‘Data is secure. Biometrics ensure uniqueness’


Q&A Nandan Nilekani, UIDAI Chairman

THE PARLIAMENTARY Standing Committee headed by BJP stalwart Yashwant Sinha has found the National Unique Identification Authority of India Bill “unacceptable in its present form”. More rumblings against the UID or Aadhaar scheme have been heard in the corridors of the Planning Commission and the home ministry. Is UPA-II’s big-ticket idea caught in a turf war? UIDAI Chairman Nandan Nilekani tells Rohini Mohan in an email interview that doubts about non-accountability, among other things, are baseless.

Photo: Shailendra Pandey

Excerpts From An Interview

The Registrar General of India (RGI) and the home ministry are raising questions about whether the UID data is secure.
The UIDAI follows a procedure for collection of demographic and biometric data as laid down by the Demographic Data Standards and Verification Procedure Committee. The RGI was a member of this committee too. We collect data via three methods — documents, introducers and the National Population Registry (NPR) process after public scrutiny. These have been devised keeping in mind the Aadhaar project’s inclusive agenda.

But is the data secure, especially when UIDAI uses registrars other than the RGI?
UIDAI permits people to enrol anywhere in India with a wide choice of registrars. But most enrolments to date have been by state governments and nationalised banks, relying on proof of identity/address documents. The data collected is subject to high standards of security. We have well laid out protocols of encryption and data security. This was approved by all government agencies, including the RGI and the home ministry. In fact, RGI has itself adopted biometric standards of UIDAI and its private enrolment agencies.

So why not adopt NPR’s suggestion of subjecting data to public scrutiny?
RGI plans to display NPR data lists in prominent places in villages and towns to invite objections from the public, with local authorities looking into objections. This is a method in our system too.

If all functions of Aadhaar were approved, why is there so much apprehension and conflict today? Is the UID caught in a turf war?
(Nilekani refuses to comment.)

So is UIDAI about establishing citizenship or Indian residency? The Standing Committee draft says the scheme has ‘no clarity of purpose’ and is ‘directionless’ because it includes all residents.
The UIDAI’s mandate as per the government notification is to generate and assign unique numbers to residents. The Aadhaar number is not a proof of citizenship.

What about duplication? The Planning Commission wrote to Home Minister P Chidambaram that it wants to avoid duplication of data and expense.
De-duplication is built into the system already. UIDAI has always considered converging the UID and NPR methods and data as top priority.

The logical order of the whole project seems to be back to front. First, the assurance of unique identity, then the fund allocation, then the feasibility study, and now, after Rs 550 crore have been spent, the Bill to govern it. The Standing Committee draft says the UIDAI project was approved in haste.
The UIDAI is an executive authority created by a notification of the Government of India under the aegis of the Planning Commission. The National Identification Authority of India Bill is not a pre-requisite for undertaking the project. It has been proposed to provide a statutory basis for the UIDAI. The project has been approved by the government under due process.

It is also said that the UIDAI’s financial autonomy is improper.
All proposals and funds for the project have been approved by Parliament. We have followed transparent procedures in procurement.

Those already enrolled have been asking: Are the cards going to be issued at all?
Our mandate is to provide unique identity numbers to the residents of India. The Aadhaar number is communicated by a letter through India Post. We did make an effort to explore possibilities of a card for reasons of improving the quality. However, this decision has been kept in abeyance. The UIDAI has no intention of issuing a smart card/biometrics-based card.

Are you sure all the IDs are unique? The UIDAI feasibility study said there could be a 0.0025 percent of biometric duplication, and 15 percent failure. That is 18 trillion possible mistakes!
The UIDAI is using a combination of biometrics (fingerprints and iris scans). We believe that this combination assures a high degree of uniqueness. Exceptions in any technology would be dealt with by a well-laid out exception-handling process.

Shouldn’t we have had privacy laws in place before UID?
The UIDAI collects minimum data from the people. No profiling attributes are collected. We do not share individual data with anyone.


10 reasons why the standing committee is miffed with UID

1. Since the lawmaking is underway, with the Bill still pending, all executive actions of the UID are unethical and in violation

2. The project was approved in haste. No feasibility study was done

3. The system has far-reaching consequences for national security

4. The project has no clarity of purpose and is directionless. Meant initially for BPL families, it has been extended to all residents in India

5. The Empowered Group of Ministers constituted to collate National Population Register (NPR) and UID didn’t take concrete decisions to avoid duplication. Data collection for UID and national ID should have been entrusted to a single authority only

6. It is built on unreliable and untested technology. Despite UIDAI’s adverse observations of error rates of biometrics, it continues to be used

7. If the project does not continue beyond the present number of 200 million enrolments, the whole exercise becomes futile

8. There is lack of coordination and difference of views between various departments. Controversies between the Minister of Home Affairs and the UIDAI remain unresolved, affecting NPR and Aadhaar schemes

9. The national data protection law, which is being drafted by Ministry of Personnel, is a pre-requisite for this ID law that deals with large-scale information from individuals. It will deal with access, misuse, surveillance, profiling, confidentiality, etc

10. The committee, finally, recommends that fresh legislation be drafted.


‘The Planning Commission fully supports UID’

Q&A Montek Singh Ahluwalia Planning Commission Deputy Chairman

PLANNING COMMISSION Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia tells Rohini Mohan that the UID scheme needs solutions, not an outright rejection.

Photo: Shailendra Pandey

Excerpts From An Interview

Why is the Planning Commission sending mixed signals about UID?
The Planning Commission is fully supporting the UID. At least I am. If there’s anyone who isn’t supporting the commission’s view, it doesn’t matter.

But in a Cabinet note dated 30 August, you had expressed worries about duplication of data.
Yes, I had concerns about duplication between UIDAI and the home ministry’s data, but I also suggested four different solutions to avoid it. The home ministry is not ready to accept those options. From the beginning, NPR and UIDAI were supposed to use each other’s data, but the home ministry has finally taken a position that they will not use UID material. I don’t support this.

But why this change of stance when the UIDAI is already underway? Is it a turf war?
The home ministry’s objective is not the same as the UID. For them, it’s security. They clearly say so in the Cabinet note. What they were supposed to do didn’t involve biometrics, etc. The UID objective is different — it’s about identity, enabling people to access government schemes. The difference is important and they don’t believe the UIDAI fits in this goal. I’m going to present to the Cabinet that we shouldn’t scrap the UID.

Rohini Mohan is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.




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