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 NREGA, argued, “I am opposed to the UID project on grounds of several civil liberties. Let us not be naïve. 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 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 the 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 in spite of this, India has decided to waste crores on this largely rejected policy.

Devika Mittal