binu karunakaran on the uid project

some of the questions he asks:
Will the government be the only authority which can use or request the UID? What information in those databases will be linked explicitly to other databases? Who has the authority to create this linkages and who all can access this information? Would the people who use the UID for various transactions be informed of the algorithms used to analyse their data. Will the data collected stored forever? Article 20, clause 3 of the Indian constitution states that " No person accused of any offence shall be compelled to be a witness against himself ." Will data records generated by the UID be used against the accused in a court of law? There is not much clarity on this as the confidentiality level of data elements (open to all, open only to security agencies/NGOs) are yet to be finalised.
none of those questions have been answered as yet. but the way the article proceeds, one sees a certain pattern:
But the security agencies will definitely have a say on this. They would be specifically interested in Data mining, a process that involves the use of mathematical analytical tools to detect patterns in large sets of data with the purpose of predicting certain kinds of behaviour, such as the propensity to engage in criminal activity or to purchase particular consumer goods. They would also be looking at data matching - the technique of comparing different databases so as to identify common features or trends in the data.
the rest of the article follows a similar line of analysis and criticism, almost (will probably return to this article in the future).

there are crores of families without a ration card in this country- the questions, karunakaran doesn't seem interested in are the questions anyone from those families would probably want to ask. like, will this unique number convince the state that i exist?


anu said...


UID involves all aspects of civil liberties, Binu has chosen to highlight the privacy issues of citizen's personal information, he uses the term Dataveillance in the title.

And he loses himself considerably just trying to lay out the problem of privacy laws and its possible misuse in the existing infrastructure.... questions of citizens benefits by UID is an even more hoary topic to deal in posts -

Beginning with the your question of 'will an UId number make the state know that i exist?' is a place that I too would begin. Like I have said before, for me, citizenship benefits has to first address the very bottom of the society where an Indian has zero claims to his rights. If the UID is designed to work for that, and is able to answer the many questions that will arise in people's minds (I mean people concerned with this kind of money being used for removing inequalities) . We can begin the conversations about the other civil liberties that this system enhances and infringes upon.

I thought a lot whether i should write this comment, as when i did venture on this in other forums, i've been rapped on my knuckles for 'asking the government questions' alternatively phrases such as 'badgering for information', 'reformers with no direction', 'western democracy influenced' and so on.... :(

But i am an optimist, and hope that more voices come along and say, it is OK to ask, this is everyone's business...... :)

kuffir said...


which part of 'will an UId number make the state know that i exist?' seems to indicate that the question is not about everyone?

anu said...

>>there are crores of families without a ration card in this country- the questions, karunakaran doesn't seem interested in are the questions anyone from those families would probably want to ask. like, will this unique number convince the state that i exist?

the families without ration cards is the context you presented. the question do i exist, cannot be asked by those with some form of identification card/number that lets them avail citizens rights, right? did i misread?

kuffir said...

'the families without ration cards is the context you presented.'

that explains the context, it is not the whole context, which is citizenship itself.

replace ration cards with electoral id cards, nrega job cards and a hundred other kinds of so called identification instruments etc and the question remains the same: will this unique number convince the state that i exist? both for those who possess any of those instruments and those who do not.

why? because none of them serve as definite proofs of identity or address. let me quote a few relevant paragraphs from a
(http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/Opinion/UID-implementation-challenges/articleshow/4869806.cms?curpg=1)recent article in the economic times on the uid:

'So far, various government departments have been issuing certain documents for administering their services and others have been accepting those selectively as PoIs and/ or PoAs. Ration cards, which have been in existence for long are not valid as PoIs.

PAN cards being related to income tax have limited coverage and are not acceptable as PoAs. Passports and driving licences serve as PoI-cum-PoA but cover only a small part of our population. EPICs (electoral photo identity cards) or voter ID cards introduced in 1993 have the widest coverage; but even these have reached only 82% excluding Assam.

And above all, ill-intentioned individuals can acquire and misuse these documents; like EPICs used not for voting but for acquiring a new mobile connection! Therefore, government has been very keen on 'tamper-proof, non-replicable and unique' ID for every Indian.'

please note the term 'selectively' in the very first sentence of this extract: 'So far, various government departments have been issuing certain documents for administering their services and others have been accepting those *selectively* as PoIs and/ or PoAs.'

why are they recognized 'selectively' even as 'proof of identity', leave alone 'proof of address'? because there are too many fake ration cards, nrega job cards, land pattas, kisan vikas patras and even passports around. so govt agencies invariably use their own 'discretion' in recognizing these instruments as proofs of identity. and you know what discretion means.

this situation of multiple proofs and amorphous/fake identities works beautifully for the well-heeled. they can buy land using fake/benami pan cards as proofs of identity presenting fake/benami ration cards as proofs of address. open benami bank accounts, run benami businesses, get benami relief from the govt whenever a drought happens etc..they can buy or influence the 'discretion' of the govt agencies in a number of ways. in most cities, some of the richest men are people with no definite identities or addresses- no genuine pan cards, no genuine ration cards, or even no pan cards or ration cards etc but they are still very wealthy and influential. they can go through their whole lives without any genuine proof of their existence.

but for the marginalized, a genuine ration card might not be proof enough for obtaining an electoral id or vice versa because all of them work very 'selectively' as proofs of identity itself (forget proofs of address). so those among the marginalized who have any of those instruments or even more than one- in reality, they still don't have any definite proof of identity (as indian citizens).

so, let me repeat the first question one needs to ask, in my view, about this uid project: will this unique number convince the state that i exist?

and that issue should concern everyone from the marginalized sections- those concerns, i believe, are different from the concerns of the middle classes, largely expressed in the article i linked to in this post.

anu said...

1) No contest about the preference of a single UID over multiplicity.

2) Any visualized change in India, to be carried out with the pretense that it is for all India/Indians has been exposed again and again as benefitting the upper classes/castes. It will be the same with the UID.

The marginalized classes will have to hope for inadvertent spill over effects that might happen for them.

3) At this point we can use the existing mechanism to ask for clarifications in the hope of nudging a participatory approach to the enforcing of UID to meet peoples aspirations of it or questions about it.

By existing mechanisms, I mean the middleclass voice -the activists (largely) the media, the dead on its feet academia. The middle class believe any policy change that comes from their own class is not likely to harm their interests very much, and they can afford to be non critical of such endeavors. However, the digitization of UID does posses certain sinister (if misused) possibilities for the middleclass themselves, they can wake up to it as the consequences manifest themselves, or become proactive, move out of complacency and start asking why this or that.

4) The middle class apparatus can be used / subverted to garner some spill over benefits for the marginalized, like making 'few' more 'exist' for the state.

Else the marginalized develop its own voice (won't be marginalized if it does) in this case it is becoming quite clear that marginalized questioning the UID benefits/ or the premise itself, is likely going to benefit the middleclass or all citizens.

Do I exist?
If I exist, am I safe?

The second question is relevant to the middle class /elite and hence Binu's and the sparse articles that are willing to be worried about UID. And the next to nothing on the first question.

For the marginalized both are equally significant ---citizenship rights and protection/privacy.

I can express my fears of ethnic cleansing like Khandhmal being aided by digitization, where the state can use the personal information of the marginalized to do a far 'cleaner' job of them disappearing OR I can use my own middle class identity and express my fears of being harassed by the local policeman, bank officials or admin clerks or any of the other state intrusions that can access my information with the help of a card reader.

--- For the first I have no platform, for the second yes, so we can pitch the question of, if I exist as a number that links up, all of mine and my family's information, is it safe? will it be misused?

kuffir said...


'Do I exist?
If I exist, am I safe?'

at the moment, with my very limited understanding of all issues, i'll stick to the first question: do i exist. because if i don't exist in the eyes of the state, i am never safe. if i don't exist, the question of getting definite protection from the state doesn't even arise.

Add to Technorati Favorites