Monday, July 18, 2011

UID- For whose benefit?

When UID was introduced to the general public, it was regarded as the sole primary document which would determine their fate. Everyone(1.2 billion people) would be issued a unique identification card and would be expected to carry it wherever they would go. Even the refugees and migrants would be issued the card. It was mandatory in the beginning so failing to produce it may have you branded as a terrorist. The Government defended this mammoth-size project by arguing that it will help check illegal immigration and terrorist activities. UID will also have other benefits. UID has been linked to social-welfare programs. There is now a proposal to use UID for realizing the goal of online voting. So UID will ‘empower’ India and Indians, they argue.
This was the Government version of UID. Let’s now see the reality.
UID is proposed to create a central repository of information of each of the 1.2 billion people. The data involves personal information as well as the bank details. It’s a risky affair. If not the ever-hungry Government, the Corporates or anyone can misuse the information.
The Government’s response to this was technology. The data will be stored in an online database. But let’s consider the technological challenges. 1.2 Billion people will mean 6 petabytes(6,000 terabytes or 6,000,000 gigabytes). It will be the world’s largest database. But can we imagine managing this volume? The technological challenges involve system performance, reliability, speed and resolution of accuracy and errors. But a more serious issue is regarding the security. The information can be hacked.
UID will also capture biometric information from the population. The fingerprints and IRIS will be scanned. Apart from the lack of technological infrastructure, a more important concern is the reliability of this information. Patterns of Iris change with age and disease. Also, What about the millions of people with corneal blindness? Fingerprints also face a similar issue. Fingerprints can be tapped and copied. There are also millions who may be without hands. Also, the labourers have their fingerprints marred.
One of the benefits listed out by Government is that it will be linked with the social welfare programs like PDS. Critics argue that the Government does not have resources to extend them to UID applicants. Jean Dreze, a development economist and the man behind the NREGA, argued, “I am opposed to the UID project on grounds of several civil liberties. Let us not be na├»ve. This is a national security project, not a social policy initiative.”
There is also fear that instead of checking illegal migration, it can actually ‘legalize’ it. The Indo-Bangladesh Border is porous. UID may actually increase the illegal immigration. Bangladeshis will be able to get themselves listed as Indians easily and enjoy the ‘privileges’ and ‘benefits’(if any).
Some months back, there was a demonstration by students of Indian Institute of Science against UID. One of the placards read “Happy New Fear”. UID demands our bank details. So though UID is an attached department to Planning Commission but in reality, UID can enable the Government an access to our bank account. They will be able to view all our transactions. So UID carries major privacy issues.
But the best thing about the UID is the inherent contradiction in its voluntary nature. Even though, it is voluntary. It is ubiquitous. UID holders are entitled for exclusive schemes and opportunities.
The idea of UID has been rejected by many countries. From privacy concerns to technological challenges, the concept has met severe opposition. So the effectiveness and nature of UID(whether compulsory or voluntary) varies among different countries. But inspite of this, India has decided to waste crores on this largely rejected policy.


  1. Disagree!
    Some of the concerns you have raised are unfounded and incorrect.
    I was going to rebut them, but Im afraid I would end up writing an essay on them. hehe :P

  2. though i hav done a proper research on this project.. didn't post the references though(vil be doing that now) but i would like to know the problem.. or the points which u think r incorrect.

  3. Well, I m not questioning your homework on this piece.Just putting forth some facts which might help clear some misconceptions - which is the underlying purpose of airing views in public.
    "UID holders are entitled for exclusive schemes and opportunities." - is an incorrect statement. UID number gives a legitimacy to the holder and enables him to claim the benefits of govt. launched schemes. NREGA, the Food Security Act, Micro-financing- schemes like these fail to cater to the targeted class coz they fail to prove themselves as legitimate receivers of aid. UID holder will not be required to furnish other documents to prove his worthiness.
    Moreover, formalities of giving docs for SIM/bank accounts/gas connection will be done away thanks to UID.
    As far as privacy is concerned - the benefits of UID far outweigh such concerns. Its easy to be swayed by the intelligentsia(Amartya Sen&co.) who are usually disapproving of anything that the State does.
    btw.. recently economic times carried a nice piece on UID

  4. interesting article!! thnx fr the link.. :) here's my reference

    abt the "exlusive" opportunities, many newspaper reports carried it..n many have, thus, questioned the "vountary" nature of UID. however as u will see in the report, there r many more interesting views on this issue.

    and regarding the easy 'distribution' of the existing social welfare prog like NREGA, u vil note that the prob is nt much with the identification, its more with the implementation.

    no1 denies the 'benefits'..every project has benefits..but they come with huge costs...dont they!

    and as abt the point on comments on that! true they r always for no reason, u reckon?? huh?

  5. Disagree totally .... I am a student working on biometrics as well as security and would like to point out that the issues you detail are true but can be managed.... If a retinal scan is taken it does not mean that it will be the only basis for your identity... There will be many factors which will be considered in totality( multimodal biometrics ) Also such problems are always a part when a system gets started... We should think in a positive way that if there can exist a SSN number for each US citizen .. why not here ? Yes there exist many cons but in the end i do think that pros heavy the cons ...

  6. Totally agree Mr. Anonymous.
    I too hv taken a few Biometrics courses so I agree with what you are saying.
    Moreover, each year in the conferences researchers are bringing out newer, more efficient techniques which actually take care of the concerns mentioned here.

  7. But Mr. of now, only two methods r being used. n yes.. ofcourse there r probs during the starting..but the article is not just abt the biometrics. other grave concerns hav been highlighted. btw.. this article will be soon deleted. coz i hav another blog wid da same i hav decided to delete some articles to avoid charges of plagiarism for my own content! my new address is we cn continue there..if u ppl want :) n thnx for the comments!