By Sandhya Jain on October 10, 2012
Email ids, even those not given out to everyone, have always been instantly available on the worldwide web, for spamsters to burden your Inbox or marketing firms to offer dubious ware, most notably Viagra and the like. And of course, there are the ubiquitous lotteries of many thousands of pounds or dollars that were won by your email id in some contest you never entered, the lure of which has actually made some innocents part with hard-earned money. Then, the unending streams of Nigerian uncles who want to give you their money for nothing…
Mobile phone numbers too, have made it to the telemarketers’ operations room. No sooner have you bought a new SIM card, the calls start coming in. Even after courts cracked down on this menace, the SMSs kept coming. Recently, this writer got an SMS – the first ever – saying her number had won a lottery of $$$. It was instantly deleted.
A dangerous brush with the very real possibility of Identity Theft, however, made the writer sit up and examine the hitherto suspected dangers of the UPA’s never convincingly explained haste to implement the Unique Identity (UID) program.
The writer got a call from someone claiming to be a senior executive in a private mutual fund cum insurance company. He wanted, he said, to discuss a savings plan the writer had in the company. However, one recalled no such investment ever made in the firm, and said so. The person said, “You have an investment of Rs. 60,000.” A modest sum, but would he have given a higher figure had one not been so emphatic? He insisted.
The writer countered, “What is this about? You say I have an investment. So if you think you owe me something, you have my address, just send the cheque.” This took him by surprise and he tried to recover ground by saying, “Just tell me your date of birth.” The writer firmly refused to give information freely over the telephone, and hung up. The caller never called back.
The misuse of personal information of unsuspecting individuals is now going to be the route by which unscrupulous operators park and hide their black money in bank accounts or bonds or other schemes. Since phone numbers and addresses are available freely, all the racketeers need is to fool you to part with date of birth and perhaps even your PAN number.
These problems will be solved as the UPA’s mega biometric database which is collecting digital fingerprints, iris scans, facial photographs, names, addresses and birth dates of all residents – for no good reason – will help precisely such rackets. So intrusive has been the data harvesting that initially many observers felt India was being made into a Police State.
But now, Aadhaar/UID may turn out to be the best Criminal Facilitation Service in the world. Jhuggi owners may find their ration card entitlements swiped by a petty official or slum lord; property owners may find someone else in possession of their ownership papers; banking accounts may be cleaned out online. This is no Will Smith movie scenario, but could well be the fate of millions of rich, middle class, and poor Indians who will find themselves without redressal in a system that is becoming increasing remote in its public dealings, and considers itself unaccountable to the people.
Suppose someone were to wipe out a certain number of Unique Ids from the system, the individuals concerned would not be able to vote, access their bank accounts, and would have no means of proving their very existence. Far from its claimed objective of fighting corruption, UID has the potential for the most invasive misuse of privacy.
So far, no one has been able to explain the rationale for this costly and intrusive project just to ensure that the poor get access to ration allotments. Politicians already know how to get cards made for slum dwellers to ensure their votes and loyalty.
But if babies are ultimately given Unique IDs, we may soon find criminals creating fake data bases of children not born, fake bank accounts etc, and then selling these Ids to criminals needing new Ids at an appropriate moment. Secret services of major powers already do this to protect their spies.
Because no opposition party took up the matter seriously, the Government moved from the Aadhaar registration of the poor to cover the entire middle class who do not have ration cards. No explanation was given for this rationale – people were told to queue up or there could be ‘consequences’ if they missed the bus. The middle class may be the real targets of the scheme – the form is the same (you have to stick a UID sticker on your form to cover the word ‘Aadhaar’) and all data collection is the same.
It is a given that in India this database will soon be freely available to all who pay for the ‘service’. Data breach will be the rule, not the exception. Someone can lift your fingerprints and plant them somewhere, or misuse your iris scan, all of which have been successfully done abroad to show the danger of such exercises. That is why no major country has implemented such a project; those that tried were forced to scrap them.
After the Election Commission successfully issued Voter Identity Cards to prevent theft of votes at the polling booths, there was never any need for another identity card for citizens above the age of 18; the EC card has served multiple purposes all these years. So whose agenda is being implemented here?
Clearly, there is no transparency in the idea of creating this centralised database, which is being implemented by one of the least-respected or trusted Governments in independent India. Worst of all, the regime admits that an adequate security system has not even been created. It is high time someone called a stop to this madness. All data harvested so far must be destroyed.
October 11, 2012 at 6:16 pm
Indeed, we haven’t had any discussion of privacy and controls on the use of UID. Do we really trust the politicians and babus with this kind of control? If UID is meant for better targeting of subsidies and BPLs, etc, then let them be the only ones to get it. I should have the option to decline the UID. It should be elective, because otherwise people will sign up and forget about it. And, their IDs will be misused. I don’t need it, it does nothing for me. Why should be forced on anyone?
October 11, 2012 at 10:32 am
Thanks for this article. It rightly points out some worst case scenarios. Such identity theft could lead to perpetual blackmailing. Politicians who are nothing but real estate moguls would steal your biometric data and then blackmail you to give up your property. UPAs modus operandi is simple. Shout “poor” from rooftops while stealing everyone’s money.
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