UID: Nothing to Hide, Nothing to Fear?

Posted by Shilpa Narani at Jul 25, 2011 06:45 AM |
Isn’t it interesting that authorities ask you about your identity and you end up showing your proof of existence! Isn’t this breaching into one’s personal life? Why so much transparency only from the public side? Why can’t the government be equally transparent to the public?, asks Shilpa Narani.

Before I get into an argument, I would like to share with you that my research is based on a comparative study of articles published on UID in leading newspapers like the Times of India, the Indian Express, the Hindustan Times, and its supplement LiveMint, Business Standard, Asian Age, DNA India, Bangalore Mirror, Deccan Chronicle and Deccan Herald. My research shows that the government officials and the individuals working for the UIDAI, who are involved in proposing identity system, are in fact hide their own identity from the public.

Background

A pan-India project to “identify” each resident was formally inaugurated in 2009, with the establishment of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) as an office attached to the Planning Commission.[1] The goal of the Unique ID project is to issue a unique identity number to every resident in the country. The Unique Identification number (UID) will be linked to every resident’s basic demographic and biometric details, and stored in the UIDAI central database.[2] Now a 12 digit number will henceforth decide whether you exist or not? It will decide whether you remain a known or an unknown person? With this blog I would like to highlight the irony in the UIDAI's attempt to establish if a person is known or is unknown with a 12 digit number.

An identity card virus seems to be spreading across India. Everyone is praising the UID and the social, economic, and political improvements it will bring. “The aim of the UID scheme is to bring transparency in the system,'' says Sonia Gandhi.[3] One has to wonder though — if the aim of the UID is to bring transparency, why it is that government and UIDAI officials are not transparent themselves?

Findings

According to my research, in 55 news articles taken from different newspapers mentioned above, there are 66 persons who shared their views on UID only on the condition of anonymity. Most of these individuals were public servants who themselves did not wish to be identified. For instance, one individual was from the department of information technology, who is working on the UID project and with the UIDAI itself.

Total Anonymous

UID - Grid Summary

As one can see from the graph above, the total number of anonymous people sharing their perspectives on the UID are more than the total number of identified people sharing their perspective on the UID. Below is a detailed review of UID articles from each newspaper:

Times of India: Out of 13 articles, Times of India quoted nine anonymous sources in which there were HRD officials, civic sources, sources from census operation department, collectorate sources, senior postal officials, UIDAI officials, and unclassified individuals. Times of India only quoted four identified sources.

Indian Express: Out of 10 articles, the Indian Express quoted twelve anonymous sources including sources from senior officials of the AADHAR office, senior Delhi government officials and some unclassified sources. Again only four identified sources were quoted.

LiveMint: Out of 7 articles, the Live Mint quoted 15 anonymous sources including sources from the Information Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA), UIDAI, Bank of India, a senior SEBI official, sources from ministry, etc. Only 11 sources revealed their identity.

Hindustan Times: Out of 3 articles, there were 6 anonymous sources, and 5 sources that were identified. Anonymous sources were from UIDAI, finance ministry, and other government officials.

Deccan Herald: Out of 11 articles, there were 14 anonymous sources and only 6 were identified. Anonymous sources included UIDAI officials, banks, senior officials from government, and unclassified sources as well.

Asian Age: Out of 4 articles, there were 5 anonymous sources. Anonymous sources included government officials and some unclassified officials.

Power of Identity: Why is anonymity important?

UID has the potential to threaten an individual’s ability to be anonymous in society.  Anonymity results when the personal identity or personally identifiable information of a person is not known. As demonstrated above, a certain amount of anonymity already exists in India today, but with the coming of the UID there is the potential that this will be changed.

Conclusion

As Sonia Gandhi herself said, the UID's aim is to bring transparency in the system. Though the government is eager to make the Indian public transparent in their everyday lives, clearly from the analysis above, individuals working for the government and UIDAI are not comfortable being transparent to the public.  It is ironic that the individuals developing and working for this scheme are not willing to voice their opinion and be identified, but private individuals are. Though the UID scheme is being promoted as a way to make the people accountable and visible in the eyes of the government, from the very start of the project the UIDAI and government have kept themselves under a cloud of secrecy. The government’s non-transparent attitude towards this project and the unawareness of its use on the people makes the whole scheme shady and unnecessary.

Notes

[1]http://uidai.gov.in/UID_PDF/Front_Page_Articles/Documents/Strategy_Overveiw-001.pdf

[2]http://uidai.gov.in/UID_PDF/Working_Papers/UID_and_iris_paper_final.pdf

[3]http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2010-09-30/india/28243557_1_uid-number-unique-id-numbers-tembhli

Download the UID Summary Grid here [Excel, 19kb]

For the summary of articles in newspapers, click here

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