Summary: Panel Description:
The formation of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) ( Aadhaar in Hindi) has provided an opportunity to debate a number of issues related to the nature of the Indian State. Whereas, the newly elected conservative government in the United Kingdom has set up its http://yourfreedom.hmg.gov.uk/
to solicit views of its people on a diverse range of topics, in the world's largest democracy seems to be shying away from some important fundamental debates about citizenship, privacy and political rights.
The debate around UIDAI throws up broader questions on the relationship of the State to technology, citizenship and political rights. On the one hand are people who believe that the UIDAI will help “clean up the system”, and help foster efficient governance – where the delivery of services reaches every citizen, especially the poor. This has been one of the fundamental rationales for the creation of the UID. On the other hand those opposed to the UIDAI fear that the creation of a “technologized State will not only create greater inequality to the access of State’s services, but has legal and ethical dimensions to it that has not be thought through – questions like what does it mean to imagine a “database society”; who is responsible for this data, and how will it be used; the privacy of those in the data given that India doesn’t really have privacy laws and such like things. Also, the one of the rationales for implementing the UID is the welfare benefits its supposed to set-off. But in so far as the welfare benefits are concerned, the documents put out by the UIDAI betrays a lack of understanding of the main sources of inefficiency in the system.
Title:A Unique Identity Bill
Panelist: Usha Ramanathan, Independent Researcher
Abstract: India’s unique identification number project has been sold on the promise that it will make every citizen, the poor in particular, visible to the State. But the UID project raises crucial issues relating to profiling, tracking and surveillance, and it may well facilitate a dramatic change in the relationship between the State and the people. The Unique Identification Authority of India has not acknowledged these concerns so far. And now, nowhere in the proposed draft bill that it has prepared have these issues been addressed nor have clauses been drafted to prevent abuse of information that will be collected by the agency. With so many questions on the project – regarding biometrics, security and privacy – yet to be answered, it is far from time for parliamentary approval. As has been observed, the Constitution is expected to provide the citizen with dignity and privacy; but these are missing in the UID project.
Title:The Unique ID Project in India: A Skeptical Note
Panelist: R. Ramakumar, Associate Professor, School of Social Sciences, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
Abstract: In this note, I discuss certain social and ethical aspects of new national project to supply unique ID (UID) numbers to Indian residents. The UID project is presented as a “technology-based solution” that would change the face of governance in India. I argue in this note that the UID project would actually lead to the violation of a large number of freedoms of Indian people. No amount of assertion vis-à-vis improved service delivery can justify the violation of citizen’s freedoms and liberties. Next, I argue that there is a misplaced emphasis on the benefits of technology in this project, when the robustness of that technology to handle large populations remains largely unproven. Further, I argue that no detailed cost-benefit analysis of the project has been carried out yet. Finally, I try to show, with an illustration, that the roots of inefficiency in public welfare schemes in India do not lie in the absence of identity proofs.
Title: The Unique Identity Number Project: Should Non-Citizen Residents be Concerned?
Panelist: Sahana Basavapatna, TMT Law, New Delhi
Abstract:This essay attempts to comprehend the potential implications of the Unique Identification project (UID) or “Aadhaar” on non-citizen residents in India, specifically, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons and other “illegal” migrants. The Aadhaar project poses a number of questions, involving the constitutional right to privacy and issues of surveillance, on identity and others. It gives an impression that only welfarist objectives animate the project but given the scale, costs and what it seeks to achieve in reality, it would be naïve to assume that such a system would leave non-citizens untouched especially in the context of the high degree of anxiety over issues of both internal and external national insecurity.
The unique identification number debate, it is argued needs to consider the possible impact it would have on non-citizen residents. They make up a small yet significant cross section of the resident population in India and find themselves in a society and polity that displays unique features in terms of how it regulates the presence and exit of foreigners in its territory. Further, the incoherence of the legal and administrative mechanism regulating asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons in India has the potential to translate the lack of or precarious legal identities in social life of these individuals in ways that may negatively impact them. At the same time, it would be worth thinking aloud whether, on the contrary, the UID project would benefit refugees in the Indian context given that their limited rights are not translated in reality in the existing social, economic and political institutional set up. Questions of identity, surveillance and the citizenship of refugees/stateless/asylum seekers are all the more relevant given the anxieties displayed by the Indian state in relation to them. It is in this specific context of resident non-citizens that this paper intends to comprehend the complexities of this project.