mfioretti: india* + privacy*

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  1. should Central and State governments, banks and insurance companies, mobile phone operators, educational institutions, airlines and hospitals be vested with the draconian power to take coercive action against any person who does not have Aadhaar verification and to deprive him or her of basic services and benefits?

    This is the far-reaching, game-changing, mind-wrenching judgment that Justices Dipak Misra, Sikri, Khanwilkar, Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan will have to deliver. It is an onerous task; and an awesome responsibility. It will alter the equation between citizenship and society, governance and commerce for generations to come.

    And, moreover, it is irreversible. Once Aadhaar is made mandatory, it will be meaningless to declare it to be voluntary or optional through some future judicial review.
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2017-12-17)
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  2. There are serious consequences of putting so much power in the hands of one authority that will be working under the beck and call of the government of India. Not only will this regulator have the power to inspect records and data in the guise of data audits, it will also be able to levy fines that can bankrupt businesses and regulate Indian companies with enough red tape to make them uncompetitive in a global marketplace. If it seems like I am exaggerating, just look back into history and see the legacy of Indian regulation – be it the Industrial Licensing Act, 1951 or the Essential Commodities Act, 1956. Indian politicians and babudom have demonstrated a superb ability to throttle free enterprise.

    As the Indian economy becomes more digitised and generates the avalanche of data that everybody is betting on, this data regulator will accumulate more power over the ‘oil of the 21st century’. With more regulation, there will be consequences on civil liberties. Take for example the role of social media today, especially Facebook, Twitter and Google which provide Indian public debate with a much-needed lifeline in the age of a compromised mainstream media. There currently exist few options for the Indian government to control and regulate platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google. A data regulator will however presumably have power to substantially regulate these platforms and that will have consequences for our ability to use the platforms to communicate and debate issues of importance.
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2017-12-08)
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  3. Unlike the Passport Officer, the RTO, the Electoral Officer, the CEO of UIDAI does not take any legal liability to certify the number as a proof of anyone’s identity, address or existence. Furthermore no one has verified or audited the database to establish how many of the billion numbers that are linked to data submitted by the outsourced parties are real individuals.

    The resulting Aadhaar database is the database being used to “purify”, as described by Ajay Bhushan Pandey the CEO of UIDAI, all databases that are seeded with Aadhaar. The seeding of other databases with the Aadhaar number is also unlike any other identification document. This seeding threatens to exclude the genuine and include the fake into other existing databases by seeding Aadhaar to other databases. The case of over 13,000 fake employees in Satyam’s who got salaries every month for years before being exposed is still fresh in India.

    As the government embarks to link the entire Consolidated Fund of India’s receipts and expenditure to this database, is it not reasonable to establish some CAG certificate on the existence of every person in this database?

    Mr. Nilekani has often highlighted the use of biometric to authenticate who you are as the core strength of the Aadhaar database. What he fails to state is that even if biometric could uniquely establish your identity uniquely throughout your life, which it cannot, its use for authentication is absurd.

    Once stolen, your biometric can be used, in a multiple of ways differing in simplicity and ease, by the thief, to perpetuate crimes that will be attributed to you and may be difficult, if not impossible, for you to deny.

    It is precisely this difference between the enrolment and use models of the Aadhaar in comparison with any other ID are a threat to you as well as the nation.
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  4. In this article, we ask if the legal foundations on which the Aadhaar operates match up to the requirements of a program that is likely to touch the lives of all citizens of India. Can we, as citizens of India, be satisfied that there are enough checks and balances in the functioning of Aadhaar?

    This is important as we have already started seeing implementation problems in the form of failure of bio-metric authentication, server and connectivity problems, cryptic error messages, and the irrevocability of the bio-metric, all of which have left the Aadhaar number holder and intended recipient of a subsidy without any remedy. As well, in the absence of an over-arching privacy law, our regulatory surveillance architecture is heavily weighted in favour of the State leading to the very real possibility of strengthening mass surveillance with little regard for the effect on individuals' rights to privacy.
    Tags: , , , , by M. Fioretti (2017-03-27)
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  5. In Ghagaon, where a women’s cooperative runs the fair price shop, the internet has not worked even once. “We have to stand on the wall, or go near the pond, and ask everyone to come there to look for signal on the point of sale device,” said Mongra Sidar, a Gond Adivasi. “Or, we try inside the ration shop, then one person has to climb the chabootra elevated platform » , while another person stands on the ground to note down the details in the notebook.”

    In Raipur, officials said one lakh out of three lakh transactions using fingerprint authentication did not go through – a failure rate as high as 30%. They attributed the failures primarily to network connectivity problems and skin abrasions on fingers.
    Photographs as backup

    With fingerprint authentication failing for even genuine card holders who have been verified by local authorities, Chhattisgarh has come with an innovation: ration shop owners have been asked to take photographs of such people before giving them food rations.

    This photograph is stored in the government’s server. “It will serve as deterrent to ration dealers that even if there is a complaint six months later, the government can check if grains were given to the right beneficiaries,”

    “Earlier, we sent one boy on the bicycle to lift the rations for three households,” lamented Tapaswani Yadav, a middle-aged woman. “Now, it is a waste of time for everyone. Many elderly persons cannot walk, it is difficult for a few to even sit astride a motorcycle.”

    She added: “The machine is so slow, sometimes people reach the ration shop in the morning and return when the day is over.”

    Five technologies need to work together for biometric authentication to be successful – the point of sale device, internet connectivity, biometrics, the National Informatics Centre server, and the Unique Identity Authority of India servers. Invariably, one of the five fails.

    Shyamlal Dansena, the ration dealer in Dilari panchayat in Raigarh, said fingerprint authentication failed for 20% of the ration card holders on an average. But in October, he had to give grains to all 386 ration card holders after taking their photographs since the Samsung tablet purchased by the panchayat for enabling the Aadhaar-based transactions had stopped functioning.

    Dansena was preparing to travel 20 kilometers to Raigarh to get the tablet repaired. “The food officer said we can give November month’s grains only after the software is loaded again,” he said.
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  6. 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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  7. The real concern and apprehension is one about the exclusion of beneficiaries in the transition from a non-Aadhaar regime to an Aadhaar regime for an existing welfare programme. There are plenty of examples in India’s administrative history to learn from, such as the EC’s move from a non-voter identity era to an identified voter regime to curb bogus voting. The availability of choice between the old and the new options for a beneficiary is the cornerstone of such transitions. As long as Aadhaar penetration is not 100 per cent, for an existing programme, the choice of both Aadhaar and non-Aadhaar identities needs to be made available to ensure the non-exclusion of beneficiaries. However, for a new welfare programme to be launched, Aadhaar as a prerequisite is...

    That there is no law for redress against private information abuse is a legitimate argument. But that is an overarching problem in India, one that applies as much to bureaucrats using Google’s email facility for most of their executive functions as it does to Aadhaar. It needs to be addressed by legislating a right to privacy act.
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  8. how far are we in India from securing the right to be forgotten on the Internet?

    The short answer to that is, very far. That is because India does not have a well-defined privacy regime wherein one could envisage a court of law handing out a similar — and some would say a somewhat radical — order on a Google or a Bing. “The right to be forgotten is a bit too advanced for us,” says Sunil Abraham, director, Centre for Internet and Society, a non-profit organisation that works on policy issues relating to freedom of expression and privacy. “After all, we are yet to come up with a privacy and data protection regime that implements the best practices of European countries.”

    Adds Apar Gupta, a Delhi-based lawyer, who has written extensively on privacy issues, “Sector specific privacy legislation do exist, but they do not provide substantive rights or efficient remedy in case of violations.”
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  9. 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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  10. The latest controversy involving the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is a testament to the basic privacy concerns raised at the scheme’s inception and repeatedly thereafter. In a sense, the Goa court order that sparked this particular incident — directing the UIDAI to give the CBI the biometrics of all enrolled people in the state in order to help investigate the gangrape of a seven-year-old girl — was inevitable.
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