Trying to make the UID palatable to the common man

When the project to give every India a Unique Identity (UID) Number was announced, the reason given to the public was that it would check illegal immigrants. Of course, even at that time some of us wondered how this could be achieved since there was no way to check whether a person was an illegal immigrant before giving the UID.

It turns out that we were right. Our home minister Chidambaram has admitted that the UID won’t be able to identify existing illegal immigrants. Even after handing out the cards, the UID will at most be a proof of residence and not citizenship. So what’s the real reason for the card? Why did the government have to cover up the purpose with the “stopping illegal immigrants” mantra?

Image Credit: patparslow

Do you need a number to tell you who you are?

Do you need a number to tell you who you are?

The real reason is that the UID will act as a link between various government databases. As it stands right now, the government has little bits of info about us which are relevant to their department. For example, the tax department knows what it needs to know – namely your financial details and such. It doesn’t know about your health or education. Nor should it. In the same way, your health data (if maintained by the government and insurance companies) should not be linked to your tax status and finances.

Now suppose all the data from the various government departments is aggregated. Imagine you go to a hospital for treatment, it will be theoretically possible for the hospital to “determine” whether you’re financially sound by looking at your investments and refuse to treat you on that basis. Or suppose you go to enroll your kid in a school and using your UID, the school is able to recover your financial situation?

Or worse still, suppose a governmental officer asks you for a bribe after checking out how much you’ll be able to pay? The possibilities for abuse are simply endless.

The dangers of having data easily accessible in one place can only be mitigated by thorough privacy laws and technical measures. But we have no such comprehensive privacy laws (though Nilekani has said the country needs them). Moreover, this will be the largest identification database in the history of mankind. Smaller systems have been compromised till now. Do you trust the Indian babus to not abuse the power this database gives them? I certainly don’t.

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  1. U.S. Builds Largest Biometric Database
    One of the most important innovations in the FBI’s post-9/11 counterterrorism efforts consists of a portable workstation and a miniaturesatellite dish. Called the Quick Capture Platform (QCP), it electronically scans fingerprints and beams them to a database here.

    “What it provides is the capability from anywhere for an agent to send prints to the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) and the Defense Dept.’s Automatic Biometric Identification System (ABIS),” says Roy Bowlen of the FBI, who helped develop the system.

    IAFIS and ABIS together make up the largest trove of fingerprint data in the world.

    The fingerprints are scanned into a digital format and data are beamed via satellite to an underground data center. There, the computerized systems search the database and shoot back matches, “a lot of times in under 2 min.,” says Bowlen.

    http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/story_channel.jsp?channel=defense&id=news/SCAN110509.xml&headline=U.S.%20Builds%20Largest%20Biometric%20Database

    Reply

  2. @ChristineMarie
    Scary stuff. Looks like India’s trying trump this with an even bigger database.

    Reply

  3. @bhagwad

    Trump funny you should say that, lol It wouldn’t surprise me to see “Hhis” name pop up w/ Nilekani. The partnerships are quiet impressive.

    Welcome to the Machine my friend. You are indeed being assimilated.

    Reply

  4. # The real reason is that the UID will act as a link between various government databases.

    Can you substantiate this statement. Where does the justification to link the different databases come from ?

    As i understand UID, its purpose would be to weed out dupes in the individual databases and thats as far as it goes.

    Check out the legal section in this document

    Reply

  5. The only 'link' that I can see in the DNA article is UID helps to rid each individual database of duplicate entries by using the UID# as an additional key and that the NPR will be based on census data.

    # Now suppose all the data from the various government departments is aggregated.
    Aggregation would be illegal as per the above linked document whose legal clauses one understands will eventually, make it into the yet-to-be-passed UIDAI Act of Parliament.

    Reply

  6. @blr_p
    Nilekani has made it quite clear that when he issues the UID, other governmental ministries will be encouraged to use it – first as an add on and then as a replacement for numbers like your PAN, passport ID.

    By definition, this will mean that the various governmental databases will get linked via a "foreign key" which will be the UID itself. The official government release from the "Press Information Bureau" (PIB) says this explicitly in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th paragraphs.

    Make no mistake that this is the ultimate purpose of the UID. If the government can get the power to do so, it will. The only reason to be happy is that Indians are stubborn and undisciplined. I have full confidence that people won't have the discipline to remember and use a UID card – too much hassle.

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  7. # By definition, this will mean that the various governmental databases will get linked via a “foreign key” which will be the UID itself.
    Well, this is my point of contention. These databases do not talk to each other. They will be querying the UID databaes to verify whether an entry is unique or not.

    You are saying that in addition to all these databases querying the UID database that they will ALSO be able to query each other via the UID. But i've not found any justification for this link up to date. Technically its possible sure, but on what grounds do they link up ?

    The only sentence in that press release that amounts to what you're saying is…

    "It would enable financial institutions to exchange information regarding defaulters and encourage responsible borrower behaviour."

    It would enable credit histories for individuals to be created, as exists in quite a few countries already. The only time you care about that is if you want to avail of a loan, so agreed this sytem would defnitely make it harder to defraud banks and is prolly why they are enthuiastic supporters of the project.

    Could an insurance provider get access to your existing history, only if they make it conditional on you providing it before they offer health coverage. Otherwise i doubt they would legally be able to acquire this info on their own.

    The more interesting question is what powers would the police have in the process of an investigation. Would they be able to pull out all info related to the individual from various databases ?

    Make no mistake that this is the ultimate purpose of the UID. If the government can get the power to do so, it will.

    Absolutely, the question is, could laws crafted specifically for this issue address it ?

    Reply

  8. @blr_p
    The substantiating link is in in the article itself. Here it is again for easy reference.

    Reply

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