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Since the last few weeks, there has been a sudden uptick of anonymous accounts supporting Aadhaar and dismissing concerns and news of information leaks, security and privacy issues. These accounts were all either created in may or scrubbed of all content and began tweeting afresh in May. Some of them are propaganda accounts that tweet only positives about Aadhaar and/or gloss over issues raised on grounds of law, constitutionality, fundamental rights, privacy, ethics, security, national security and so on.

Here are some of the accounts.

Out of these the @supportaadhaar has been separately claimed by Rashmi Ranjan so far

But there were more serious handles that were created in May, anonymous and interacted specifically with critics of Aadhaar in various ways that ranged from defamation to threats of legal action. For example, these handles.

It did not take us long to figure out what was going on. Prominent handles that had criticized Aadhaar on technical grounds (not lawyers, or political or ethical grounds) were the main targets. It was rapidly obvious that these were fronts for people from the tech community. Likely people profiting from Aadhaar, because it is really not plausible that the abundantly detailed flaws revealed in Aadhaar could not be understood by them.

When one of these handles, @confident_india tangled with Kiran Jonnalgadda, he was able to make an educated guess at its identity and proved it by verifying the troll account against a real phone number. That phone number belonged to the co-founder, governing body member and director of iSPIRIT - Sharad Sharma. The director of iSPIRIT was going around using a fake handle and planting allegations of profiting from criticism of Aadhaar against critics. Planting allegations about them working for foreign intelligence agencies (ironically, MongoDB that Aadhaar uses is funded by the CIA).

Allegations of foreign intelligence affiliations
Who is funded by the CIA Allegations of foreign intelligence affiliations

On a stray note, after these allegations started happening, Nandan Nilekani ("mentor" to this circus) too referred to critics of Aadhaar with vested interests from his real account while promoting that childish data free article asking personal questions related to motivations of aadhaar critics that is replied to here.

Kiran informed several of us about his investigation into this troll (aka director of iSPIRIT, Sharad Sharma) and we independently verified that his number was indeed attached to the fake account, because he knew that once he exposed Sharad Sharma in public, the phone number would immediately be removed and perhaps the anonymous account as well.

He made this video public in a tweet and later blogged about it. Thiyagarajan M, a fellow at iSPIRIT blogged a reply on medium.com as well stating that Sharad had denied the allegations and they would be investigated, while he admits that the presentation Kiran mentions exists and is just a strategy document that does not recommend anonymous trolling. He states that they were aware that some of them had created an anonymous campaign and claims it is not an official campaign by iSPIRIT. As though an official campaign would be put in writing formally.

We are aware that some volunteers and their friends have created an anonymous campaign to Support Aadhaar. This is not a troll campaign, but an informational one. It is also not an iSPIRT campaign.

I am not sure what remains to investigate. If it is about investigating how Sharad can possibly be taken off the hook, it shouldn't need an organization existing because of an authentication based product too long to realize that there really is no sane way.

No official handle related with iSPIRIT has so far published any statement to the best of my knowledge. Sharad Sharma and the troll have both promptly denied to it, of course. Except, in the process of denying that he was @confident_india, Sharad seems to have proved himself to be @indiaforward2 as well! He accidentally tweeted his denial of being @confident_india from the @indiaforward2 handle as well as his real handle, before tweeting the new tweets with his real handle. He deleted the tweets that went from both handles of course, but not before someone quick made a timely screenshot. So here we are.

 

Sharad tweeting as @indiaforward2

The denial from his main handle was read by many, but I don't have a screenshot of it... yet. However, he didn't delete it fast enough. Factordaily updated their reporting of the Sharad Sharma controversy with his denial

Sharad Sharma woke to tweetstorm in Atlanta
Sharad Sharma woke to tweetstorm in Atlanta just like @indiaforward2
Sharad tweeting as himself.
Sharad's denial of trolling from his real account
Sharad's denial of trolling from his real account

My immediate thought about it wasn't even so much that people in power use sneaky, unethical methods to get their way and undermine obstacles, but that the director of a company that is a collective of software developers and who were all defending Aadhaar on grounds of security and privacy were so ignorant about securing something as elementary as an anonymous account!

Once this expose was public, several people independently verified that they too had been able to authenticate access to the troll account with Sharad Sharma's personal number. For example:

 

Rohin Dharmakumar went a step ahead and showed how a mobile phone can't simply be attached to a Twitter account without actually verifying the number.

 

There are also a lot of people unaware of the developments in that country called Digital India who are aghast at what they are discovering. This is what you get for being gullible. Here. Educational. Video published from official iSPIRIT handle. Watch Pramod Varma, Sanjay Jain ex-UIDAI now "volunteer" at the ISpirt that "donates" to Govt and how this serves to avoid oversight by CAG, RTI.

In other words, what you have here is a bunch of private people who are creating products off big data collected from all citizens in a manner that allows them to evade accountability to the citizens for it. They also fund the government, push the expansion of Aadhaar in spite of extensive risks and violations of citizens rights being documented. In spite of the fact that Aadhaar effectively allows any infiltrator to become a "citizen" of the country by facilitating the creation of all documents that a citizen would have. And when the concerns raised get too alarming and there is no coherent defense of them possible, they make fake accounts to go around undermining dissenters so that the imposition of Aadhaar that puts citizens and country at risk may not be challenged.

If you do not speak up for your rights, they will be trampled on by profiteers out to exploit them at any cost.

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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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