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The UID debate

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Dear  all, attaching a couple of recent files on UID:

  • a) A "skeptical note" on UID by a Prof ramkumar( form tata institute of social sciences)
  • b) Minutes of meeting with NGOs /CSOs organised by UID this month.

In other civic forums , the UID debate has gone to the level  of "stop UID" campiagns.

The anti UID lobby (currently in the civic space there seems to be more of them or at least more vocal) has a few broad areas of concern and pehaps rightly so

  1. Economics:That it is going to be a very very huge outlay over time without clear benefits.Noone eincluding UID has a grasp of the size or magnitutde of public expenditure. 
  2. Privacy:That this is the percussor of the orwellian big brother ,big bad government.
  3. Technology:That the technology (especially biometrics ) is untested on this scale .
  4. Many governments have anandoned a similar UID excercise, principally UK and US.
  5. That social benefits delivery  cannot happen through a UID excercise and that the lack of identity in the lower income segmnets of inida is not the centre of gravity  for socila benefits not reaching them  .
  6. That the social delivery argument is just a cover for the real "police state" reason and that internal security is the real reason.

On UIDs side,

  • That identity or lack of it is the single biggest  issue that prevents the poor from having access to social systems.
  • That duplication and actual fudging of money is the state of the current expenditures in the social area, and that UID can help.
  • That UID is not a magic wand and not a single solution,It does not confer , say citizenship or BPL elegiblity.UID does not mean other departments do not have to dotheior due diligences.
  • A UID will enbale the under prioveleged to open a "lite" bank account wherby benefits can reach the end person directly.
  • That UID will be finally formed as an "Authority"
  • That UID is backing legislation in privacy and identity theft.
  • That they will follow a "proof of concept" approach , before full blown execution.

Would really like to know praja members views and karnataka is a test state.

uid website is

vijayan menon



UID.VB_.IN_.2.RAMKUMAR's+PAPER.LNCS-UID-paper-final.26+MAY.10.pdf115.92 KB
Minutes_CSO_meeting_6_SVK_Final.pdf188.61 KB


idontspam's picture

My humble opinions

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However, a perusal of the claims made in favour of the UID project in India would have us believe that the introduction of modern technology can help the state bypass fundamental reforms at social transformation.

I would question the authors common sense if they think that. UID only allows for better understanding of exactly how much falsified data is being used today to hood wink the public and swindle monies by govt employees. Imagine if updated census macro numbers were available via RTI or through open data initiave of Praja every year instead of relying on 2001 census for 2010 relief measures.

Some have argued that ID cards or numbers can be used to profile citizens in a country and initiate a process of racial or ethnic cleansing, as during the genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda in 1995.

THats what happen if you do caste and religion census. Reservation & idiots go together.

For instance, Sweden and Italy have extraordinary regulations regarding the use of data in citizens’ registries.

The author probably doesnt know that in Sweden it is impossible to get government services if you dont quote your Personnummer. You cant open a bank account without a personnummer. You will get credit only after 6 months and the bank checks your transactions and ensures you are credit worthy. 

Social scientists have long argued that the poor state of governance in India, particularly in areas like poverty alleviation, demands a closer look at the nature of the Indian state itself.

Good move. This should happen regardless of what is happening with UID.

Personal information of citizens is rendered all the more vulnerable to misuse in a policy atmosphere that explicitly encourages private participation in social service delivery.

Allow me to rephrase, Personal information of citizens is rendered all the more vulnerable to misuse in a policy atmosphere that explicitly encourages govt employees to maintain information in paper files which are made accessible on the payment of a few rupees to any tom dick or harry without a log of who accessed what data for abuse

At present, the UIDAI has only affirmed a commitment to protection of privacy; no substantial information is yet available on how the database of citizens would be protected from misuse in the future.

At present govt has not committed anywhere in writing that my personal data will remain protected nor has it been able to enforce it. Secondly it continues to remain the responsibility of the govt to protecy personal information which will be  provided by the UIDAI. 

The problems of enumeration in a society like India’s, marked by illegal immigration as well as internal migration, especially of people from poor labour households, are too enormous to be handled effectively by a technocrat. 

UIDAI doesn tackle those issues on the field, it only gives a number. Census dept is feeding them the data. Didnt the census people knock at the authors door???

It is intriguing that the duties of the Census Registrar and the UIDAI Chairman have been demarcated, and that the UIDAI Chairman has been placed in the rank of a Cabinet Minister above the Census Registrar

SO we expect the census department to bring all this technology to bear. Gee, I wonder what they were doing the last 60 years. And I wonder who they have that understand what is required from a technology perspective to get all this done.

In other words, the crucial question is: can the technological infrastructure of the project carry the burden of such massive data storage, networking, live sharing and verification?

Very good question. This is why a technocrat is in charge and not the census bereau. It will take a lot of new technology to get this done and may even lead to a few innovations along the way.

Fears have also been raised on the different ways in which users could bypass the verification process by using methods like “gummy fingers” and “latent finger printing.” In other words, a completely new identity, different from the original, could be created and used consistently over a period of time.

I havent heard of a "gummy iris" or "latent iris scans". Questions are being raised even today how the paper files existing in teh govt offices are susceptible to massive tampering, pilferage, fraud, selling of personal information etc. Wonder how all this doesnt catch the sceptics eye.

In what is a typical case of “functionality creep”, police and security forces, if allowed access into the biometric data base, could extensively use it for regular surveillance and investigative purposes. One, regular use of biometric data in policing can lead to a large number of human rights violations.

Bangalore police has cameras at junctions, its human rights violation I say. Ban them. As a citizen I have the right to mess up the junction and not pay a fine. WHo are the police to identify me and apply the law on me.

Further, there are major problems associated with having a classification of households as BPL or APL based on a survey conducted in one year, and then following the same classification for many years. Incomes of rural households, especially rural labour households, fluctuate considerably. A household may be non-poor in the year of survey, but may become poor the next year due to uncertainties in the labour market. How would UID solve this most important barrier to efficiency in the PDS?

The food & civil supplies ministry is expected to use the UID to collect income data from various authorities like PF & Income Tax department or any other appropriate to keep the data updated as & when it changes and re-classify the person every year. Right now even this is not possible. 

The central issue with the UIDAI initiative is that technology is thought of as a short cut to bypass difficult and more fundamental societal changes

No, it is supposed to provide a technological aid for the govt to network amongst various departments and get more data more often, including financial data. THey shouldnt be waiting 10 years for a census which collects only baisc data and not financial ones.

vmenon's picture

UID feasibilty

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One of the biggest criticsm of the UID program (even over the privacy angle), is the unknown nature of costs over time. UID itself has stated that the cost is not known as of now, but should be manageable". In true indian hyperbole there are forums/papers who talk of "lacs of crores" as the outflow for UID.

At another level, with the pop size of India and possibly need of distributed hardware for biometric recognition, maybe the costs are over the top. The UID's overall justifcation is that there are huge leakages /duplications/false identities in the social delivery system(PDS/NREGA etc) and that even if a portion is saved from these monumental governmnet programmes then UID pays for itself. Also that the service to get a UID number can be costed, not diffrent from a passport/DL etc application fee.

There was a article sometime back that the PDS/BPL number in karnataka exceeded the population of karnataka( how true that article was , I do not now). I would like to believe that no feasiblity (cost study) can be done when one ventures into uncharteered areas. Could there be a feasibilty and cost study of any accuracy say for a missle program or the entire space mission? Except to say this "program is needed" and look at costs as the programm unfolds. UID seems to be doing it the "venture capital" /"new concept" way. Proof of concept,demonstartions then next round of funding etc. But the lack of a figure on a quantitative cost benefit analysis does seem to strengthen the hands of those who say "Stop UID".

vijayan menon

Naveen's picture

Mr Menon,Thanks for posting

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Mr Menon, Thanks for posting this - made interesting reading. Not sure how this will pan out since there are so many question marks & uncertainties. I think the leaders should support & go through with this UID exercise to see for ourselves, if it will be of benefit or not - examples from overseas are of course there as references. I think Mr ramkumar is correct - technology alone is not going to change social disparities. It can only be used as a tool, at best to improve deliverance. In this context, one can say that the costs are too high - even higher than the costs for socially uplifting the poor ! But then, these costs are going to be spread out over a long long period, & I think it would take several decades. This is just a small beginning - I dont think the promises of having cards for 600 million will materialize in 5 years.
xs400's picture

How it will work in India

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Perhaps you have not encountered some ‘Hi Tech’ harassment desi style.

I receive a traffic ticket from the grandiosely name Enforcement Directorate(ED); for an offence I did not commit; while supposedly using a vehicle that I had sold almost two years earlier. Oh! I know what you are thinking, and I thought so too – the buyer had not registered the vehicle in his name.

No RTO personnel or ED personnel helped me verify anything over the phone. I saw other poor souls at the ED harassed: One old man, had got his RC book corrected ( the RTO clerk’s error in the first place), but was told to go back to the RTO and get them to update their database so that it would show up on some other database.

Of course, we are all adept at the game, anything will be done for a price. None of the databases will be open to you for a legitimate reason (whether within the government or in a private enterprise), but they would not hesitate to sell the information (don’t blame just the government employees, the CEO at my firm did just this).

Meanwhile, I received form letters in Kannada informing me that as long as I was the registered owner, I was responsible in response to every document I sent explaining the situation. Just check the RTO site, the transfer procedure stated there is to just send a completed form by registered post. Yeah! Right. Why change procedures when you can make money off the victims? Now imagine yourself on the terrorist database. As long as your name is in the database you will be shot (Maybe not, if you are named Anderson or Keshub Mahindra).

silkboard's picture

Missed this

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Missed reading this menon sir. Will post a detailed note.

Sorry for being tuned out of discussions lately.

vinod_shankar's picture

Draft legislation on UIDAI

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As promised by nilekani, the uidai has come out  with a draft legislation on UIDAI to provide legitamacy to the whole exercise and provide legal frame work on the main issues concerning security of data and personal privacy concerns.  I have glanced through the draft once without discerning too many details.  

We can raise our concerns on the bill as a group on praja , consolidate it as report and send it to before july 13, 2010.

Anybody with keen eye for details on legislation, can take a lead and I will definitely volunteer for this.  When there is opportunity to beheard, we should out loud our concerns and not rue a missed opportunity.



P.S:  After the act comes into force, it will be called National Identification Authority of India and not UIDAI 

silkboard's picture

Vinod, let us try at least

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Like the CRS report, and  now BMTC maps effort running in "crowdsourced" mode, let us try at least.

Just made a wiki post, see Start maadi. I will join in with my notes on Sunday. Mr Menon will as well, and some more people I hope.

Meanwhile, UID is up on the slashdot as well, though for a a different type of discussion (mark of the beast story from NDTV):

silkboard's picture

Menon, Response to some notes

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Response to some anti-uid points

Privacy:That this is the percussor of the orwellian big brother ,big bad government.

Those who are complaining (civil society, with phones, and pan numbers) are already in the trap if they think of it this way. For any program/campaign to be successful, you need to identify your audience.

Technology:That the technology (especially biometrics ) is untested on this scale .

UID wll get these tested for us. Bossting tech economy of country could be a significant side benefit of spending on UID.

Many governments have anandoned a similar UID excercise, principally UK and US.

Because they have other ways of targeting the beneficiaries of their people facing programs. SSN for sure in the US. New spend there wll require lot more justifications. UID is another technology leapfrogs, the benefit of starting out late.

That social benefits delivery  cannot happen through a UID excercise and that the lack of identity in the lower income segmnets of inida is not the centre of gravity  for socila benefits not reaching them.

While delivery will not happen through UID exercise, the targeting certainly can. And more over, audits certainly can. One key gap tpday is our ability to to measure and audit the reach and future benefits of government programs - who all are you reaching today? what happened to them 5 years after they got the benefit of the program? We don't realy have data or handles to do these audits and measurements today.


Privacy is a definite concern, but its more about associated data and UID itself.

  • What all historical data wll be linked to my UID and stored?
  • Who will be the custodian of such data? UIDAI or multiple body that store this data today?
  • Who all will have access to such "linked" data? How will new access be granted to such data?
  • Will I be notified each time data linked to my UID is accessed by any government agency?
  • For example : Will I be allowd to see all "internal security" related data against my UID? Will I be able to contest any bad entries there?

Need to read the draft in detail, lets do more talk on legislation the wiki itself. Here:

idontspam's picture

UIDAI introduces

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UIDAI introduces Authentication API

The API will submit the user's Aadhaar number to the Central Identities Data Repository, along with other data for verification. After that authentication will only be in the form of a 'yes' or no response, and no personal identity will be released.

It appears that biometric authentication is going to be a key component of aadhaar authentication. But now it may not be possible to scan and deliver biometric information in case of online and mobile transactions. Hence, biometric information should clearly not be a compulsory pre-requisite for authentication for Aadhaar. A biometric pre-requisite for authentication will make it dependent on physical devices, as it is applicable to most digital services

xs400's picture

Role of the Central Govt in NIA/UIDAI

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Many pertinent points have been raised in the Civil Society Workshop on AADHAAR and by R. Ramakumar (pdfs elsewhere on pages on this topic).

  • 1) Seems to me the Central govt can as stated in the Draft Bill impose a sort of "Emergency" rule over the NIA:

48. (1) If, at any time, the Central Government is of the opinion,—
(c)    that circumstances exist which render it necessary in the public interest so to do,
the Central Government may, by notification,   supersede the Authority for such period, not exceeding six months,  as may be specified in the notification  and  appoint a person or persons as the President may direct to exercise powers and discharge functions under this Act:

*** So, every now and then the govt will take over the NIA and read all the data and use it any way it chooses?**

  • 2) Fees for issue of the AADHAR number - why?
  • 3) Fines seem good value for those who wish to misuse the system, there should be no limit to the liability of parties misusing the system.
  • 4) There should be a separate independent authority to monitor the NIA and this authorithy should be independent of politicians/govt/police/business/military and should have the power to shut down the NIA.


silkboard's picture

vmenon, ration cards and BPL number - stat

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To vmenon's line in a comment above:

There was a article sometime back that the PDS/BPL number in karnataka exceeded the population of karnataka( how true that article was , I do not now)

From an editorial in today's biz-standard:

As for tation card distribution, te government recently conceded in parliament that 110.8 million cards were in circulation as against the estimate of 65.3 million BPL families

Editorial was talking about plugging PDS leaks without waiting for UID implementation.

murali772's picture

a bit worrying

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Excerpts from India Today/ Yahoo News:

But there are bigger worries that the project may completely change the norms of privacy, confidentiality and security of personal information. There are currently various pieces of information available separately and held in discrete "silos" by the government departments. The citizen usually gives information that is necessary for any agency to do the job. While telephone companies may not know about your health details, your hospital need not know your income details. Its critics argue that the personal information of citizens is rendered all the more vulnerable to misuse in an atmosphere that encourages private participation in social service delivery.

"It is this that makes some privacy possible in a world where there are so many reasons and locations where we give information about ourselves. The ease with which technology has whittled down the notion of the private has to be contained, not expanded. The UID, in contrast, will act as a bridge between these silos of information and take control away from the individual about what information we want to share and with whom," says Usha Ramanathan, a noted law researcher based in Delhi. There is a difference between people tracking a state, and the state and the "market" tracking people.

"The UID is clearly not what it is presented as being: it is not benign, nor a mere number which will give an identity to those who the state had missed so far," adds Ramanathan. Economist Jean Dreze has yet another concern. "This scheme is being introduced at a time of growing state authoritarianism, and opens the door to an unprecedented degree of state control. The possibility of innocuous applications of the UID scheme to social policy does not significantly diminish this fundamental danger," he says.

Nilekani says that the draft bill addresses many concerns of data security and confidentiality, and that a larger data privacy framework is needed to fully address these issues.

The UID is not just about Nilekani's head-counting skills. It is about considering the subordinate question of duplication-there is only 2 per cent duplication in Tamil Nadu's PDS rolls and Chhattisgarh's hologram-enabled cards eliminated 8 per cent of the duplication-rather than the broader question of greater access for the poor.

Privacy concerns have made ID cards a non-starter in many countries

For the full report, click here

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