Centre for Internet & Society

The programme doesn’t have statutory backing. It is still in parliament

Nandan Nilekani may be Bangalore’s blue-eyed boy making waves at the national level with his Unique Identification Number (UID), but there’s one part of the city that’s not impressed: A section of students and faculty of Indian Institute of Science (IISc).

While many Bangaloreans have started enrolling for UID, the students are in boycott mode and say they will never do so.

Professor Shiv Sethi, astrophysics department, Raman Research Institute, said, “They (the authorities) have moved faster than us by starting the enrolment. It was during the discussion phase that we tried to impress upon them the loopholes of UID. Now that they have started the enrolment, it’s our turn to protest. We will meet and discuss with other like-minded people.”

IIScians say they don’t want to be under surveillance and that they are not comfortable with giving away their personal details since studies have proved how unsafe electronic data can be. The programme has been scrapped in the UK, they said.

In fact, when Nilekani visited IISc a few months back to deliver a lecture, the anti-UID group protested with placards and banners that read, ‘Beware, Big Brother is watching you’ and ‘Secure electronic archive is a myth’.

And now, apart from not signing up, some students are even considering burning copies of UID forms, a la team Anna burning copies of the draft Lokpal bill.

Prathamesh, a scholar, said: “UID is not going to solve problems of leakages. The government should universalise the PDS system to control misuse of subsidised foodgrain that find their way to restaurants. The project is fraught with loopholes and doesn’t have statutory backing. I will burn copies of the forms.”

Prathamesh added that the UID project was the brainwave of software companies who do not have a regular stream of revenue.

Even IISc alumni are putting up a fight. One of them who participated in the protest said, “I will not register. The programme does not have statutory backing. It is still in parliament. First, they said it was voluntary. Now, they are trying to link it to banks, LPG connections and other utilities.”

Sethi added, “A few people have approached the court. We will decide the next course of action.”

There are others who have doubts. Consumer activist Chandrasekhar of Malle-swaram feels that he needs to clarify all his doubts before enrolling. “I spoke with the officials. They told me it was voluntary. But now, it looks like they are linking it with other utilities.”

Nishant Shah, director, research, Centre for Internet Society, said, "We need to check for three issues: data retention, data protection and data privacy. Only after these issues are resolved can we have a UID for every citizen." 

This article by Sameer Ranjan Bakshi was published in the Bangalore Mirror on August 23, 2011. The original story can be read here.