C072410_A_Unique_Usha_Ramanathan - COMMENTARY A Unique...

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COMMENTARY july 24, 2010 vol xlv no 30 EPW Economic & Political Weekly 10 A Unique Identity Bill Usha Ramanathan Thanks to Pavithra Ramesh and Murali for acting as sounding boards. Usha Ramanathan ( uramanathan@ielrc.org ) is an independent law researcher who works on the jurisprudence of law, poverty and rights. India’s unique identification number project has been sold on the promise that it will make every citizen, the poor in particular, visible to the State. But the UID project raises crucial issues relating to profiling, tracking and surveillance, and it may well facilitate a dramatic change in the relationship between the State and the people. The Unique Identification Authority of India has not acknowledged these concerns so far. And now, nowhere in the proposed draft bill that it has prepared have these issues been addressed nor have clauses been drafted to prevent abuse of information that will be collected by the agency. With so many questions on the project – regarding biometrics, security and privacy – yet to be answered, it is far from time for parliamentary approval. As has been observed, the Constitution is expected to provide the citizen with dignity and privacy; but these are missing in the UID project. I n February 2009, the unique identifi- cation number ( UID ) project was set up within the Planning Commission. Since August (July) 2009, when Nandan Nilekani was appointed as its chairperson, the Unique Identification Authority of I ndia ( UIDAI ) has been propagating the idea of the UID which each resident in I ndia will be given. The project pegs its legitimacy on what it will do for the poor. It promises that it will give the poor an identity, with which they may become visible to the state. The UID number is expected to plug leakages, including in the Public Distribution System ( PDS ), ease payments to be made under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme ( NREGS ), and enable achievement of targets in consonance with the right to education. Service deliv- ery is a central theme in its promotional literature. The raising of expectations is, however, tempered by a quick caveat that the “ UID number will only guarantee iden- tity, not rights, benefits, or entitlements”. The UID database is intended to hold information including the name, address and biometrics of the person. It has been reiterated with remarkable regularity that the UIDAI will not be gathering information that could lead to profiling, so, religion, caste, language and income, for instance, will not be brought on to the UID database. The UIDAI has strained every nerve to explain that it will not be a database from which others may derive information about any person. The UIDAI will merely “authenticate”, i e, it will give a “yes” or “no” answer when asked whether a name, address and biometric indicator tally. That is, it will attest to the veracity of the iden- tity being asserted by a person by check- ing on its database. If the details tally, it will say no more.
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C072410_A_Unique_Usha_Ramanathan - COMMENTARY A Unique...

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