mfioretti: india* + control*

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  1. the technology is colliding with the rickety reality of India, where many people live off the grid or have fingerprints compromised by manual labor or age.

    Panna Singh, a 55-year-old day laborer in the northwestern state of Rajasthan who breaks stones used to build walls, says the machine recognized his scuffed-up fingerprints only a couple of times.

    “I’ve come twice today,” he said at a ration shop in the village of Devdungri. “That’s a full day of work, gone.”

    Iris scans are meant to resolve situations where fingerprints don’t work, but shops don’t yet have iris scanners.
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  2. 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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  3. “What we figured out was that in order to get everyone in the world to have basic access to the Internet, that’s a problem that’s probably billions of dollars,” he says. “Or maybe low tens of billions. With the right innovation, that’s actually within the range of affordability.”

    Zuckerberg made some calls, and the result was the formation last year of a coalition of technology companies that includes Ericsson, Qualcomm, Nokia and Samsung. The name of this group is, and it describes itself as “a global partnership between technology leaders, nonprofits, local communities and experts who are working together to bring the Internet to the two-thirds of the world’s population that doesn’t have it.”

    Based on that, you might think that will be setting up free wi-fi in the Sahara and things like that, but as it turns out, the insight that makes the whole thing feasible is that it’s not about building new infrastructure. Using maps and data from Ericsson and NASA—-including a fascinating data set called the Gridded Population of the World, which maps the geographical distribution of the human species—plus information mined from Facebook’s colossal user base, the team at Facebook figured out that most of their work was already done. Most humans, or about 85% of them, already have Internet access, at least in the minimal sense that they live within range of a cell tower with at least a 2G data network. They’re just not using it.
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  4. Progetti illuministici come Connectivity Lab e vogliono portare la rete a quei due terzi di popolazione mondiale che naviga al massimo nella fame. Perché “nessuno dovrebbe essere costretto a scegliere tra l’accesso a Internet e il cibo o le medicine”, recita il Vangelo secondo Zuckerberg. Viene tralasciato che non esistono evidenze empiriche che certifichino che una società più connessa è una società in cui le persone stanno meglio. Inoltre il colonialista 2.0 mascherato da filantropo in calzoncini ripropone l’idea di un capitalismo perverso, di stampo ottocentesco, alla Dickens. Il compromesso vittoriano del 2014 è quello del grande proprietario di Big Data che elargisce la connessione low cost, o addirittura gratis, agli indigenti digitali. Il mecenate di Menlo Park non chiede troppo in cambio: pretende “solo” i dati di tutti gli abitanti del mondo.
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  5. 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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  6. 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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  7. 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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  8. The electoral verdict is evidence against the diagnosis and remedy of World Bank Group and its Indian votaries. The verdict indicates that political parties that support Aadhaar are bound to pay heavy electoral cost for their involvement and complicity in putting citizens to inconvenience through tried, tested and failed identification technologies of transnational companies.
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  9. Domestic cooking gas consumers who have not linked their Aadhaar number to liquefied petroleum gas connection number and bank account within the given grace period will not be eligible for subsidised cylinders. This was the underlying message from the Union Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas in a press release on Monday, about the Direct Benefit Transfer for LPG (DBTL) scheme.
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  10. Surely, all this is being done by an elected government then why are we worried? Because of the lack of safeguards. The Right to Privacy bill is still in the works (if there is one, we haven’t heard of it) and there are no basic guarantees from the government to protect privacy of the Indian citizen yet.
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