Creepy Biometric IDs to Be Forced Onto India’s 1.2 Billion Inhabitants

Tuesday, September 7, 2010
By Paul Martin

Fears about loss of privacy and government abuse abound as India gears up to biometrically identify and number its 1.2 billion inhabitants.

By Ranjit Devraj
AlterNet.com

Fears about loss of privacy are being voiced as India gears up to launch an ambitious scheme to biometrically identify and number each of its 1.2 billion inhabitants.

In September, officials from the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), armed with fingerprinting machines, iris scanners and cameras hooked to laptops, will fan out across the towns and villages of southern Andhra Pradesh state in the first phase of the project whose aim is to give every Indian a lifelong Unique ID (UID) number.

“The UID is soft infrastructure, much like mobile telephony, important to connect individuals to the broader economy,” explains Nandan Nilekani, chairman of the UIDAI and listed in 2009 by Time magazine as among the world’s 100 most influential people.

Nilekani is a co-founder of the influential National Association of Software and Services Companies and, before this assignment, chief of Infosys Technologies, flagship of India’s information technology (IT) sector.

According to Nilekani, the UID will most benefit India’s poor who, because they lack identity documentation, are ignored by service providers.

“The UID number, with its ‘anytime, anywhere’ biometric authentication, addresses the problem of trust,” argues Nilekani.

But a group of prominent civil society organizations are running a Campaign For No-UID, explaining that it is a “deeply undemocratic and expensive exercise” that is “fraught with unforeseen consequences.”

Participants in the campaign include well-known human rights organizations such as the Alternative Law Forum, Citizen Action Forum, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Indian Social Action Forum, and the Center for Internet and Society.

A meeting was organized by the campaigners in New Delhi on Aug. 25 where speakers ridiculed the idea of a 12-digit number, and said it is unlikely to rectify, for example, the massive corruption in the public distribution system that is supposed to provide food to poor families.

J.T. D’Souza, an IT expert, asserted at the meeting that the use of biometrics on such a massive scale has never been attempted before and is bound to be riddled with costly glitches.

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