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>

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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>

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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>

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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>

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American lessons for India

By neglecting science and public welfare, the US is losing the marathon in some respects
By Dipankar Gupta – We look up to America for a number of good reasons. But there are a few cautionary tales as well, especially in the area of public spending.

The US, however, rarely looks outside its borders, east or west, for ideas. The Midwest, the country’s navel, is where it gazes most often. This is where elections are won or lost, and where homebred culture and cars are made.

Between 2000 and 2017 there have been as many as 25 train mishaps in the US, prompting the head of Amtrak to confess that the latest crash is a “wake up call”. It took 60 years, between 1940 to 1999, for 25 train accidents to happen, but only 15 years since to clock that number.

This graphically demonstrates how rapidly public railways have declined in America. We are not starting on the subject of the 56,000 US bridges that need urgent repair. This may sound and taste like India, but we are still talking America.

According to Mark Reutter of Progressive Policy Institute, in the first 13 years after 1956, as much as 46,350 km of interstate roadways were built and, tragically, 95,600 km of rail tracks taken out. In an ironic coincidence, 1956 was also the year when Japan started planning its high speed trains.

Railways have never won state support in the US after their heydays in the 1930s and 1940s. Politicians complain that trains will never make money, so why fund them? In Europe, the calculations are very different.

For example France’s prestigious, high speed TGV train service makes regular losses but gets government money anyway because the public benefits from it.

Not only does TGV reduce travel time, its wide network has also brought booms to towns, like Lille, that had gone bust in the 1950s. China’s high speed train system is also not a financial success, but the country is going ahead with planning a 500 kmph railway system anyway. more>

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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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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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Why is Trai even considering bill and keep model?

Airtel boss Sunil Mittal, in a letter to Trai chairman R.S. Sharma, says ‘at a loss as to why Trai should be considering bill and keep model’ and break away from the global practice of interconnect user charges
By Amrit Raj – What surprises the most, he wrote in the 24 July letter, is no one has talked about abolishing IUC (interconnect usage charge) for international call settlement, which is prevalent across markets.

Neighboring countries such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal charge about 2-13 cents. Similarly, when the calls come into India, Trai has set an IUC to be paid to the mobile operators at 53 paisa and, in turn, the Indian international operator charges approximately 1 cent as IUC for the incoming calls on their network.

“The Trai not even debating this issue, therefore, confirms Authority’s acceptance to the principle that IUC is indeed a settled global practice built on fair and equitable settlements for work done by each operator for carrying each other’s calls,” Mittal said.

Mukesh Ambani-controlled Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd is pressing for the bill-and-keep model, wherein IUC (paid by the telco from which a call originates to the telco which receives the call) will be effectively scrapped.

Rivals Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India Ltd and Idea Cellular Ltd, on the other hand, want these charges raised to at least 30 paise per call from 14 paise now. more> https://goo.gl/Ntz5Cd

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Can India be First World?

We dream of leapfrogging to First World status, here’s how to do it in real life
By Sanjeev Sabhlok – What will it take for India to become a First World nation?

Such a question is about matters more important than mere economic growth.

It is about freedom, rule of law, justice, separation of religion and state. Such a question can reset our expectations and start a meaningful conversation about what we want to be as a nation.

It is time for us as a nation to step back and look at the big picture. The facts that face us are not pleasant.

Transparency International has ranked Indian governments as the most corrupt in the Asia-Pacific region. Our businesses, despite being one of the world’s best, continue to be let down by our governance system. We continue to rank close to the bottom on ease of doing business. We remain one of the least free countries in the world.

We do not protect private property. We do not have credible rule of law. The concept of justice is largely fictitious. There is very little infrastructure. Our school systems are dysfunctional. Vocational training is non-existent or of very low quality. And we continue to be one of the world’s poorest countries.

Second, we need to redesign our governance system. Today, neither ministers nor bureaucrats are accountable. They see themselves as rulers. We need to invert this mindset and hold our servant – the government – to account.

No First World country has India’s antediluvian, super-centralized IAS-type tenured service to govern everything. more> https://goo.gl/kjrftm

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Three consortia led by Alstom, Siemens and Stadler Bussnang eye Rs 2,000 crore ($310m) coach factory project

By Rajat Arora – The proposed rail coach factory that would produce coaches with aircraft-type interiors is expected to come up on railway land in Kanchrapara near Kolkata on a public-private partnership basis and will involve a total investment of Rs 2,000 crore.

This is the second-largest tranche of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the rail sector under the government’s ‘Make in India’ initiative.

The first major FDI in railways came in 2015 when projects to set up two locomotive factories were awarded at a total cost of Rs 3,300 crore ($511.5m). more> https://goo.gl/RJGrrK

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