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Press Release, March 11, 2016: The Law cannot Fix what Technology has Broken!

Posted by Japreet Grewal and Sunil Abraham at Mar 16, 2016 09:55 AM |
We published and circulated the following press release on March 11, 2016, as the Lok Sabha passed the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016. This Bill was proposed by finance minister, Mr. Arun Jaitley to give legislative backing to Aadhaar, being implemented by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).

 

The Lok Sabha passed the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016 today. This Bill was proposed by finance minister, Mr. Arun Jaitley to give legislative backing to Aadhaar, being implemented by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).

The Bill was introduced as a money bill and there was no public consultation to evaluate the provisions therein even though there are very serious ramifications for the Right to Privacy and the Right to Association and Assembly. The Bill has made it compulsory for an individual to enrol under Aadhaar in order to receive any subsidy, benefit or service from the Government. Biometric information that is required for the purpose of enrolment has been deemed "sensitive personal information" and restrictions have been imposed on use, disclosure and sharing of such information for purposes other than authentication, disclosure made pursuant to a court order or in the interest of national security. Here, the Bill has acknowledged the standards of protection of sensitive personal information established under Section 43A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. The Bill has also laid down several penal provisions for acts that include impersonation at the time of enrolment, unauthorised access to the Central Identities Data Repository, unauthorised use by requesting entity, noncompliance with intimation requirements, etc.

Key Issues

1. Identification without Consent

Before the Aadhaar project it was not possible for the Indian government to identify citizens without their consent. But once the government has created a national centralized biometric database it will be possible for the government to identify any citizen without their consent. Hi-resolution photography and videography make it trivial for governments and also any other actor to harvest biometrics remotely. In other words, the technology makes consent irrelevant. A German ministers fingerprints were captured by hackers as she spoke using hand gesture at at conference. In a similar manner the government can now identify us both as individuals and also as groups without requiring our cooperation. This has direct implications for the right to privacy as we will be under constant government surveillance in the future as CCTV camera resolutions improve and there will be chilling effects on the right to free speech and the freedom of association. The only way to fix this is to change the technology configuration and architecture of the project. The law cannot be used as band-aid on really badly designed technology.

2. Fallible Technology

The technology used for collection and authentication as been said to be fallible. It is understood that the technology has been feasible for a population of 200 million. The Biometrics Standards Committee of UIDAI has acknowledged the lack of data on how a biometric authentication technology will scale up where the population is about 1.2 billion. Further, a report by 4G Identity Solutions estimates that while in any population, approximately 5% of the people have unreadable fingerprints, in India it could lead to a failure to enroll up to 15% of the population.

We know that the Aadhaar number has been issued to dogs, trees (with the Aadhaar letter containing the photo of a tree). There have been slip-ups in the Aadhaar card enrolment process, some cards have ended up with pictures of an empty chair, a tree or a dog instead of the actual applicants. An RTI application has revealed that the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has identified more than 25,000 duplicate Aadhaar numbers in the country till August 2015.

At the stage of authentication, the accuracy of biometric identification depends on the chance of a false positive— the probability that the identifiers of two persons will match. For the current population of 1.2 billion the expected proportion of duplicates is 1/121, a ratio which is far too high. In a recent paper in EPW by Hans Mathews, a mathematician with CIS, shows that as per UIDAI's own statistics on failure rates, the programme would badly fail to uniquely identify individuals in India. [1]

Endnote

[1] See: http://cis-india.org/internet-governance/blog/epw-27-february-2016-hans-varghese-mathews-flaws-in-uidai-process

 

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