The Aadhaar Challenge

By Anupam SaraphInstead of examining the harm caused to the country by Aadhaar, R.S. Sharma asked the public to demonstrate the harm it can cause to him. When public officials think about private interests being harmed before protecting public and national interests, they fail to protect either. Mr Sharma’s Aadhaar Challenge has exposed the corruption of public policy by self-interest.

On July 28, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) chairman R.S. Sharma put out his Aadhaar number on Twitter and challenged anyone to harm him.

Mr Sharma’s ‘challenge’ underlines not just his ignorance about Aadhaar but also his indifference to public interest, governance, financial integrity of the economy and even national security. Given that he was the director general of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) during the conception, design and early implementation of Aadhaar, it is a damning testimony to the project, to put it mildly.

In an India where every government document had to be attested by a gazetted officer, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme. Biometric and demographic data submitted by private operators to the UIDAI is suddenly being used to replace legally valid, legitimate identification documents issued and certified by government officers.

Once the Aadhaar replaces existing documents, it causes unprecedented harm to the country as there is no way to distinguish real individuals, on-boarded through careful legal process by government officials, from those added through the Aadhaar database.

Senior bureaucrats who realize this for the first time, are utterly shocked. They have never realized how the Trojan Horse of Aadhaar got into their department or ministry. An uncertified biometric or demographic has no legal value and causes incalculable harm to the country.

The biometric, Mr Sharma and his then-chairman Nandan Nilekani told us, is unique. Neither explained why you need a number to retrieve the data if the biometric is unique. The biometric query should have resulted in a unique record being retrieved. The UIDAI confirms that the biometric can’t retrieve a unique record.

In fact, they don’t even know how many unique biometrics exist in the entire database. Astonishingly UIDAI’s affidavit to the Supreme Court in the WP 494 of 2012 and associated matters indicates that at least 600 crore ((6 billion) Aadhaar numbers out of 1,200 crore (12 billion) have never been used to authenticate any transaction ever.

Clearly, there is no merit in any claim that the biometrics can be the basis for unique entries in the Aadhaar database and the Aadhaar database is free from ghosts and duplicates. From the looks of it, at least 600 crore numbers in the database are ghosts and duplicates.

It is amazing that Sharma is unable to notice the harm that neither the finance ministry nor any other ministry knows who the beneficiaries of government benefits and subsidies are. Even today they continue to claim that uncertified, unverified, unaudited and non-unique numbers have identified and eliminated duplicates and ghosts in non-existent databases. more>


How an avowedly “nationalist” government allows India to be digitally colonized by US and China

By Raghav Bahl – With great gusto, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised to convert our country into a digital superpower, a Start-up India that would reconfigure the world with its tech smarts and savvy.

According to Bob van Dijk, CEO of Naspers (Africa’s biggest company, a media and internet conglomerate that is also the largest investor in China’s Tencent), “India needs to make sure that it builds an ecosystem for the success of local businesses. If I am blunt about it, I think Europe is a digital colony of the US. There’s no decision making in search, content, social or video, which basically means there is no ecosystem of capable internet entrepreneurs or professionals … if I were your prime minister, I would have that bent of mind.”

Yes! Just as Chambal dacoits looted central India in the 1970s/80s, Shenzhen and Silicon Valley dacoits are savaging our digital landscape in the 21st century. We have already resigned ourselves to the astonishing dominance of Google and Facebook, without even a shrug of resistance. These American titans take nearly 90% of all digital ad dollars from India. They own the digital identities of over a billion Indians. They know what we search, buy, whom we date, where we live, what politics we follow, what we say, think, and everything we do!

It’s a shame that this is happening on an avowedly “nationalist” government’s beat. more>


Why godmen become omnipotent, and their followers so impotent

By Sudhir Kakar – Barring a small minority of atheists and doubters, for most people this higher reality is the dispenser of religious-spiritual moments that, in the words of the poet John Keats, “light up the narrow, mundane world of daily existence, a world which has always been inadequate to our experience and unequal to bear the burden of our hopes.”

The godman is believed to be in intimate contact with ‘higher’ reality and has the power to make it accessible to his followers. He or she (for this also holds true for the godwoman) is the culturally sanctioned addressee of an ancient civilizational longing, a collective request for the transforming experience.

His reputed ability to induce euphoric states in the follower carries a conviction of his divinity that is impervious to skepticism and disbelief. The follower cannot be shaken out of his belief in the godman with appeals to reason or evidence, answering anyone who would doubt with, “I don’t believe, I know.”

As much as he offers empowerment through identification with himself and his sect, it is a rare godman who does not come to misuse the power granted to him by his followers. This has nothing to do with a particular godman’s goodness or villainy but is inherent in the institution itself. Idealism by followers (“You are great! You are perfect!”), a godman must process the idealization internally and not start believing them.

One consequence of these positive idealizations is a loss of touch with the reality of everyday life and the context in which the idealizations are embedded. more>


One Asaram in jail is not enough, it’s time to smoke out all fraud babas

By Shobhaa De – Why are we so bloody gullible? Such monumental idiots?

Why do we need self-styled godmen and godwomen in India?

Most of them are crooks and liars. Murderers and deviants. But we refuse to see through them. We refuse to accept they are out to loot, fool and deceive us.

Even a casual survey will reveal the organised deception that creates these monsters.

Any man or woman who claims a superior spiritual status is an impostor. Anyone who insists he/she has a hotline to God, is clearly a cheat. Anyone who offers to save someone’s soul, is out to financially/emotionally exploit the victim. Anyone who tries to manipulate human frailties and comes up with instant solutions, is talking hogwash. Unfortunately, a lot of that hogwash gets transformed into faux ‘wisdom’ by the media.

The vulnerable fall for the slick hardsell, and overnight spiritual empires get born. Take a look at the egos and assets of the current crop of gurus. Look at their vanities and posturing, their arrogance and intolerance. You call these people ‘spiritually evolved’?

Let’s call them charlatans. Scratch the surface and see what they are made of – don’t be surprised to find nothing more than hot air and bombast. And yet, they continue to flourish and thrive, propped up by their influential mentors and political bosses.

It’s time for India to smoke out all these frauds. There are too many of them preying on suckers/ believers blinded by their so-called ‘powers’ and promises to save humanity.

The power to save yourself wholly, solely and only lies within each one of us. Let’s drive these pretenders out of business and then watch the fun. more>


End the impunity

Unnao rape case highlights why Uttar Pradesh needs the rule of law
Times of India – The bare facts of the Unnao case are this: a young woman who alleged that she had been gangraped by BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar and his associates, then disregarded by the police, took her protest to chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s house, threatening to commit suicide there on Sunday. Sengar brazened it out, telling reporters: “They are people of a lower standing, this is a conspiracy against me.” Meanwhile Sengar’s supporters allegedly assaulted the girl’s father, grievously hurting him. Booked by the police under the Arms Act, he died in custody on Monday.

This is a situation raising disturbing questions about Sengar’s position of power obstructing justice.

Although the Adityanath government came to power on the promise of ending jungle raj in UP, across districts like Shamli, Muzaffarnagar, Saharanpur and Baghpat,there have been over a thousand encounters – open extrajudicial shootings – since he became chief minister. Police claim this is what it takes to control crime but what happens if the criminal is within one’s own ranks, say an MLA cosy with the police? The government is also moving to roll back a rape charge against former minister Swami Chinamayanand and to withdraw cases relating to the Muzaffarnagar riots.

When police lose accountability, the state’s motives also become suspect. The encounters feed lawlessness. more>


ഭരണ തുടര്‍ച്ചയുണ്ടായാല്‍ ചൈനീസ് മാതൃക, സോഷ്യല്‍ മീഡിയ രംഗം പൊളിച്ചെഴുതാന്‍. . ?

By ടി അരുണ്‍കുമാര്‍ ( [TRANSLATE]- മോദി സര്‍ക്കാറിന് 2019-ല്‍ ഭരണ തുടര്‍ച്ചയുണ്ടായാല്‍ ചൈനീസ് മാതൃകയില്‍ സോഷ്യല്‍ മീഡിയകളില്‍ നിയന്ത്രണം കൊണ്ടുവരുമെന്ന് സൂചന.

പൂര്‍ണ്ണമായും കേന്ദ്ര സര്‍ക്കാര്‍ നിയന്ത്രണത്തില്‍ ഇന്റര്‍നെറ്റ്, ഫെയ്‌സ് ബുക്ക്, വാട്‌സ് ആപ്പ് തുടങ്ങിയ സോഷ്യല്‍ മീഡിയകളെ കൊണ്ടു വരണമെന്ന നിര്‍ദ്ദേശം പ്രധാനമന്ത്രിയുടെ ഐ.ടി വിഭാഗത്തില്‍ നിന്നാണ് ഉയര്‍ന്നിരിക്കുന്നത്.

ചൈനയിലെ സോഷ്യല്‍ മീഡിയ സെന്‍സര്‍ഷിപ്പ് സ്വകാര്യ പൊതുമേഖലകളുടെ പങ്കാളിത്തത്തിലാണ് നടക്കുന്നത്, ഭരണകൂടം നിര്‍ണ്ണയിക്കുന്ന പരിധിക്കുള്ളില്‍ നിന്നുകൊണ്ട് കറങ്ങിത്തിരിയാന്‍ മാത്രമേ ഇന്റര്‍നെറ്റ് കമ്ബനികള്‍ക്ക് സാധിക്കുകയുള്ളൂ. സര്‍ക്കാറിന്റെ താളത്തിനൊത്ത് തുള്ളിയില്ലെങ്കില്‍ രാജ്യ ദ്രോഹികളെ സഹായിക്കുന്നുവെന്ന കുറ്റമാരോപിച്ച്‌ കമ്ബനി അടച്ചിടാന്‍ കഴിയും.

സര്‍ക്കാര്‍ എജന്‍സികളും, ഉദ്യോഗസ്ഥരും നല്‍കുന്ന സൂചകപദങ്ങള്‍ സോഫ്റ്റ്‌വെയറിലേക്ക് ഫീഡ് ചെയ്തുകൊണ്ടാണ് ഭൂരിപക്ഷം ഇന്റര്‍നെറ്റ് കമ്ബനികളും ഈ സെന്‍സറിംഗ് നടത്തുന്നത്. സൂചകപദങ്ങളില്ലാത്ത പോസ്റ്റുകള്‍ സ്വീകരിക്കപ്പെടുകയും മറ്റുള്ളവ പരിശോധനക്കു വെക്കുകയോ അല്ലെങ്കില്‍ അപ്രത്യക്ഷമാവുകയോ ചെയ്യും.

സോഷ്യല്‍ മീഡിയ നിരീക്ഷിക്കാനും അന്വേഷണഫലം മേലുദ്യോഗസ്ഥരെ അറിയിക്കാനുമായ് 20 ലക്ഷത്തോളം ഇന്റര്‍നെറ്റ് ഒപീനിയന്‍ അനലിസ്റ്റുകള്‍ രാജ്യത്ത് പ്രവര്‍ത്തിക്കുന്നുണ്ടെന്ന് 2013 ല്‍ സര്‍ക്കാര്‍ ഉടമസ്ഥതയിലുള്ള മാധ്യമങ്ങള്‍ തന്നെയാണ് റിപ്പോര്‍ട്ട് ചെയ്തത്.

സര്‍ക്കാറിനെ കുറ്റപ്പെടുത്താനുള്ള അവകാശമൊക്കെ ചൈനയില്‍ എല്ലാവര്‍ക്കുമുണ്ട്, പക്ഷെ ഒരേ ചിന്താഗതിക്കാരുമായി കൂട്ടു കൂടാനോ, ചര്‍ച്ച നടത്താനോ സാധ്യമല്ല. ‘കളക്ടീവ് ആക്ഷന്‍’ എന്നതുമായ് സാമ്യമുള്ള കൂട്ട പ്രകടനം, ബഹുജന സമ്മേളനം, ഓണ്‍ലൈന്‍ കാമ്ബയിന്‍ തുടങ്ങിയ വാക്കുകളടങ്ങിയ പോസ്റ്റുകള്‍ പുറംലോകം കാണില്ല. എന്തെങ്കിലും പരാതിയുണ്ടെങ്കില്‍ കസ്റ്റമര്‍ കെയറിലേക്ക് വിളിക്കുകയെന്ന നിര്‍ദ്ദേശമാണ് കമ്ബനികള്‍ നല്‍കുന്നത്.

ഇപ്പോഴേ പരിഷ്‌ക്കാരത്തെ കുറിച്ച്‌ പറഞ്ഞ് സോഷ്യല്‍ മീഡിയയെ എതിരാക്കുന്നത് തിരിച്ചടിയാവുമെന്ന് കണ്ട് അതീവ രഹസ്യമായാണ് ഇതുസംബന്ധമായ ഉന്നതതല ചര്‍ച്ചകള്‍ പോലും നടന്നതെന്നാണ് സൂചന.

ഓണ്‍ലൈന്‍ മാധ്യമങ്ങളെ നിയന്ത്രിക്കാന്‍ കര്‍ശന നടപടി സ്വീകരിക്കുമെന്ന കേന്ദ്ര സര്‍ക്കാര്‍ നിലപാടിന്റെ പിന്നാലെയാണ് പുതിയ ആലോചനയെന്നതും പ്രസക്തമാണ്.

കേന്ദ്രത്തിന്റെ വിലയിരുത്തലില്‍ രാജ്യത്ത് ഏറ്റവും കൂടുതല്‍ ആളുകള്‍ വിവരങ്ങള്‍ അറിയുന്നത് സോഷ്യല്‍ മീഡിയ വഴിയാണ്. മുഖ്യധാരാ പത്രങ്ങളുടെയും ചാനലുകളുടെയും പോലും ഓണ്‍ലൈന്‍ പോര്‍ട്ടലുകള്‍ക്കാണ് കൂടുതല്‍ പ്രേക്ഷകര്‍ എന്നതും കേന്ദ്രം വിലയിരുത്തുന്നു.

അത് കൊണ്ടു തന്നെ, ഏറ്റവും അധികം ജനങ്ങളെ സ്വാധീനിക്കുന്ന സോഷ്യല്‍ മീഡിയകള്‍ കേന്ദ്ര സര്‍ക്കാര്‍ നിയന്ത്രണത്തില്‍ വരണമെന്ന് ബി.ജെ.പിയിലെ ഒരു വിഭാഗവും ഇപ്പോള്‍ ആഗ്രഹിക്കുന്നുണ്ട്. more>

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Aadhaar is meandering in a legal maze

By A L I Chougule – Since July 2017, privacy has been at the center of Aadhaar debate. According to legal experts, there are three aspects to privacy issue: bodily integrity, information privacy and threat of state surveillance.

Whether the act of collecting finger prints and iris scans violates the bodily integrity of citizens, and therefore, the fundamental right to privacy is an important question before the SC.

Equally crucial argument is whether the Aadhaar Act violates the right to informational self-determination or informational privacy.

An important aspect of informational privacy is whether citizens know what exactly is happening with their personal information and the manner in which the information shall be used. The third and forceful aspect of the privacy argument is that Aadhaar will enable the State to mount constant surveillance on citizens.

Apart from privacy issue, the necessity to have an Aadhaar card to avail benefits or otherwise is also a subject of litigious debate. In an attempt to make the Aadhaar an all-encompassing identity for authentication, the government has lately been adding a slew of welfare schemes and services to Aadhaar. The government has also made Aadhaar necessary for filing income tax returns.

However, the apex court’s order of October 15, 2015, said that Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory for welfare schemes.

The court has restricted the voluntary use of the card to six schemes and prohibited the government from making it mandatory for receiving any other benefit or service.

The SC has consistently maintained that Aadhaar is voluntary and not mandatory and there is no compulsion to submit it for availing services.

To start with, the Aadhaar project was introduced as an optional 12-digit identification tool in January 2009. The optional nature of Aadhaar had come up for discussion when the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010, was introduced in parliament by UPA-2 government.

The bill was referred to the standing committee on finance which raised concerns over Aadhaar’s security by giving an example of an ID project in the UK which was later abandoned due to high cost, untested technology and the ‘changing relationship between the state and citizens’.

In response to the committee’s concerns, the government stated that while the UK ID card was mandatory, Aadhaar number is not mandatory. The government also clarified that the main aim of Aadhaar ‘is to enhance the delivery of welfare benefits and services’.

Things took a different turn when the implementation of the project – in absence of a legislative backing – was challenged in the SC in November 2012. Since then, Aadhaar has remained mired in complex arguments in court. more>


5-foot-thick wall does not ensure Aadhaar security

A primer on how data can and does get hacked – Attorney-General KK Venugopal assured the judges that this was no fly-by-night operation and that Aadhaar data was secure behind walls that are 13-feet high and five-feet thick.

It’s at this point that questions need to be asked of Center’s — on whose behalf Venugopal was arguing the case — understanding of data, because comparisons with former I-T commissioner Vishwa Bandhu Gupta’s understanding of cloud computing come swiftly to mind.

The notion that data is some sort of physical commodity that can be physically safeguarded is a lot like being content with handing over your debit card and PIN to someone, safe in the knowledge that your cash is safely stored in a bank vault.

For breaching a database, you don’t need to be physically present around this so-called five-foot-thick wall. Accessing a database physically is just one method. But most of the sophisticated hack attacks take place remotely. You can hack a database remotely, from a different city, state, country or even continent. All you need is sophisticated software, hacking intelligence, an internet-connected machine and a vulnerability to exploit. No thick door or high wall can prevent a data breach if these four requirements are met.

One of the most common loopholes that can make databases vulnerable is having a weak link in the human chain of command. You may have the best of security suites to protect your database, but if the right security protocols and processes aren’t followed, there is nothing the world’s best security suite can do to protect your data. more>


By Rewriting India’s History, Hindutva Forces Meddling With India’s Present And Future

By Ashok Swain – In India, the on-going debate over the rewriting of the history reflects the intense conflict between competing visions of national identity that has overshadowed India’s public and political discourse for the past three decades.

India has a long record of quarreling over its own past, but for the last four years it seems like history has become a central theater of the political wars. There is nothing unusual to look to the past for answers to contemporary political projects and to seek the endorsement of history’s heroes. However, it becomes complicated and to same extent dangerous when these heroes and their ideologies are not presented based on facts but through manipulated messaging.

To complicate matters further, regime-sponsored historians are often approaching the past with both eyes on the majoritarian politics of the present regime.

One of the dangers of this politicized historiography project is that it uses the help of the dominant ideology of the present to find answer to the historical questions and, more importantly, tend to intentionally misinterpret the available pieces of evidence.

When historians do not scientifically interpret the evidence but get guided by political masters to manufacture a politically suitable version of history, it becomes a huge disservice both to the idea of history and to the health and character of country’s political debate.

Falsifications of historical evidence and symbols designed to discredit political rivals are universal features of the struggle for power. However, the really serious problem arises when a regime, intoxicated with a total control of political power, tries to extend this monopoly to the interpretation of history and to impose a prefabricated biased version of the history.

Nowhere else in the world is the fault-line so volatile between religious and ethnic groups as in India and it is becoming increasingly dangerous by Modi government’s obsessive desire and forceful plan to rewrite country’s history and manufacturing an interpretation, which suits its agenda for majoritarian politics. more>


Can India’s Biometric Identity Program Aadhaar Be Fixed?

By Jyoti Panday – The stakes in the Aadhaar case are huge, given the central government’s ambitions to export the underlying technology to other countries. Russia, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Thailand have expressed interest in implementing biometric identification system inspired by Aadhaar.

The Sri Lankan government has already made plans to introduce a biometric digital identity for citizens to access services, despite stiff opposition to the proposal, and similar plans are under consideration in PakistanNepal and Singapore.

The outcome of this hearing will impact the acceptance and adoption of biometric identity across the world.

At home in India, the need for biometric identity is staked on claims that it will improve government savings through efficient, targeted delivery of welfare. But in the years since its implementation, there is little evidence to back the government’s savings claims.

The architects of Aadhaar also invoke inclusion to justify the need for creating a centralized identity scheme. Yet, contrary to government claims, there is growing evidence of denial of services for lack of Aadhaar card, authentication failures that have led to death, starvation, denial of medical services and hospitalization, and denial of public utilities such as pensions, rations, and cooking gas.

During last week’s hearings , Aadhaar’s governing institution, the Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI), was forced to clarify that access to entitlements would be maintained until an adequate mechanism for authentication of identity was in place, issuing a statement that “no essential service or benefit should be denied to a genuine beneficiary for the want of Aadhaar.”

The UIDAI was established in 2009 by executive action as the sole decision-making authority for the allocation of resources, and contracting institutional arrangements for Aadhaar numbers. With no external or parliamentary oversight over its decision-making, UIDAI engaged in an opaque process of private contracting with foreign biometric service providers to provide technical support for the scheme.

The government later passed the Aadhaar Act in 2016 to legitimize UIDAI’s powers, but used a special maneuver that enabled it to bypass the House of Parliament, where the government lacked a majority, and prevented its examination by the Parliamentary Standing Committee.

The manner in which Aadhaar Act was passed further weakens the democratic legitimacy of the Aadhaar scheme as a whole.

It emerged during the Aadhaar hearings that UIDAI has neither access to, nor control of the source code of the software used for Aadhaar CIDR (Central Identities Data Repository). This means that to date there has been no independent audit of the software that could identify data-mining backdoors or security flaws.

The Indian public has also become concerned about the practices of the foreign companies embedded in the Aadhaar system. One of three contractors to UIDAI who were provided full access to classified biometric data stored in the Aadhaar database and permitted to “collect, use, transfer, store and process the data” was US-based L-1 Identity Solutions.

The company has since been acquired by a French company, Safran Technologies, which has been accused of hiding the provenance of code bought from a Russian firm to boost software performance of US law enforcement computers.

The company is also facing a whistle-blower lawsuit alleging it fraudulently took more than $1 billion from US law enforcement agencies.

By delegating the collection of citizens’ biometrics to private contractors, UIDAI created the scope for the enrollment procedure to be compromised. Hacks to work around the software and hardware soon emerged, and have been employed in scams using cloned fingerprints to create fake enrollments.

Corruption, bribery, and the creation of Aadhaar numbers with unverified, absent or false documents have also marred the rollout of the scheme. more>