mfioretti: biometrics*

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  1. Aadhaar reflects and reproduces power imbalances and inequalities. Information asymmetries result in the data subject becoming a data object, to be manipulated, misrepresented and policed at will.

    Snowden: “Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”

    Snowden’s demolition of the argument doesn’t mean our work here is done. There are many other tropes that my (now renamed) Society for the Rejection of Culturally Relativist Excuses could tackle. Those that insist Indians are not private. That privacy is a western liberal construct that has no place whatsoever in Indian culture. That acknowledging privacy interests will stall development. This makes it particularly hard to advance claims of privacy, autonomy and liberty in the context of large e-governance and identity projects like Aadhaar: they earn one the labels of elitist, anti-progress, Luddite, paranoid and, my personal favourite, privacy fascist.
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  2. One of the key reasons to kick off the Aadhaar-based identification system was to biometrically identify illegal immigrants from neighbouring countries. The irony is, now the Bangladesh government - a significant chunk of illegal immigrants in India are from Bangladesh - wants to study the model and replicate the system in the country. A team from Bangladesh is expected to visit India soon to meet officials from the National Population Register and the Unique Identification Authority of India, the nodal agency that issues Aadhaar cards. Another irony is that the two agencies have been at loggerheads over, among other things, the collection of biometric data and proof of identity.
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2015-04-07)
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  3. A bench of Justices J Chelameswar, SA Bobde and C Nagappan reiterated its earlier order of September 23, 2013, which had asked authorities to desist from linking social benefits with Aadhaar cards. The bench is hearing a batch of petitions challenging the legality of what they say is an intrusive biometric system of identification run by private operators.

    The top court had acted on fears expressed by activists that a large number of people would be excluded from the purview of state-conferred social security benefits such as unemployment allowances, the public distribution system (PDS), widows' pensions etc.
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2015-03-17)
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  4. US citizens and other non-EU nationals who enter Europe will be asked to have their faces image-captured and fingerprints scanned upon arrival at a half-dozen major airports.

    The biometric dragnet is part of a pilot test of the EU’s so-called ‘smart borders’ package. Passengers can refuse to give the data for now but there are plans to eventually make it obligatory.

    A draft internal EU document dated Wednesday (18 February) and seen by this website says the “proof of concept” is set to start in March and will run until September this year.

    “Should traveller participation be lower than expected, there would be a high risk that the results of the tests would be biased or would not reflect reality,” notes the multi-million euro project.
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  5. As German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schauble discovered, you leak your fingerprints all the time, and once your fingerprint has been compromised, you can't change it. (Schauble was pushing for biometric identity cards; playful Chaos Computer Club hackers lifted his fingerprints off a water-glass after a debate and published 10,000 copies of them on acetate as a magazine insert).

    This is the paradox of biometric authentication. The biometric characteristics of your retinas, fingerprints, hand geometry, gait, and DNA are actually pretty easy to come by without your knowledge or consent. Unless you never venture into public without a clean-room bunny-suit, mirrorshades, and sharp gravel in your shoes, you're not going to be able to stop dedicate strangers from capturing these measurements. And as with Schauble's fingerprints, you can't revoke your DNA and replace it with new DNA once a ripoff artist has used it to clean out your bank-account or break into your workplace.

    That's why cops use them, after all: it's nearly impossible to keep them to yourself, and once they're in the wild, they can be used against you.
    Tags: , by M. Fioretti (2014-09-12)
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  6. Despite our fingerprints all being unique, there is still the possibility to fool the systems used to protect secured buildings, large computer systems or financial institutions. There are well known ways to get around fingerprint biometric authentication, from creating false fingers (with prints) from gelatin, using good quality photographs or even a photocopy of fingerprints to fool scanners, or most upsettingly simply removing a finger from those with access rights. These and others are well known, in real life and in the semi-fictional world of Hollywood.

    Barclays' recent decision to use a finger vein scanner, which scans and pattern-matches the unique structure of the blood vessels in the finger. This has the benefit of only working when the finger is attached to the rest of the body and blood is flowing, which rules out the most grisly workarounds.
    Tags: , by M. Fioretti (2014-09-12)
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  7. UID, popularly known as Aadhaar, was conceptualised as a one stop solution as ID and address proof of the citizens of India. It was implemented to make programmes like the Public Distribution System efficient and ensure that benefits sent by the Government reach the right person.

    Aadhaar, despite being an important reform and a unique idea, was executed badly by the UPA. Over Rs 3,500 crore have been spent so far in the scheme which has already enrolled about 63 crore people. But it proved to be of no use to the people. The Congress-led UPA instead tried to use the crucial information for its personal gains during election by distributing money and enroll illegal immigrants to get India’s citizenship, who’ll ultimately vote for the Congress for its benevolence.

    During his campaign as BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi slammed the Congress-led UPA Government over the Aadhaar card project, questioning the deployment of massive funds for it, virtually smelling corruption.

    A previous NitiCentral report titled ‘Nilekani’s Aadhaar a danger to our privacy’, narrated how on March 10, 2014, the Mumbai Police busted a fake Aadhaar card and voter identity card racket in Byculla, which they believe is part of a much larger racket in creation of fake identities. Three persons were arrested for forgery of official records and their equipment, including iris and fingerprint scanners were seized. Among the fake election cards seized, at least three had different names but a similar number (ZHS 4001377).

    Instead of providing solutions, the UPA, due to poor planning, opened a can of worms. People might end up losing their privacy as crucial information (e.g. biometric data) is shared with foreign-based private operators, which could be misused by intelligence agencies to fulfil their nefarious intentions.

    Since all of the biometric data is being shared online, which is prone to hackers and snoops, with private operators, privacy of millions has been put at risk. Most of the companies working for UID are US-based and several of them reportedly had or are working for its intelligence agencies like CIA.
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  8. Early in 2010, the UIDAI issued a Notice inviting applications for hiring of biometrics consultant. This document carried a candid admission that there was a total absence of evidence about biometrics in the developing world.

    "There is a lack of a sound study that documents the accuracy achievable on Indian demographics (i.e., larger percentage of rural population) and in Indian environmental conditions (i.e., extremely hot and humid climates and facilities without air-conditioning)." And, "we could not find any credible study assessing the achievable accuracy in any of the developing countries. UIDAI has performed some preliminary assessment of quality of fingerprint data from Indian rural demographics and environments and the results are encouraging. The 'quality' assessment of fingerprint data is not sufficient to fully understand the achievable de-duplication accuracy."

    Yet, the decision had already been made that photographs, fingerprints and iris data would be collected, and numbers generated after 'de-duplication', relying entirely on biometrics.

    In November 2011, the Director General of the UIDAI said in an interview: "Capturing fingerprints, especially of manual labourers, is a challenge. The quality of fingerprints is bad because of the rough exterior of fingers caused by hard work, and this poses a challenge for later authentication." Reports on authentication published by the UIDAI in March and September 2012 abound with the uncertainties surrounding biometrics.

    This, then, is an experiment with the entire population as the laboratory, in which the poor and the undocumented will have more to lose than the rest.

    Whose transparency?
    Biometric identification systems are not about identity, but about identification. Biometrics are stored and authenticated by an agency, and claims that persons make about who they are will be determined by technology and the person who wields the technology. The individual has no control over this process.

    It is also about exclusion where either the technology fails, or where persons exercise their judgment and decide that they do not wish to be databased and transparent to the state and those controlling the data, or where those controlling the technology refuse recognition. In India, the language of voluntary enrolment has already given way to mandatory enrolment and seeding the UID number to get food in the public distribution system, to get work, to get cooking gas, to receive scholarships and pensions, to open and operate bank accounts, to register marriages, in rental agreements and sale deeds and wills. The poor have little choice in the matter.

    Whether biometrics can uniquely identify is not the point. The point is that the regular run of people will feel watched and tracked and tagged and profiled, and that will have consequences for the way in which they constitute their politics and its expression. The vulnerability of poverty exacerbates this threat to freedom. Of course there will be someone somewhere who will say that the poor have no use for freedom.


    the focus of the article is on the highly probable, in fact almost certain "tagging, tracking and profiling of people, with all due respects to the author, I beg to differ with her view that this would happen only to the poor. UID does not collect data on the poor alone, all though UIDAI has deceitfully couched the scheme as meant for the poor. UIDAI starts by saying the the UID Scheme is meant to provide identities to those who do not have IDs and proceeds to ask applicants to produce proof of identities! Secondly, the assumption that accurate identification of beneficiaries would lead better delivery of services is an extremely foolish one and intended to deceive politicians and bureaucrats into believing this falsehood. This too is a charade. The objective of the collection of biometrics is the vain hope that it could be somehow be used to control populations. Every dictator and tyrant, existing and potential, would like to give it a try. The democratically minded (like "Basic democracy" and "Guided democracy" practitioners) among this breed of politicians hope to "win" elections through devices such as cash transfers, which could be used as inducements to garner votes.
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  9. Firstly, biometrics allow for non-consensual authentication and identification. Newer, more advanced and more expensive biometric technologies usually violate human rights more extensively and intensively than older, more rudimentary and inexpensive biometrics. For example, it is possible to remotely harvest iris information when a person is wide awake without even being aware that their identification or authentication factors have been compromised. It isn't difficult to imagine ways to harvest someone's fingerprints and palm prints without their knowledge, and you cannot prevent a security camera from capturing your gait. You could use specialized software like Tor to surf the World Wide Web anonymously and cover your digital tracks, but it is much harder to leave no trail of DNA material in the real world.

    Secondly, biometrics rely on probabilistic matching rather than discrete matching - unlike, for example, a password that you use on a social media platform. In the 2007 draft of India's current Human DNA Profiling Bill, the preamble said "the Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid (DNA) analysis of body substances is a powerful technology that makes it possible to determine whether the source of origin of one body substance is identical to that of another, and further to establish the biological relationship, if any, between two individuals, living or dead, without any doubt." This extract from the bill was quoted in an ongoing court case to use tampered chain of custody for DNA as the means to seek exoneration of the accused. And the scientists on the committee insist that the DNA Data Bank Manager "...shall communicate, for the purposes of the investigation or prosecution in a criminal offence, the following information to a court, tribunal, law enforcement agency ... as to whether the DNA profile received is already contained in the Data Bank" - in other words, a "yes" or "no" answer. This is indeed odd for those who come from the world of Internet policy - especially when one DNA lab worker confidentially shared that after a DNA profile was generated the "standard operating procedure" included checking it against the DNA profile of the lab worker to ensure that there was no contamination during the process of generating the profile. This would not be necessary for older forms of biometrics such as the process of developing a photograph. In other words, chain of custody issues with every generation of biometric technology are getting more and more complex. In the developing world, the disillusioned want to believe that "technology is the solution." The fallibility of technology must determine its evidentiary status.

    Finally, biometrics are only machine-scrutable. This means machines and not human beings will determine whether you are guilty or innocent; whether you should get subsidized medicine, grain, or fuel; whether you can connect to the Internet via mobile phone, cybercafe or broadband. DNA evidence is not directly observable by judges and therefore the technology and equipment have to be made increasingly transparent so that ordinary citizens as well as the scientific community can audit their effectiveness.
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  10. Has Nilekani or Congress party ever informed that its biometric Aadhaar is going to be used for surveillance and security? Also is this the reason why very few MPs, MLAs and ministers from Congress have subjected themselves to biometric profiling of Aadhaar or NPR?
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