. Almost in all cases, the Aadhar officers asked for a photograph and address written on a piece of paper for the purpose of making an affidavit, as proof of identity. The affidavit had to be countersigned by the local MLA or a gazetted officer thus making it valid. No one bothered to check the antecedents of our immigrant applicants.

From charges as high as Rs 500 to as low as Rs 2500, the ‘Aadhar officers’ agreed to make Aadhar Cards for applicants without any proof of identification or proof of address. These are the same people who have been entrusted to securely collect and send the biometric and demographic data of an individual to UIDAI’s data collection centre in Bangalore, Karnataka.

In a recently filed RTI query by a former defence scientist and RTI activist, Mathew Thomas, it has been found that UIDAI has not cared to check the antecedents of the companies that have been enlisted to collect biometric data. He alleges that the RTI made it clear that the data is being made accessible to foreign countries as these companies are owned by former CIA and FBI officials. Thus, clearly enough our personal data may just be sold to these companies who may use it in any manner they fancy.

In an interview published on 14th January, 2011 in the Hard News Magazine, Mr. Nandan Nilekani, Chairman UIDAI, on being reminded that biometrics have been known to malfunction when such a large number of people are involved said, “I think it will work despite the problems. Obviously, when you implement a brand new technology, there will be challenges. But, fundamentally, it will work. In a context where many people have no identity and the ways of authenticating identity are not very robust, the fact that we are taking this to 99.99 per cent of the population is in itself a huge improvement. We must look at the programme's progress in terms of where we are and where we are going.”
With no or extremely feeble privacy laws in place, it has become imperative for India to declare ‘Right to Privacy’ as a fundamental right. A draft bill, which was introduced by the then law minister, M. Veerappa Moily in 2011 has still not been passed by the parliament. Indian citizens cannot defend themselves in the wake of a loss of privacy. For now, agencies like the UIDAI, who have vast deposits of the biometric and demographic details of billions of Indians can function without any trepidation. Evidently, the Government of India is not bothered about malfeasance and neither does it care if common citizens like us, who have unknowingly given their personal details, have any right to disclosure.

UIDAI knew India had a population of more than a billion and with a growth rate of almost 1.5% per year, it was bound to increase. Providing a unique identification number is not wrong but the manner in which UIDAI collected biometric data and proof of identity was. With enrolment centers functioning as fly-by-night operators, charging varying amounts of fees for manufacturing Indian identities for non-Indian applicants, capitalizing on their nexus with their local MLAs in generating a parallel line of business, Aadhar has failed on all parameters it was based on. It has yet again proved that populism oriented, government mandated schemes do not work in a country with such humongous demographics. Perhaps, Nandan Nilekani should first accommodate more questions to justify UPA’s most ambitious programme than to blatantly promote his candidature for the Lok Sabha 2014 elections.

We are providing small excerpts from the twelve cases where Cobrapost has exposed the business of making Aadhar cards for illegal immigrants who approach without any proof of identity.

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Would it be possible to create some kind of network of wifi receptors all over the city? Or use an existing network (Tikona, for example) to scan for distress signals from phones or other devices? The range of a wifi being relatively small, it shouldn't be too complicated to mark a fairly accurate area to dispatch cops.

This is the hardware.

The software will be on multiple levels.

On the user's end, it can be a simple phone application. Or it can be an alarm installed in a building or it can be sent from a laptop or other computer. When an alarm is triggered, basic information on location if any from the device GPS, phone number and the call for help should be broadcast from wireless, as well as SMS. It should continue to broadcast periodically on wireless as well as send SMS if any information changes (location, phone number, whatever). The phone must automatically start recording audio and switch to silent mode.

The application in all its forms should have the ability to pick a distress signal and communicate information to the police - or, in the absence of both phone and internet connectivity, bounce the signal further and enhance its reach. It should relay any return signal back as well in a similar manner. In this manner, all available wifi enabled phones could be used to support the police network.

On the police end, receiving a signal should result in the police network being informed and dispatched as per their protocols - treating it like a phone call to the police line with address information attached. The operator must attempt to call and confirm the emergency. This call May or may not be picked by the person depending on circumstances.

Police vans must have wifi capabilities of smaller range, to be able to further narrow down the location.

Such a solution should not be too difficult to design. Wifi capabilities exist as well as mesh networking research. This will not need anything major. In fact, the more primitive, the less open to exploitation.

Such a system also has fewer chances of misuse, as it will be designed to transmit all possible personally identifying and locating information. This would be scalable as well as reproducible in other parts of India.

Basic networks once established could aid in all kinds of things.

Will refine the idea as needed, but what do you think? Good idea?