It's started – UID used for tagging and tracking

A while ago, while introducing the Unique Identity Number (UIN) for Indians, we were promised that it would not contain personal data. However, we’ve just found out that the lure of power that comes with such a massive database is too powerful to resist. 85 lakh children will be tagged and tracked with their caste information under a scheme that the government promises will help evaluate the performance of schools.

Consider the implications of having a child’s caste officially recorded in a database. It means that it’s unchangeable, and forever linked to them. In a country where it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of caste, tracking caste details of children is ridiculous. When we’re trying to abolish something, giving it official sanction and putting it as a badge on an individual is hardly the most progressive step. Suppose a child doesn’t care what his or her caste is? But that’s not enough – apparently the government cares.

The Nazis used to number humans - are we just numbers?

The Nazis used to number humans - are we just numbers?

According to the latest program, the details of the child’s school and complete health information will be updated till they’re 14 years of age. It seems the govt. doesn’t care if the child’s privacy is being violated. And when they’re too young to even know that it’s happening.

Just in case you’re thinking that people don’t have a right to privacy, think again. Privacy is a constitutional right in India – one that was just recently reiterated in the Delhi HC’s historic judgment on the decriminalization of homosexuality. I’ve come across people who propose that privacy can take a backseat in the “national interest.” Such logic is dangerous and is the kind of logic propounded by totalitarian governments who can deem anything to be in the national interest. Indeed, giving the government too much power is never a good idea.

Hopefully however, not all seems to be lost. Nilekani seems to be taking an interest in privacy related issues by consulting judges, lawyers and students from the National Law School of India (NLSIU) in Bangalore about how dignity violations can occur and privacy can be eroded by the UIN At the same time though, he seems to be open to the idea of selling UID data to corporates to monetize the scheme.

It’s going to be massively difficult to keep the government from making use of the UID to intrude on people’s privacy. Nilekani has no doubt given some thought to this matter, but has he given enough? That is the question. Unless people are confident that it will not be misused, ensuring mass adoption is going to be a very tough sell.

What do you think?

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  1. @Sunil kumar
    Hi Sunil and Welcome!

    You're right about the security of the Database vis a vis foreign nationals. It's scary to even envision such a thing. I'll be keeping a close watch on the security and privacy measures that are used in this UID database. Be assured I'll keep you guys updated.


  2. Sunil kumar says

    There is one more risk involved. The whole database is going to be hacked by foriegn enemies sooner or later, for the use to the detriment of our people. Just like the defence websites were hacked sometime back by pakistani cyber criminals. Is Mr. Nilekani going to take the responsibility that this will never happen. If answer is no , them the whole project should be aborted right away.


  3. Systematically Speaking…

    Finally, after a year of headlines we are beginning to see the clear picture at hand when it comes to Nandan Nilekani's vision for issuing every Indian a UIN, Unique Identification Number. At first glance it would have been thought is was nothing much, possibly a variation on the US's Social Security Number. At closer inspection however, you can see many layers that one would not have imagined. Nandan Nilekani co-founded Infosys, one of India's leading information technology companies, back in 1981. After serving as its president and then CEO, he's now joined the Indian government to help lead a massive new IT project: Providing every Indian with a unique identity card. concentrate on his next great endeavor: Re-imagining India in the new millennium.

    In recent weeks it has been revealed that Mr. Nilekani seeks to monetized the UIN as well as have it directly linked to ones biometrics, which would include all 10 fingerprints. Last week through the National Population Register (NPR) it was announced that the 2011 Census requirements of biometric fingerprints was to help target each person for various programs and schemes and link them directly to a system that would offer “real time population data”. This project also aims to give 1.2 billion citizens biometric identity cards that will have the ability to help millions of poor gain access to many services they otherwise would not be able to. Think about it, “To obtain the pension, the beneficiary has to implant his finger impression on a device with a business correspondent engaged by the bank and only if the impression matches with the one to whom a bio-metric card has been issued, then only the amount is released,” said SBI bank official.

    Identification has always been a huge problem for India with many persons never identified from birth. Whole households with no means to identify themselves. This effects them on every level from the simple things like the purchase of a cell phone to the more useful and important services as opening a bank account, seeking employment . In most cases an address cannot be verified either because the poor live in slums or on the streets and have nothing to provide to prove who or where they are from. "This project is pro-poor and inclusive targeted mainly towards the poor. The middle class and the rich have some form of identity. People on the margins are getting lost because of lack of identity," Mr Nilekani said.

    Mr. Nilekani's intention is to provide access to all persons state benefits that before only had available to those with means. Money. The whole idea is to include everyone into the System. Meaning everyone. This does not verify ones citizenship, but residency. This number will be issued from cradle to grave with no possibly of duplication. Hence for added measure the inclusion of biometrics. It has been said that India's efforts at giving every citizen an identity number is possibly one of the greatest challenges facing the government. What could this mean? Universal Financial Inclusion in India. Bank access, health insurance for all.

    Nilekani is not alone in this venture, in fact he has some pretty impressive partners that seek their piece of the pie. IBM for one, and none other then Bill Gates of Microsoft. In August IBM began dialogue with partners in India to position itself in the project and shortly before Mr. Gates met with Nandan Nilekani to ensure his part in this monumental scheme. "The World Bank has offered to assist the government in re-structuring the Public Distribution System (PDS), the Delhi government is set to soon initiate a pilot project to launch its ‘cash for food’ program in the Capital. This is seen as the first step in overhauling the system." It would seem absolutely nothing should go wrong, with a Dream Team such as this put together .

    In India in another three to four years, you will be known not by name, but by a unique identity (UID) number. Will this set a precedent for the rest of the world in the near future? Or have we already seen similar projects in other countries that could strip our identity and we become nothing more then a bit of information assimilated into a system. I know I have my opinion. Hopefully as this information begins to sink in, you will begin to see a bigger picture.