Feedback to the NIA Bill

Posted by Elonnai Hickok at Jul 30, 2010 07:30 AM |
Malavika Jayaram and Elonnai Hickok introduce the formal submission of CIS to the proposed National Identification Authority of India (NIA) Bill, 2010, which would give every resident a unique identity. The submissions contain the detailed comments on the draft bill and the high level summary of concerns with the NIA Bill submitted to the UIDAI on 13 July, 2010.

The UID draft bill is a proposed legislation that authorizes the creation of a centralized database of unique identification numbers that will be issued to every resident of India.  The purpose of such a database is characterized as ensuring that every resident is provided services and benefits. The UID project was first set up and introduced to the public in February 2009 by the planning committee.    In June 2010, a draft bill was proposed which attracted public debates and opinions for over two weeks. Currently the bill is being considered by Parliament in the winter session (July-August 2010). If the Parliament of India approves the bill, it may be enacted during Winter 2010.

CIS has closely followed the UID project and reviewed the bill right from the time when it was first issued. and has worked to initiate and contribute to a public debate including attending of workshops in Delhi on 6 May, 2010 and in Bangalore on 16 May, 2010.

We respect the fact that civil society has many voices. That said, in our criticisms, suggestions, and analysis of the UID draft bill, we are asking for a simple, well-defined document, the language and structure of which expressly precludes abuse of a centralized identification database. The document should provide solely for its stated purpose of enabling the provision of benefits to the poor. Along with this mandate we believe the document should give clear rights of choice, control, and privacy to the Aadhaar number holder. Below is a summary of our general comments with citations to specific sections of the draft bill. A detailed section by section critique is attached along with our high level summary of concerns. The compilation and synthesis of detailed critiques was done by Malavika Jayaram.

Summary of High Concerns 

Clarity of Definition and Purpose

Most importantly we find that in order to adhere to the stated purpose of the bill there is a need to limit and better define language in the relevant sections of the bill. This includes the powers and purpose of the Authority and the overarching scheme of the bill. We are concerned that the over-breadth and generality of the language will open up the opportunity for more information to be collected than originally stated. Further, definition will act to prevent uncontrolled or unwanted change in the project’s scope, and will clearly limit the usage of the Aadhaar numbers to the facilitation of the delivery of social welfare programs.

For the bill to be in line with its original purpose of reaching out to the poor, we also believe the issue of fees must be addressed. We find that there is an inadequate definition in the bill of what fees shall be applied for authentication of Aadhaar numbers.  Also we find that it is incompatible with the bill’s stated purpose to require an individual to pay to be authenticated. The bill should provide that no charges will be levied for authentication by registrars and other service providers for certain categories of Aadhaar number holders (BPL, disabled, etc.), and that charges will be limited/capped in other cases. This will bring the bill in line with the statement in Chapter II 3 (1) “Every resident shall be entitled to obtain an Aadhaar number on providing his demographic information and biometric information to the Authority in such a manner as may be specified by regulations”  and Chapter 3 (10 ) “The Authority shall take special measures to issue Aadhaar numbers to women, children, senior citizens, persons with disability, migrant unskilled and unorganized workers, nomadic tribes or such other persons who do not have any permanent dwelling house and such other categories of individuals as may be specified by regulations. If a fee must be permitted, a cap/safeguard should be put in place to ensure that the fee does not become a mechanism of abuse.

Protection of the Citizen

The bill should ensure the protection of  citizens’ rights to privacy and freedom of choice. To do this it is important that the bill is voluntary, allows for the protection of anonymity, and is clear on how data will be collected, stored and deleted. Measures should be taken towards ensuring that the Aadhaar number is truly voluntary. Accordingly, a prohibition against the denial of goods, services, entitlements and benefits (private or public) for lack of a UID number – provided that an individual furnishes equivalent ID is necessary.  The bill should also spell out the situations in which anonymity will be preserved and/or an Aadhaar number should not be requested such as a person’s sexuality/sexual orientation and marital status/history. Furthermore, the bill should require the Authority, registrars, enrolling agencies and service providers to delete/anonymize/obfuscate transaction data according to defined principles after appropriate periods of time in order to protect the privacy of citizens.

Motivations of the UID Bill

Since the submission of the high level summary, we note that a list of 221 agencies empanelled by the UIDAI has been uploaded onto the website (by a memo dated 15 July, 2010). A swift reading reveals that most of the agencies who are going to help enroll people into the UIDAI system are not NGOs, CSOs or other welfare oriented not-for-profit entities; rather, they are largely IT companies and commercial enterprises. This begs the question as to whether the UID scheme/Aadhaar is truly geared towards delivery of benefits and inclusivity of the poor and marginalized. Already concerns have been voiced that the “ecosystem” of registrars and enrolling agencies contemplated by the scheme, to the extent that it envisages a public-private partnership, could firstly, be “hijacked” or “captured” by commercial motives and result in sharing of data, security breaches, compromised identities, loss of privacy, data mining and customer profiling, and secondly, end up neglecting the very sections of society that the scheme allegedly most wants to help. The list of empanelled companies makes this even more likely and imminent a concern. Without casting aspersions on any of those entities, we would like to highlight that this sort of delegated structure raises several concerns.

Additionally, we find the speed and efficiency with which the UIDAI juggernaut is signing MoUs with states, banks and government agencies on the one hand, and issuing tenders, RFPs, RFQs and otherwise seeking proposals and awarding contracts to private entities – in the absence of any Parliament-sanctioned law (the bill is still a draft, and yet to even be placed before the Parliament) to be alarming. Along with news of the increasing costs of the project and doubts about how foolproof the technology will be, it is staggering to imagine that something that raises so many concerns is being pushed through without a more serious debate. The lack of formal procedures and open debates makes one wonder how democratic the actual process is.


To conclude, CIS believes that the UID bill threatens the rights of citizens in India, and appeals to the citizen to think critically of its implications and consequences.

1. Detailed Summary pdf (159kb)

2. High Level Summary (77kb)

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