Thursday, December 30, 2010
IS THE UNIQUE IDENTITY SCHEME A PROGRESSIVE STEP OR A WINDOW FOR DATA THEFT
- topic for the Live talk on 6th Dec 2010 – as part of the weekly debate called “The Big Battle” conducted on every Monday between 8.30 am and 10.00 am on Chennai Live 104.8FM, Chennai’s only English Radio Station.
Edel was the RJ for the show.
Sanjay Pinto, Executive Editor, NDTV-HINDU was the moderator for the debate
Kris Dev, Social Activist and e-Gov Consultant, winner of Manthan Award for Unique Identification and Biometric Tracking of Beneficiaries of Payments under NREGS, co-founder of the International Transparency and Accountability Network and President & CEO, Life Line to Business, Chennai was one of the panelists. His stand was “UID scheme is a progressive step”.
Vinay Aravind, a Lawyer specializing in technology, Principal Associate, Poovayya & Co., Advocates & Solicitors, Chennai was the other panelist and his stand is “UID scheme is a window for data theft”.
Good Morning, I am Sanjay Pinto (SP).
SP: “By the end of this financial year 100 million of you will get a 12 digit number which will accompany your name that is the unique identification number and by 2014 add another 300 million to that. So we are asking you the big question on the Big Battle “IS THE UNIQUE IDENTITY SCHEME A PROGRESSIVE STEP OR A WINDOW FOR DATA THEFT?”
Kris Dev an Activist and winner of Manthan Award for biometric implementation in rural India believes that it is a progressive step – after that award, definitely he would think that way.
But Vinay Arvind the lawyer who deals with technology believes that it is a window for data theft and there are several loopholes as well.
Good morning gentlemen. Welcome to the Big Battle.
SP: Kris to you first: Now Nandan Nilekani, Chairperson of the UIDAI says it will enable inclusive growth; it will plug leakages in public expenditure. I ask you: exclusion and leakages are not because of one’s inability to prove identity; it’s caused by the deliberate manipulation of the system. BPL families who have ration cards are unable to get their quote of food grains not because they cannot prove the validity of their cards are disputed but because there are corrupt ration shop owners who don’t give them their due. Scholarship meant for poor dalit students, don’t reach the destination not because they cannot prove that they are dalits, because teachers and school administrators pocket the money and deny them the privileges. Women workers in NREGA don’t get their full quota not because they are not able to prove that they have worked more than the men if not as much as men but because supervisors and pay masters believe that women do not deserve the same wage and therefore pocket them. So I am asking you directly exclusion plugging leakages - answer.
KD: Sanjay, you are absolutely right. You hit the nail on the head, when you say that there is so much of endemic problem in the system – whether it is PDS or NREGA or microfinance, in all these sectors. To me the single solution, the magic wand that can eliminate all these problems is UID. You may question me how I am making this statement so vociferously. I am very clear a single unique identification and a fail-proof tracking system alone can change this. And a tracking system where you give a biometric smart card and an encrypted number. I don’t vouch for a 12 digit number. I would hit a 25 digit number.
SP: All right Sir, may I stop you right here Sir?
SP: 150 million people are likely to be excluded from the benefits of the UID scheme. Look at this. I shall give you statistics. In fact 30 million people currently holding NREGA jobs reported exclusion because there is no conclusive proof of identity to claim payment. Many of them in fact who worked on the field have their fingerprints are not clear; there is something called false negative. There are several people whose iris scan cannot be really done because they have corneal blindness. 6-8 million of these people have corneal blindness and diseases in fact for which iris scan cannot really be done. These are statistics from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. So what fool proof mechanism are we talking about?
KD: Sanjay, whatever statistics you have given is given by people who do not want to see systems in place.
SP: No, no you dispute this.
KD: I am very clear about that.
SP: All India Institute of Medical Sciences do not want to see this in place? There are private hospitals who are going to have access to the database. And for what? There is vested corporate interest, an axe to grind?
KD: I think there is a basic mistake in the premise. I am not here to argue for the government’s UIDAI project. I am here to argue for UID as a concept for unique identification and fool proof tracking.
SP: I am glad you made a distinction between government UID and UID, because it has no government sanction; it has no legal sanction. It has in fact not gone through the process of law making. It has no constitutional validity.
SP: Let me ask the lawyer now. Vinay Aravind, what are the loop-holes you have spotted in the UID. For instance, invasion of privacy. They have side stepped these basic issues.
VA: Fundamentally India is a country that doesn’t have a privacy jurisprudence. There is just this one Rajagopalan case . And there is also the PUCL case which clearly states there is no general law of privacy in India.
SP: Yes. Rajagopalan case of 1994 and PUCL case of 1996; but there is also the Hindu Marriage Act, there is Contract Act, there is CrPC, there is Juvenile Justice Act - all which talk of - there is international covenant on civil and political rights, article 21 of the constitution which guarantee protection of privacy. Bur this scheme many believe intrudes your privacy.
VA: Sanjay all of that taken together still provides very little jurisprudence. I advise clients regularly. We have foreign clients come and ask ‘what is the privacy law in India? What should we be careful against? I feel bad to say, there is very little to protect the privacy of people. ’ In a country like India with such a weak privacy jurisprudence, I don’t think enough due diligence has been done on the privacy impact of a project like UID before launching it. There is no due diligence happening right now. There is not enough attention being paid to privacy concern. Frankly, I think whatever the potential benefits may be, the potential harm that may come
SP: Outweigh these potential benefits. Kris Dev to take off from Vinay Aravind, he knows what he is talking about. He is a lawyer who specializes in technology.
KD: I can’t vouch for it. Just because he is a lawyer it does not mean he knows what he is talking
SP: As a Moderator, I will vouch for it. Let me ask you, do you get marketing SMS and calls when you are having a nap?
SP: All right. A country that cannot protect its database when it comes to TRAI, database are sold today. The Do Not Call Registry has become a joke, and imagine what will happen when we put out all these details and is up for public consumption.
KD: Absolutely. If people like whom you mention are running the show, this is what will happen.
SP: Who are these people?
KD: I don’t know. You are telling names.
SP: Who are these people I mentioned.
KD: I don’t know.
SP: TRAI. TRAI.
KD: You are putting words in my mouth.
SP: No I am not putting words in your mouth.
KD: Let me tell you Sanjay very clearly, what my concept is. You can call me in some way the father of unique identity implementation on the ground in rural India. I had done that in 2006. I got the national award – the Manthan Award. I am not blowing my trumpets. But what I want to tell you is, I am very clear in the concept as to how unique ID can be made secure; secure to the citizen. It can protect his rights as a citizen; and it can empower every citizen to demand and get what is due to them.
SP: Let me quote something. Section 33 of the Draft Bill empowers the NIDAI to disclose personal data – data on an order from the court in the case of national security or orders of a Joint Secretary. The IT Act and the Telegraph Act says any such disclosure made only on written orders of the Union Home Secretary. There itself, there is a violation. Personal and household data is being collected through the census 2010 and for the National Population Register. The information given for the census is not open to inspection or admissible as evidence. Here there is a clear contradiction. The law of the land is violated Sir.
KD: Yeah. O.K. Then you should change the law. I am not the person answerable for that. I can only answer for UID and I have a fool proof mechanism to make it secure. If you want to listen to me, I shall tell you the methodology for implementation.
SP: Please, please, we want to listen to you.
KD: O.K. My idea is, you introduce let’s say, a 20 or 25 digit random, encrypted, unique ID number for every citizen which nobody will know except the system. So no individual can know what his unique ID number is or anybody else number. Then how do you relate the unique ID? You issue a biometric smart card and the fingerprint, retina, iris, facial, palm vein and DNA – any one of these can be linked to the unique ID through the backend. It is like you holding a bank locker where you have a key and the banker has a key and unless it is jointly put, the locker cannot be opened. I asked the lawyer a few minutes ago, “do you know how the locker system works? Is it secure for the individual who has put his goods into the locker”? He said, Yes. And I am telling, in a UID system, you can have a triple lock and not just two locks. When you make things transparent, you cannot make all these allegations.
SP: Let me again quote – a NREGA beneficiary with worn out fingers may present his newly issued UID card as a conclusive proof of identity and claim payment and be rejected. I told you there are worn out fingers. There are false negatives. There is something called the degree and direction of pressure applied by placing the finger on the sensor. Excessive or greasy skin or dry skin. Distortions caused by entering a three dimensional object on a plane surface. There are noise and inconsistencies. That will blur the captured image. I am putting several limitations of the system. This has also been admitted by UIDAI scheme itself. The limitation is recognized in a working paper which states that fingerprint authentication is not fool proof.
KD: Sanjay, just because there are limitations, do not throw away the bath tub with the baby. Let me tell you, just because the internet is hacked, we do not throw away the internet. You see, the law maker is intelligent. But the law breaker is more intelligent. So the law maker has to make himself double more intelligent to break the law breaker.
SP: Will that ever happen?
VA: Kris, the problem is not technology. Even in a situation where I assume the technology is absolutely perfect, it is going to be run by the same politicians and bureaucrats (SP adds: absolutely) that nobody in this country has any faith in. Kris would you say you have faith in those people?
KD: No, no, no. My friend, the problem is you don’t trust the people, you don’t trust yourself. I am saying, did you doubt when you registered for an internet account? There is an agency called ICANN. It is an international agency and it is a publicly audited agency. I have been writing in so many articles that UIDAI should be an independent citizens’ authority, monitored by the citizens. Government should have no role over it, so that people like Sanjay and you have no doubts over it.
SP: Fair enough. That’s valid point Kris. We respect your views. That’s why you are on the Big Battle. But that’s an idealistic situation. You are giving us a case where you are plugging the loopholes yourself and this is how it should be but that is not how it is. We come back to it in a short while from now.
Edel: That was a very, very interesting discussion.
It’s the Big Battle from Chennai Live 104.8 FM
SP: Welcome back to the second round of Big Battle. I’m Sanjay Pinto. “Is the unique identity scheme a progressive step” as Kris Dev, Activist certainly believes or “is it a window for data theft”? as Vinay Aravind, a lawyer who specializes in technology apprehends.
Kris Dev, to you first. Kris Dev, but what’s your full name? It’s GopalaKrishnan Devanathan!
KD: Yes. GopalaKrishnan Devanathan.
SP: O.K. But what about those who are slightly superstitious? If they get a number and they are stuck with it for the rest of their lives. Even politicians add a letter to their name. There are people who apply for a fancy number and pay money to the public department officially to get those numbers. What happens to those who get a number? It’s in a lighter vein.
KD: Sanjay, I cut my name, because name is immaterial.
SP: All right.
KD: It’s the material that matters. The number just doesn’t matter, because it is at the backend. You don’t need to remember. Unfortunately people all the time think that they have to remember a 12 digit number. I am talking of a 25 digit or 50 digit number which nobody can know and it is encrypted and stored.
SP: Today nobody remembers even their phone numbers because it is stored in their phone memory. But anyway Kris, back on a serious note, something called, I am not calling you names.
KD: But you have already called me names.
SP: No. No. I have called you by your name. There is something called functionality creep and misuse of data. What is this actually? The centralized database where data is stored can be linked to other databases and the biometric information collected could be used for policing purposes. That’s possible. The bill does not contain any mechanism for credible and independent oversight and also the government may add features. You know what happens when profiling is done. You know what happened in 1947; the anti-Sikh riots in 1984; and the carnage in 2002. So it can be used for undemocratic, illegal and unethical and ethnic purposes.
KD: Yes. You are right Sanjay. I agree with you. If you allow things to go undemocratic, there is no way to stop it. If you want to kill the goose that lays golden eggs thinking you are going to get all together that’s what you are trying to do.
SP: Golden egg or rotten egg?
KD: I don’t vouch for what you are saying. Let me tell you very clearly, as I have always been mentioning, I am envisaging a model of a hub and spokes model of connectivity. You may ask me what it is. It is like a cycle wheel – a hub and spokes to the rim. Every village in the country, 650,000 villages are networked together. They are connected. A cluster of villages is connected to a block. A cluster of blocks is connected to a district. A cluster of districts is connected to a state. And a cluster of states is connected to the nation. That’s how a hub and spokes model of connectivity is networked.
SP: Were you a Professor in your earlier avatar?
KD: Yes. I was. So now what it means is, any citizen, anywhere in India can be uniquely identified by a number and tracked where he is or she is. So there is no need for duplication. You mentioned about 150 million people being left out of NREGA or PDS scheme. No one, no single soul in India can be left out. My idea is that UID must be mandatory not only for citizens but for every resident and every visitor coming into India.
SP: I will come to that. That’s an interesting point. Because it covers migrant labour. Vinay, it can actually cover non-citizens. You can track those not entitled to benefits but getting the benefits.
VA: Sanjay, I’m not doubting the professed benefits of the UID Scheme. There is a lot of good that can be potentially achieved. But you have to weigh the benefits with the disadvantages. In a country like India, what is the safeguard the NIDAI Act provides? On a court order, this information can be released to any government authority. You know how easy it is to get a court order in this country. The lower judiciary and to an extent the higher judiciary is thoroughly corrupt. And that is the only safeguard. And that is the only thing stopping your information from reaching anybody’s hands. And now in a situation like that, those benefits, I don’t think are significant enough to warrant a situation where we move towards a police state where your private information is available for sale to anybody and everybody. The development priorities of a country like India are better served in other ways than to be embarking on this ambitious and highly dangerous project.
SP: Absolutely. Let’s see the pulse of Chennai through our listeners. We have got Mr. Raghavan on the phone line. A Social Worker. Good Morning Mr. Raghavan. Welcome to the Big Battle. What do you feel. Are you in favour of the UID Scheme?
Mr. Ragahvan: Good Morning Sanjay Pinto. I’m Raghavan. Actually according to my words, it is a window for data theft only, purely. Because what I am saying is, what about the voter’s ID given in India? The same thing. The government have to give full safety and security to each and every citizen who have given the total details to the government. O.K.
KD: Can I respond Mr. Raghavan?
SP: Mr. Kris Dev wants to join issues with you Mr. Raghavan. Please stay on the line.
KD: Mr. Raghavan, you are saying that it is an opportunity for theft of data. How secure is your life and information surrounding you, the personal information today, in a non UID environment?
Mr. Raghavan: Now you see, in the present situation, what kind of security and safeguard given to the citizen?
KD: I’m asking you the same question. I’m asking you do you think the life and data around you is secure now?
SP: The Choice is worse than the disease in that case.
KD: No, If you say no, then I have a plan or the scheme where it can be made secure. And if you don’t want to accept it, it is called the fear of the unknown. You don’t k now what is going to come. So if there was fear of unknown, we all would not be getting married and producing children because we have never done that before.
VA: But Kris, we are not talking about Kris’s UID Scheme; we are not talking of Nadan Nilekani’s UID Scheme.
KD: No. No. Sorry, I think there is a mistake. You are bringing in names. The very debate is on UID scheme and not Nandan’s UID scheme. Nandan is an individual.
SP: He is the Chairman of UIDAI. We are not talking of individuals.
KD: Let’s talk of the UID scheme which can be made fool proof. Can it be made fool proof or not is the debate and not go with a tooth pick to go into the details of the Act and saying whether it is o.k. or not.
SP: Why you are nick picking Vinay? I ‘ll come to you Vinay in a minute. In fact another thing Nandan Nilekani said is that there will be significant saving to the state exchequer by eliminating fraud and duplicate identities. The ministry of petroleum alone is estimated to save over Rs. 1,200 crores every year in subsidies now reportedly lost on LPG cylinders registered under bogus identities. So there is some kind of identity ..
VA: Sanjay you mean to say Rs. 1,200 crores is the price for our civil liberties?
KD: No. No.
SP: Yes. Yes.
KD: Sanjay, that is only the tip of the iceberg.
SP: He is asking you some question.
KD: I’m coming to that. Do you know in the PDS scheme we are losing about Rs. 20,000 crores to Rs. 30,000 crores every year? Are you aware of that? Officially the records are 20-40% of the PDS ration cards are bogus. And we are issuing rice at Re. 1 a kilo, we are giving free TV, free …, so many freebies are being given. Where are all the accounts for these bogus ration cards?
SP: All right. Despite having those ration cards, whether bogus or not, the Supreme Court had to say you have got millions of people dying of starvation and you have got food rotting in godowns. They don’t need a UID number. They already have ration cards. They already have proof of identity. Why are people dying of starvation in our country when we have our godowns full? This is a great grain waste actually.
KD: Absolutely. You are talking to one who filed an RTI petition to the Punjab Warehousing Corporation (SP: That’s why I’m asking you) where they said that the value lost in sale of inferior quality wheat which has gone rotten stored in the warehouses is Rs. 100 crores.
O.K. So now, the system is so beautiful that on one side we are having surplus food grains rotting in the warehouses. Because there is not sufficient food grains, we are importing food grains. On the third hand, they do not have systems to deliver the food grains to where the people need it. And on the fourth hand, we have farmers who commit suicide because they cannot have two square meals a day.
SP: All right. And they will stop committing suicide the moment they have the UID number?
KD: The moment you have a UID, see in my opinion as the co-founder of the International Transparency and Accountability Network, there must be total transparency and accountability in every action of every individual and organization
SP: That is what we call ythe killer instinct of Kris Dev. All this and more in a short while form now.
SP: Welcome back to the Big Battle. You just heard Kris Dev actually complaining about the coffee. That was not a mistake. That was deliberate. We wanted to actually test Kris Dev. Complaining about the coffee (KD: To test if I am still sensitive or gone insensitive!). But you are not complaining about the UID scheme. Is the unique identity scheme a progressive step or a window for data theft. Kris Dev an Activist believes .. he is batting non stop almost, he is going to score a century in this show also. I know he is very passionate about it. We respect your views, Kris. Vinay Aravind a lawyer who deals with technology has serious reservations about the UID scheme.
Kris let me start with you again.
KD: Why don’t you start with Vinay so that he can air his views also.
SP: As a Moderator, I see more merit on his side than yours. All Right. That’s why I’m asking you again. The data security. We know how many government web sites have been hacked. Recently the CBI’s web site was hacked. Not long ago the Indian Defense establishments web sites were hacked. Let me quote for you: this is in fact a confidential working paper titled “Creating a unique identity number for every resident in India”. It was recently posted on wiki-leaks. And the leak document admits that the UID database would be susceptible to attacks and leaks at various levels. I ask you a question Kris. If a country and its team cannot protect its own confidential documents, how can it protect the data of the citizens – your data and my data from the leak?
KD: Sanjay, I think there is a basic mistake in the premise that the country that it cannot defend itself and its documents.
SP: CBI’s website was hacked.
KD: That is because of the basic inefficiency of organizations. I do not want to go into merits and demerits of that. It is the right of every citizen – 120 crores of people to defend themselves. And if you say that such a strong force cannot do it, there is something wrong with you and not the system.
VA: There is nothing that is unhackable. There is no system that is utterly and completely ...
KD: Do you want to shut the internet completely?
VA: No absolutely not. The benefits of the internet far out way the potential harm that it can do. Whereas with the UID..
KD: That’s what you think. That’s what you think. Do you have proof of it?
VA: I don’t think it’s relevant here.
KD: No. It is relevant, because the same way, the UID also, the advantages would far, far out way the minority disadvantages. Now the question is, there is a caveat to whatever I say: “provided proper checks and balances are in place”.
VA: Kris, the problem is that your caveats are unrealistic. There is no possibility that this independent, internationally monitored, non governmental entity is going to be given charge of a database like this. And there is no possibility of such a thing happening ..
SP: Let me add on to this..
KD: All that you are saying is the powers that be will not allow such a thing to happen.
SP: Cool down. Cool down. I just want to ask you something. You are very passionate about your work. It’s more than evident. We know you. We can vouch for Kris Dev as an Activist.
KD: Thank you, I appreciate that.
SP: We shall vouch for it. It’s not to flatter you. But he is asking you a very pertinent question. Vinay Aravind the young man straight from the Indian Law School has years of practice..
KD: Yes. I can see he is much younger than what I am.
SP: But with sufficient visibility on the Big Battle. And he is speaking sense. He is asking you a simple question. You are giving us ..
KD: Sanjay, as a Moderator, you are not supposed to take sides that somebody is talking sense and somebody is not talking sense.
SP: No. No. I am not saying you are not. I am saying he is talking sense. I have every right to say that as a Moderator. I want to encourage a young man who is speaking from his heart.
KD: For sure.
SP: So Kris, he is asking you, he is telling you, that you are using one caveat after another. You are trying to plug all the loopholes in the scheme yourself. And saying this is an ideal scheme. Defend it. We are telling you, we are pointing out over the last hour almost. I have been giving you one instance after another. I’ll give you by the end of the show, 1025 reasons why we should not go ahead with the UID scheme.
KD: Sanjay I wish and I only hope Manmohan Singh and Nadan Nilekani are listening to our conversation.
SP: They can’t listen to it.
KD: Or at least our loud voice can be heard by them.
SP: Our loud voice can reach NDTV which is of course across the country. But unfortunately we are heard only in Chennai.
Let’s see from some other countries. I want to quote for you. May I? I would like to quote for you.
KD: I’m already aware. But go ahead and quote.
SP: The first act of the new government in UK was to scrap the UID project. And what did Theresa May the UK Home Secretary said, I quote: “The National Identity Card Scheme represents the worst of government. It’s intrusive, it’s bullying, it’s ineffective, it’s expensive. It’s an assault on individual liberty. It does not promise a great deal good. The government is dismantling it. The role of identity Commissioner created in an effort to prevent so called data blunders and leaks will be terminated”.
KD: O.K. See this is a clear case where they did not want systems in place for the progress of the nation. Because they think they are a developed nation and privacy is of prime importance. But in a country where 800 million are below poverty line, privacy is not an issue (SP & VA: Is it a luxury). One second. Empowering an individual is important. After 55 years, they tell me I need a Birth Certificate to get a Ration Card, there is something wrong in the system. I’m born here in India. I’m entitled to a Birth Certificate the minute I was born. And that should be available in my database.
VA: Why don’t we have an autocratic set-up in India?
KD: We are not talking of an autocratic system.
VA: 800 million are to be lifted out of poverty and civil liberties are the price that we are willing to pay.
KD: I never said that. I never said that. In fact I want to protect the civil liberties of those 800 million people which you want to kill by not having a system in place. Precisely that.
SP: 38 million people in the country don’t have proper fingerprints because of the hard labour they do and also because of corneal defects according to AIIMS. I gave you those figures. Where is the inclusion here?
KD: No. No. It’s totally wrong. I have gone into the field and have done the survey myself hands-on. You are talking from figures available on paper. You are talking to someone who has done the work in the field. I can tell you, today a Debit Card or a Credit Card has got only two controls. The Card and the PIN number; whereas a biometric system will have a third element which is called the fingerprint or iris or retina or facial or palm vein or DNA, which can be made fool proof. So you need not say that somebody may not have all the ten fingers and hence no fingerprints.
SP: Does UID scheme have a DNA?
KD: Yes. Absolutely. Already this has been implemented.
VA: Kris, the problem is, there are two levels of information. Fool proof identification. I can give it to you. They may achieve it. But fool proof of protection of your information. Some people should not be getting their hands on it. I don’t see them talking about it. I don’t see you talking about it.
KD: No. You don’t see them talking about it. Not me. You have never read articles which are written on this which have appeared in newspapers. How it can be protected. It is very simple. Let me tell you if you don’t know it. Every individual has a right to his information and no one else has a right to that information as long as it is privy to him. Meaning that, he does not infringe on the rights of others. The minute he infringes on the rights of others, then you have a right to know what is happening.
VA: Court order security?
KD: Yes. Court order security. You are saying that court orders are not secure. Well it can be made secure. Once there is transparency and accountability, then there can be no corruption.
VA: Only in Utopia UID can be implemented.
KD: Not Utopia. Not Utopia.
SP: A judgment was leaked. What security?
KD: See. We are living in an environment where we cannot think out of the box.
SP: Judgment was leaked in the Law Journal even before it was pronounced in the court.
KD: The problem is that you have a phobia of everything. You cannot think out of the box.
SP: As a journalist I will be cynical. Every citizen is entitled to be cynical in India.
VA: I admire..
KD: You are living in a corrupt world and naturally you cannot think outside the corruption.
KD: I’m sorry for that.
SP: You and I are part of that corrupt world.
KD: I’m sorry for that.
SP: You and I are part of that corrupt world. Whether you like it or not.
KD: I’m sorry for that.
SP: Why are you filing RTIs? Why are you filing RTIs?
KD: My mission is to educate the 120 crores of Indians saying that please ..
SP: Kris Dev wants to be made Chairperson of UID Scheme. Now he also wants to be made the Human Resources Minister. HRD Minister and UIDAI Chairperson.
KD: I have already volunteered my service. It’s a different matter they have not accepted my services. I have already volunteered my service to UIDAI on no payment basis. But they have not accepted my services.
SP: Why? Why? Why they are not accepting.
KD: You should ask them and not me. I won’t know why. My point is very clear.
SP: They feel it is not possible to put in place all checks and balances. My services are available pro bono to NDTV-HINDU also if you want to implement such a system. Now the question is are you open to implement such a system?
SP: I can’t speak for that on a show like this. It has to be done separately. I am now throwing the challenge to the people of India are you prepared to accept such a challenge. Kris Dev throws an open challenge to the listeners of Chennai Live 104.8 FM.
SP: What is the challenge once again?
KD: The challenge is: “Are you ready to transform India? Are you with me? Let’s introduce UID as a model scheme for India and show case. We can start with a village or a town and then show case it”.
SP: Are you planning to contest elections?
KD: May be!
SP: Welcome back to the Big Battle. “IS THE UNIQUE IDENTITY SCHEME A PROGRESSIVE STEP OR A WINDOW FOR DATA THEFT”? I’m Sanjay Pinto. Joining you on the panel Kris Dev an Activist Kris Dev believes it is a progressive step. Vinay Aravind, a lawyer who specializes in technology, somebody who has dealt with several cases of data theft, believes there are several loopholes and it’s certainly an opportunity for data theft.
SP: Let me go to Vinay Aravind as Kris almost gestures, don’t ask me any more questions; go to Vinay Aravind. But before that we have got Vinay’s namesake, we have got Aravind on the phone line.
Good morning Aravind. Welcome to the Big Battle.
Aravind: Hi Sanjay. Hi panelists.
SP: Hi, Good morning. What’s your take Aravind?
Aravind: It’s absolutely important that we go in for this UID.
KD: Oh! Thank you very much.
SP: Finally a supporter for Kris Dev. Go ahead, go ahead.
KD: But what controls do you suggest?
Aravind: I just wanted to call and voice my support for Kris.
SP: Sure, sure. Go ahead, go ahead.
Aravind: It’s very important that the person who is going to implement it and is
going to monitor this scheme is of utmost .. We need to have a person who is really strong and he or she should not be disturbed or influenced by the government according to their whims and fancies. That’s very important. Ultimately
SP: How do we ensure that Aravind?
Aravind: Under Mr. Kris; has a lot of things
SP: But, he is not the Chairperson. Nandan Nilekani is.
KD: Aravind, I didn’t call up and ask you to talk for me, I’m sure.
VA: Aravind, is it enough if that one person is honest?
KD: No, no.
VA: This database is going to be accessed by thousands of government departments.
Aravind: It does not necessarily have to be one single person. A person or a body or a panel or a committee, whatever it is.
KD: A citizens’ body.
VA: What about the rest of the government that is going to use that database? Who is going to guarantee that honesty?
Aravind: I feel like this. At the end, if this scheme is going to be implemented well, every person is going to have a unique ID. What I am looking at is every Indian is going to be recognized as an individual person and at the end of the day it may even help you finalise the vote. When you go to a voting station and you have the unique ID, probably for all you know, it may bring down the bogus votes..
VA: Aravind, nobody is questioning the potential benefits of a scheme like this. Do you think ..
SP: In its present form, in its present form as we know it. As we know it with the help of RTI is another thing as well, let me add that as well. But it’s an interesting point Aravind. I think he works in the IT sector. That’s an interesting point he has raised. We respect his views.
KD: Can I supplement Aravind?
SP: Yeah. Sure.
KD: Aravind it’s like this. See, once you have the UID scheme and total transparency, you will take the power out of the politicians and bureaucrats and give it back to the people.
SP: We hope. We hope.
KD: I don’t know if it will happen in my lifetime or my son’s lifetime or my grandson’s lifetime. But for sure it should happen, because we have been talking of a developing India for the last 63 years. And I would like to see a developed India in the shortest time.
SP: Right. If you want to take credit and if you want a statue up in your name, at some point you will have to join politics, Kris.
But taking off from Aravind’s point, it’s an interesting point there. The rich and the middle class have some form of identity; the poor don’t. And they are completely cut off. This scheme would bridge that gap.
VA: Yeah. See. Firstly, I don’t imagine that this scheme is going to bridge that gap; because, even by their own targets, 600 million people by 2014 are going to get this ID. What about the 500 million who are left?
SP: After that, in a phased manner.
VA: The point is ..
SP: It has never been done in the country.
VA: You know what my name on my Voter ID Card is? It’s A. Vinayan.
SP: A. Vinayan! (Laughs). You know what my name is? It wa Bindo!
VA: My father-in-law’s name is Paul Mathew. His name spells: Pal Muthu!
SP: Pal Muthu!! (laughs). Paul Mathew became Pal Muthu!!
KD: I’ll tell you why this happens; because you give the name in English. They note down in Tamil and they re-translate to English.
SP: But we write in Tamil also. They mess it up.
KD: But I can assure Sanjay and Aravind, with UID, it just doesn’t matter what your name, initials and spellings are. You are the person and no one else. Period.
SP: 105787623. That’s your name.
KD: No. No. You don’t need to remember any number. That’s what I’m saying. It will be a 25 or 50 digit number, an encrypted number and all you will need is a biometric smart card to relate to you.
SP: Alright. Let me ask you another question. Arvind Vinay, see most people who don’t need a ration card, keep a ration card because that’s like a citizenship card today. For everything you still got that mindset – ration card copy. Alright? So several people (who don’t actually) what they do, many of them buy stuff from the ration card, to keep it alive and probably either throw it away or give it to the maids, whatever. So you are actually depriving the people who really need the stuff from ration shops, the fair price shops, the so called fair price shops, will get more by this.
Because, this (UID) will actually eliminate the burden of multiple identity proofs. Today you have for everything, you will have to fill up a form for gas connection, telephone connection; for proof of identity, you give a ration card; for proof of address, you give a ration card. For proof of identity, you give the latest phone bill.
KD: Driving license.
SP: Or Driving license. This (UID) will eliminate the burden of multiple identities.
VA: Sanjay, I don’t dispute; theoretically there is a lot of benefit to be gained from it. But there are two fundamental issues. Firstly, are they going to be able to achieve this? I have my serious doubts in the way they are proceeding; in the way these benefits can be achieved. And secondly, they don’t seem to be paying any attention to the privacy concerns of the people. I mean, the fact that ..
SP: What about the National Population Register? We all need that. Right? We are proud of our numbers; and not so proud perhaps. The National Population Register - this will lead to; there again, there is a tangible benefit, Vinay.
VA: The fact is, in a country like India, you have to see what you allocate the scarce resources. When you are trying to uplift 500 to 600 million people out of poverty, is your priority to tag them and give them biometric identification or to give them food, electricity, roads and water?
KD: No. We are not able to give food, electricity and water because of the failure of the system.
VA: Why? Please don’t tell me that you can’t make roads without UID.
KD: I’ll tell you. Please hold on. I in fact wrote, “No Telgi; no stamp paper”. Because, as long as Telgi was supplying stamp paper, it was a well oiled machinery and it was available all over India. O.K. Once Telgi. And once Telgi stamp paper was stopped, the availability of stamp paper has come down. So you cannot say, a wrong system is the right system. I object to that. What we need is a fool proof system where we can make available every service, to every citizen without fail.
SP: Was there a feasibility or cost-benefit analysis done before the scheme was introduced? Was there a thing? Rs. 45,000 crores, we are told is the estimated cost. Rs. 45,000 crores - you want to spend, of your money and my money and his money and their money, without actually doing a cost benefit analysis!
KD: Sanjay, this is a very, very small fraction of the total budget of India.
SP: It may be less than the spectrum scam; but that’s a different matter.
KD: And compared to all the scams, this is nothing. In fact the government started with Rs. 100 crores as the initial outlay.
SP: How many ‘zeros’ are there in Rs. 45,000 crores.
KD: I don’t know. Twelve zeros.
SP: Twelve zeros! You are obsessed with the number twelve. There are twelve digits in UID number.
KD: What is important is not the money. India can afford this. And if we can plug all the money laundering that is happening in India through the UID scheme and through a debit card system wherein the currency is demonetized, I think we would have achieved..
SP: When you have people who are supposed to monitor all the money laundering and their website is itself hacked. We know how equipped we are!
VA: What Kris is saying is, that if we can achieve a lot of other things, full transparency, honesty, accountability, then UID will work.
SP: What will happen then to Kris Dev then? What RTI application will he file then?
KD: No. No. In fact after filing so many applications, I said, RTI is a waste of public time, because it is diverting the attention of the public.
SP: Finally, finally, your witness please (laughs).
KD: Why because, it solves individuals problems of ration card or passport. But we as policy thinkers, we should be thinking of the bigger India to stop all the money
laundering, terrorism and other things that is happening. And UID alone can stop cross border terrorism.
SP: To quote the Cabinet Secretary Chandrasekar: “It’s a waste of time; it’s a waste of money”. Perhaps we are actually selling Utopia. What do you think?
SP: Final comments from you. NO?
KD: Absolutely NOT. You are totally wrong.
SP: You have made out case!
KD: It’s a caveat (SP: again a caveat) implement it properly. Implement it properly. See. You are all talking of the problems of implementation. I don’t think you are ever doubting that UID is a good scheme. You yourself said, a single UID number can replace all the other numbers – the PAN number, the Ration Card number, the Passport number, the.. what not, I don’t know – there are so many numbers!
SP: We are talking about medicines when there is a drug scam. You know what happens. People get confused. We are talking about that. We are talking of the inherent danger in the system. We are talking of lack of checks and balances. We are talking of data theft. We are talking about privacy – your privacy and my privacy.
VA: If something as profound and massive as the UID, the concept and implementation cannot be distinguished. The concept and implementation are very much the same. If implementation is a concern, the concept is a concern.
KD: No. Implementation is what we will have to tackle. You are not doubting the basic ..
VA: How are you and I going to tackle implementation?
KD: That is precisely what we as intelligentsia have to do.
SP: You will file more RTI applications. We will cover it on NDTV and put it out on Chennai Live. You will get publicity.
KD: No. Not necessary. Not necessary. You are under the premise that the government is not capable of implementing it correctly. So you are all the time saying let us not have it. I am only saying..
SP: Let the government first protect its own CBI website. The government has got a premier investigating agency called CBI. Let the government first show us the way by protecting its own website and prevent it from getting hacked.
KD: Do you doubt the ability of the majority of the intelligentsia of this 120 crore people?
SP: We don’t. We don’t. You are going in an emotional tangent.
KD: Including yourself and myself? We cannot design a proper system.
SP: I believe in Advaitha philosophy.
KD: Why do you all the time say someone else cannot design.
SP: I believe in Advaitha philosophy.
KD: If we can design a good system for India, why not we give it?
VA: I doubt the political inclination and the will of these
KD: It is not there. I’m with you on that. The political will and bureaucratic will,
will not be there. But that should not prevent the people from demanding implementation.
SP: Alright. This debate can go on and on. There are different platforms for that. To end this let me give you an anecdote:
Twenty CEOs boarded a flight. And they were all informed privately and separately that plane would be the first unmanned commercial aircraft. Nineteen of the CEOs got out of the flight. They gave some excuse. One CEO remained. Do you know why? He said, I’m sure if my company software was used in this flight, I’m very sure, the plane will not take off! I don’t know if it is the same with the UID scheme!!
Listeners you can write to Edel or Sano and give us your views. That’s all the time we have on a rainy Monday morning. Thank you very much for joining us. Thank you gentlemen for being so passionate about your cause and stand. Thank you very much.
KD & VA: Our pleasure.
This debate was really informative. I got many of my doubts cleared by this. As you have mentioned in the debate, most of us are fearing the unknown. I think its general human nature to easily fiddle with dangerous things and fear and stay away from real beneficiary acts. I support you stand on UID.