Aadhaar overkill

Originally conceived as an empowerment tool, it is disempowering citizens now
Times of India – Unique identification was originally sold to citizens as a way to efficiently deliver welfare benefits without duplication and pilferage by intermediaries. In the last couple of years, however, it has grown into an all-encompassing Leviathan even as there has been little progress on welfare. On one hand we have central and state governments conceiving uses for Aadhaar in everything from property to death registration, hailing ambulances to getting rations.

The enthusiasm has rubbed off on the private sector too, with three-year-olds requiring Aadhaar for nursery admissions and job opportunities tied to Aadhaar submission.

Making biometrics a keystone to access so many essential services invades privacy, increases the potential for abuse, makes doing business difficult and ties up everyday activities in red tape. Fake Aadhaar card rackets have been busted that allegedly exploited vulnerabilities in the UIDAI enrollment ecosystem.

Biometric verification is susceptible to failures and unauthorized usage. Poor connectivity, lax cyber security and data storage standards heighten the risks. All-encompassing Aadhaar linkages create the framework for mass surveillance and enhanced cybercrime.

It’s time to roll back the Aadhaar empire and initiate restrictions on its mandatory use. more>

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Kerala Police Harassment

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN

Following is a report of an incident that occurred on Nov. 3, 2017 at the check-post on the Tripunithura mini-bypass road. Even though the conclusions are based on one incident, the issues are systemic in nature that it must be prevalent through out Kerala Police.

The problem started with the practice of stopping moving traffic and demanding breath test by blowing into a device. I object to it as I consider it unhygienic, since it can facilitate the spread of germs, viruses or worse. Usually when I object, they let me proceed without the breath test. But on Nov. 3rd they insisted. Since I did not yield, they became argumentative, rude and started using abusive language. There were about 8 police officers.

Since I continued my refusal to blow into the device, they demanded my driver’s license, vehicle registration and insurance. I produced the driver’s license, copy of vehicle registration, and previous insurance. I didn’t have copy of current insurance with me. They impounded the vehicle and said it will be released when I produce current insurance document.

I requested a receipt for the vehicle so that I can go and fetch the insurance papers. No one in the police station would give me a receipt for leaving the vehicle at the station, and wanted me to wait for the Sub-inspector responsible. The waiting took about an hour, and the Sub-inspector told me that he will not give a receipt.

I left vehicle at the station, came back with the insurance document and took possession of the vehicle without further aggravation.

Here are my observations about the incident:

  1. The breath-test is being used as an instrument for harassment and creating inconvenience.
  2. Since Kerala government actively sells and promotes alcohol consumption and depends on it as a key source of tax revenue, even to pretend that breath-tests are in public interest would be laughable. And the police have no business conducting unhygienic practices on the public.

  3. Based on some of their argumentative statements, it seems the traffic patrol team does not even have rudimentary understanding of “rule of law” concepts.
  4. Use of rude and abusive language seems to be their regular behavior pattern.
  5. The patrol team had a tendency to gang-up, with different team members making up facts and relaying to others so that they have a distorted view of the situation.
  6. Impounding a vehicle for non-availability of a document is abuse of power.
  7. Not able to fulfill the request for receipt for impounded vehicle indicate that the Kerala Police procedures are archaic, without established uniform rules.
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Waste management

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN

Lately, lot of attention is being devoted to clean India. However, the various programs suffer from a serious flaw. Not enough is being done to build cohesive systems for waste management. Instead, the emphasis seems to be on awareness campaigns.

Garbage, waste and pollution are an intrinsic part of a modern economy. Consequently, systems to manage waste being continuously generated by the economy need to be matched with counter-balancing systems. A systemic approach is required for tangible results — ad hoc and piecemeal solutions will not work –  For more details, please see “Waste and garbage are intrinsic part of consumer economy“.

For example, the Kochi Corporation has been toying with a waste management program for a long time. There seems an obsession with waste-to-energy idea, while garbage problems going from bad to worse. In the humid and wet Kerala situation, any waste-to-energy is a non-starter.

What is required is integrated systems for managing and disposing waste, including bio- compost, recycling and incineration. In addition, the primary responsibility for waste disposal need to rest with local governments — not with individuals. Individual actions can only be supplementary because the scope of the problem is beyond what can be achieved at a personal level. Producing real results — not publicity — require systematic effort at the government level, since clean environment is a public good.

This is the approach used by countries that have implemented successful waste management and clean environment programs. A waste management framework was developed after studying successful waste management programs implemented by Nepal, Japan and Sweden. It is available online: “A framework for clean environment“.

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Aadhaar After Privacy

By Ananth Padmanabhan, Madhav Khosla – This attempt to present a fait accompli of sorts when the constitutional challenge to Aadhaar comes up for hearing is not a new development. Yet, the Court’s privacy verdict has put both linking and enrollment efforts on overdrive. Even private actors have stepped on the accelerator, and not a day goes by without mails and messages from banks and telecom companies asking customers to link their Aadhaar number with their bank accounts and mobile numbers, respectively.

But amidst all this bustle, what are Aadhaar’s realistic chances of survival post-Puttaswamy?

The fear of a digital panopticon is real for the simple reason that desirous individuals need not necessarily approach the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) to form a complete picture of the various services availed by a citizen. The authentication records also exist in the multiple government offices, ration shops, and other service centers from where welfare benefits are disbursed to citizens.

In fact, the data leakages ailing Aadhaar have all occurred thus far from similar end-points where personnel in charge of our data have little training and even lesser interest in keeping such authentication records confidential.

The data leakages, in fact, are telling not only because they challenge the mantra that the program is technologically safe, and not only because they simply represent a state program that contains flaws and operates below expectations in practice, but because the nature and upshot of the leakages calls into question the safeguards on which the legitimacy of the program rests.

Furthermore, the UIDAI’s role poses serious institutional and rule of law concerns. On one hand, it is the custodian of the Central Identities Data Repository. On the other hand, it is also the data regulator.

As a regulator, it is tasked with deciding on how to deal with data breaches. Thus, we have a body that has minimal incentive to report or act upon data breaches because a vulnerable database architecture does not bode well for either its financial or power incentives as a data custodian. Any breach is, plainly put, a challenge to its authority. more>

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Make in India is looking more and more like a bad joke

By Abheek Barman – Flashback to September 2014, when PM Narendra Modi unveiled a scheme called, ‘Make in India’ (MII), with a gear-and-cogs lion logo. Three years later MII has, literally, gone off the rails. By October next year, work was supposed to start on the largest MII project: a $2.5 billion venture by America’s GE to make diesel-electric locomotives in Marhaura, in Chhapra, Bihar.

But two weeks ago, New Delhi switched off the Bihar project, saying electric trains were the future. Chief minister Nitish Kumar, who gambled his political future by breaking with a Congress-Lalu Yadav coalition to ally with BJP recently, isn’t amused. He says it’ll take ages to electrify India’s 1,10,000 km of tracks. As a two-time rail mantri and Bihari, Nitish should know.

Against government claims that 96% of Bihar villages are electrified, a 2015 survey found only 8% of households get electricity for 20 hours a day. A staggering 80% of homes don’t use electricity for lighting, but get by with kerosene lamps. An incensed GE wants India to pay it Rs 1,300 crore ($200m) in compensation. Such irony: our loss-making, cash-poor railways will now pay to cancel MII investments. What is New Delhi smoking?

New Delhi thinks electric trains will save India the cost of diesel. Is electricity made out of thin air? A study in the mid-2000s argued that it makes no sense to run heavy freight trains, moving under 100km per hour, with electricity.

For the near-30,000 young people trying, but failing to get jobs every day, Make in India is a joke in poor taste. more> https://goo.gl/rS7R1N

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The British Raj gave us a sense of nationhood but it’s now under threat

By Sunanda K Datta-Ray – Access to contemporary Western thought and literature was part of the liberalizing process for a culture that had for centuries looked inwards, gloating over memories of past achievements that became more mythic as time went on. It was no longer animated by any awareness of other cultures or any sense of competition with them. For all its exploitative faults, colonialism had a wonderfully liberating effect on the stagnant mind of India.

Paradoxically, the twin forces of British promotion and resistance to British rule helped to shape the same sense of national identity. Aravind Akroyd Ghose — later revered as Sri Aurobindo — demonstrated that the most Anglicized Indians were often the most patriotic.

Other British gifts are subject to deterioration. Judges are dilatory, the civil service is corrupt. The railways and post office have succumbed to neglect. Misfortunes of many kinds can and do befall other legacies.

India’s acquired sense of nationhood not only sustains a vigorous independence but, ironically, it also inspires Hindutva champions to look back at the frontiers of the Raj and yearn for an “Akhand Bharat” that existed only under British rule. The greater irony is that the sense of nationhood Britain generated eventually defeated the British.

Whether it will save India from the looming threat of a narrowly majoritarian definition of nation and nationhood remains to be seen. more> https://goo.gl/3ZaiNJ

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Momentous judgment

Locating privacy in the Constitution upholds civil liberties in a digitally networked era
Times of India – The 9-0 Supreme Court judgment pronouncing right to privacy as a fundamental right intrinsic to the right to life and personal liberty protected by Article 21 is a great victory for the Indian citizen. Without the right to privacy there is no defense against an Orwellian surveillance state, or against data and identity theft and misuse.

Previous SC judgments had mixed views on recognizing privacy as a fundamental right. The recognition that it needed a larger nine-judge bench to settle the matter conclusively led us to yesterday’s momentous judgment. We live in a time when technology allows the state to conceive an Aadhaar database that can uniquely identify a billion plus residents, where private corporations with and without consent amass vast storehouses of personal data, and arms of the state and vigilante forces use the power of law and lawlessness to intrude into homes in search of beef, homosexual persons, and even witches.

The tendency to wrest ownership of data away from individuals and expand Aadhaar to every conceivable arena must now surmount the privacy check. Governments, corporations and individuals must fall in line. more> https://goo.gl/RUK7ti

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PM Modi’s Digital India will fail without mass IT awareness programs

A major hurdle towards implementing the Digital India mission is the digital divide in the country.
By Pradipto Chakrabarty – While the Digital India initiative is great on paper, its execution has been far behind schedule.

Even though mobile penetration in India is high, Internet connectivity is one of the lowest in the world. Without connectivity, the effectiveness of digital services is hugely compromised.

Lack of language and digital literacy in using technology to access and use information is another problem. Although inexpensive smartphones are available, most people — especially in rural and semi-rural areas — have no idea how to use them.

The root cause of such barriers is our under-resourced education system and abysmally low IT awareness among user communities. more> more> https://goo.gl/cRrw6h

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Junk today’s secularism

India needs a reinvented secularism 2.0 rooted in separation of religion and state
By Bhanu Dhamija – India’s ambitious experiment with freedom of religion has failed. Our insipid brand of secularism, based on states’ active engagement amid stated religious neutrality, has led to the appeasement of a few, but empowers none and brings injustice for all. Instead of uniting our society, it has fomented fragmentation and alienation among our diverse religious communities.

The Hindu majority has now risen against years of over-accommodation of the Muslim minority. This puts the country at risk of losing its tolerant and pluralistic democracy.

India today desperately needs a new definition of secularism, one based on freedom of religion, equality before law, and separation of religion and state. All of these requirements are essential for secularism to work in any country.

Indian secularism fails because it allows governments to grant religious freedoms, but not to treat religions equally.

The biggest failure in this regard began in the early years of the republic, when the government codified Hindu social customs into law but allowed Muslims to continue practicing Sharia law. For seven decades, the requirement of a uniform civil code has remained a Directive Principle in India’s Constitution.

Without constitutional restrictions on state sponsorship of religious activities, Indian secularism turned into a carte blanche for governments to do as they pleased. They began exploiting religious communities with special treatment, sops and populist slogans.

Today, the Modi wave among the Hindu majority has shattered the Nehruvian concept of secularism. And for good reasons; Nehru’s approach was impractical in its denial of all communal identities, and it was open to abuse by governments.

Now the majority is flexing its muscle and taking revenge for years of minority appeasement. This makes it all the more necessary that India adopt real secularism, lest the pendulum swing too far, and allow Hindu chauvinism to take over India’s democracy. more> https://goo.gl/reCSRz

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Forthcoming Supreme Court decision on right to privacy one of the most important legal decisions in the world this year

By Eben Moglen and Mishi Choudhary – Arguments before a nine-judge constitutional bench of the Supreme Court, which is at long last deciding whether Indian citizens have a fundamental right to privacy, have established two realities clearly.

First, the judges see the profound importance of any decision to create such a fundamental right. Second, they would like to know just what the outlines of this right should be.

Privacy is, as Brandeis and Warren said in 1894, “the right most valued by civilized men,” “the right to be left alone.”

But in our age, the age of the internet, the right to be left alone includes also the right not to be put out there, or exposed involuntarily. Forced disclosure of the information that comprises our identities, in the age of biometric identification, social profiles, and cashless economic transactions, damages an essential component of all personal liberties.

Whether the individual’s information is used on its own, or is analyzed, profiled, or linked in the “social graph” to that of other related persons, forced disclosure of personal information in today’s society creates power in the state which receives that information.

The importance of a fundamental right in our system is that it can only be enforced against the state. “Platform” social media companies receive voluntary disclosures of personal information in immense quantities every minute, but they are not subject to constitutional controls.

Moreover, though these corporates are indeed ubiquitous in our lives, they are not obligatory. In dealing with them, we still have choices. Only the power of the state can, in fact, compel us to expose ourselves more fully than we choose to do. The state can as well, of course, legislate to protect our privacy against private parties, and should do so.

India will, as a result of the Supreme Court’s judgment, take the lead among democracies in recognizing and enforcing its citizens’ fundamental right to privacy, or fall in line behind despotic societies in destroying it. more> https://goo.gl/WXWbzf

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