Centre for Internet & Society
Workshop on the Unique Identity Number (UID), the National Population Register (NPR) and Governance: What will happen to our data?

Source: CPOA on flickr

On March 2nd, 2013, the Centre for Internet and Society and the Say No to UID campaign organized a workshop to discuss the present state of the UID and NPR schemes. Some of the questions which were addressed included ´How do the UID and NPR impact citizenship´, ´Why and how is national security linked to UID/NPR´, and ´What is the relationship between UID and Big Data´.

This research was undertaken as part of the 'SAFEGUARDS' project that CIS is undertaking with Privacy International and IDRC.

“The UIDAI will own our data...When we hand over information, we hand over the ownership of that data...”, stated Usha Ramanathan, legal researcher and human rights activist.She also pointed out that, although the UID has been set up by an executive order, there is no statute which legally backs up the UID. In other words, the collection of our data through the UID scheme is currently illegal in India, hinging only on an executive order. However, Usha Ramanathan stated that if the UID scheme is going to be carried out, it is highly significant that a statute for the UID is enacted to prevent potential abuse of human rights, especially since the UIDAI is currently collecting, sharing, using and storing our data on untested grounds.

´What is alarming is that the Indian government has not even attempted to legalize the UID! When a government does not even care about legalizing its actions, then we have much bigger problems...”

The NPR is legally grounded in the provisions of the Citizenship Act 1955 and in the Citizenship Rules 2003 and it is mandatory for every usual resident in India to register with the NPR. Even though the collection of biometrics is not accounted for in the statute or rules, the NPR is currently collecting photographs, iris prints and fingerprints. Concerns regarding the use of biometrics in the UID and NPR schemes were raised during the workshop; biometrics are not infallible and can be spoofed, an individual´s biometrics can change in response to a number of factors (including age, environment and stress), the accuracy of a biometric match depends on the accuracy of the technology used and the larger the population is, the higher the probability of an error. Thus, individuals are required to re-enrol every two to three years, to ensure that the biometric data collected is accurate; but the accuracy of the data is not the only problem. The Indian government is illegally collecting biometrics and as of yet has not amended the 2003 Citizenship Rules to include the collection of biometrics! As Usha Ramanathan stated:

“It´s not really about the UID and the NPR per se...it´s more about the idea of profiling citizens and the technologies which enable this...”

In his presentation, Anant Maringanti, from the Hyderabad Urban Labs and Right to the City Foundation, stated that even though seventy seven lakh duplicates have been found, no action has been taken, other than discarding one of them. Despite the fact that enrolment with the UID is considered to be voluntary, children in India are forced to get a unique identification number as a prerequisite of going to school. Anant emphasized that the UID scheme supposedly provides some form of identity to the poor and marginalised groups in India, but it actually targets some of the most vulnerable groups of people, such as HIV patients and sex workers. Furthermore, though Indians living below the poverty line (BPL) are eligible for direct cash transfer programmes, apparently registration with the UID scheme is considered essential to determine whether beneficiaries belong in the BLP category. This is problematic as individuals who have not enrolled in the UID or do not want to enroll in the UID could risk being denied benefits because they did not enroll and thus were not classified in the BPL category. Anant also pointed out that, linking biometric data to a bank account through the UID scheme is basically exposing personal data to fraud. Anant Maringanti characteristically stated:

“I wish the 100 people applying the UID scheme had UIDs so that we could track them...!”

Following the end of the workshop on the UID and NPR schemes, CIS interviewed Usha Ramanathan and Anant Maringanti:

The workshop can be viewed in two parts:

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