Friday, December 24, 2010

Coming to a country near you...

The National Identification Authority of India Bill (NIAI), 2010, was introduced in the Rajya Sabha early this month, nearly two years after the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) was set up in February 2009. The UIDAI intends to provide a unique number to each resident in the country, a number which will “primarily be used as a basis for efficient delivery of welfare services.” Towards this end, a biometrics-based database of every Indian citizen would be maintained by the government.

The UIDAI was established by an executive order of the Union government, with its chairman Nandan Nilekani handpicked for the Cabinet minister-ranked job by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The pilot project called Aadhaar rolled out in September this year. The NIAI Bill is essentially aimed at making the UIDAI a legally sanctioned body and setting out its powers and functions.

Though the law is obviously necessary, several legal experts and citizens’ groups say that the bill leaves a lot to be desired. One major point of concern is that the bill does not offer enough safeguards against breach of privacy, profiling and “function creep”, the process where data collected for one function may end up being used for another purpose. In fact, the draft bill had called for checks against profiling, but this has been ignored entirely in is current version.

Again the bill does not clearly specify whom the ID number will be applicable to. It says the number would be given to “individuals residing in India and certain other classes of individuals.” Critics say that the term “certain other classes” is too vague and ambiguous to be acceptable...