Tag Archives: Privacy

Numbers with Meaning

The UIDAI publishes figures on how many characters are getting added to its database daily, and one of my less technologically challenged friends has worked out how to review those figures (on Twitter: @uidstatus). It makes for interesting reading, watching how many times that ‘mission-critical’ database link goes down, how days go by when it adds nobody (not counting fake IDs, about which the agency hasn’t a clue, apparently, putting it on par with all the other clueless adnumbering exercises that have plagued this country for years), and even the days the actual count goes down, as though people are vanishing like smoke.

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Filed under Communication, Community, Democracy, development, governance, Privacy, Security, Self-help, UID

Privacy is a public concern

March began interestingly for me this year, with two big meetings back-to-back, in Panglao, a tiny island in the Philippines. The first was with Privacy International, the London-based public service PI_Gang_Panglao.pngorganisation. It has worked tirelessly for over two decades to keep public awareness of personal privacy rights.

Surprisingly, for most people who hardly ever need to think twice about such an obvious attribute of free people, this right is fast vanishing around the world, and most dismayingly, in democratic countries. Continue reading

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Filed under Accessibility, Blogroll, broadband, Broadcast, Communication, Community, connectivity, Democracy, development, Education, energy, governance, Holistic, Internet, Media, Privacy, Security, social processes, technology, UID

Rules and Misrules

At the very tag-end of 2008, an extraordinary event took place. India’s Parliament met for a stormy Winter Session, during which little of note was discussed, and little value was added to the fabric of society. And then, as the Session was drawing to a close, a number of Bills were brought up for voting, and within a few minutes, with little or no words exchanged, they were passed in toto.

The utter disregard of the country and its people implicit in this kind of facile performance is stunning and salutary, especially in light of the public agitation that has spread across northern Africa and parts of Asia, with citizens of many countries taking to the streets to express their disgust at the way that they have been taken for granted, by governments and leaders that claim to have their best interests at heart. Some of the perpetrators of such callousness now find themselves scrabbling to escape, together with untold amounts of wealth stolen from their hapless countries.

That the Indian public has so far been a little more forgiving of such small degradations is a current feature, not a guarantee.

Today, February 28, 2011, I am trying to be equally forgiving. Continue reading

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Studying the Foundation

The UIDAI project is arguably one of the biggest initiatives, in both scope and cost, undertaken in independent India, without any of the expected norms of prudence (oversight) and democratic consensus. Variously estimated to cost anywhere between Rs 40,000 and Rs 150,000 cr (INR), which is roughly equivalent to about USD 1 bn to USD 15bn, it has been kicked off with a Cabinet-sanctioned budget of Rs 1,900 cr (ie about USD 50mn) this fiscal (Apr10-Mar11). The budget is believed to be somewhat of a smokescreen, as it does not appear to include moneys taken from other agencies. However, the lack of clarity about money is not the only issue, as the project has been cleverly positioned within the Planning Commission, an arm’s-length agency charged with perspective planning for the country, which is independent of the usual line of command. As a result, the project has neither Parliamentary sanction nor even a (temporary) Ordinance.

The UID project is in many ways a global watershed, expecting to assign a unique number to every resident of the country, well over 1.2 bn people, a staggering concept, the scale of which has itself been used to justify taking on the project (by equating the immensity of the challenge to its worth). Considering my association with Privacy International, my concern is well-founded on grounds of potential destruction of personal privacy, but this is a very difficult viewpoint to defend in India, which does not have a specific privacy law, and for which the existing Constitutional protections (alluded to, not spelt out) have not always been strongly defended by Indian courts.

An international project, studying Privacy in Asia, seeks to ameliorate this situation, by getting to grips with comprehending Indian attitudes (ie, within the ambit of Asian attitudes). However, given that the UID project is gathering steam and proceeding willy-nilly, it is imperative to make every effort to bring it to a halt, at least a temporary halt, until sufficient information is available. Continue reading

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At the Foundation – talking with people

It was a dark and stormy night, and ….

No wait, that’s not quite right. It was 2 o’clock in the afternoon, actually.

However, it was certainly dark and stormy, Mumbai’s wettest day this monsoon, with 16 measured cm of rain, most of which seemed to be pelting down my collar as I arrived at the moneylife.gifMoneylife Foundation’s Shivaji Park offices on 17th August 2010.

I went there to interact with people who wanted to learn more about Aadhaar, India’s multi-billion dollar IT projectAadhaarLogo.png, that promises to assign unique identity numbers for each resident of India. Keen readers of this blog will have doubtless noted that it was the subject of the previous blogpost too.

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Without Foundation

Aadhaar, ‘the foundation’ (loosely translated) is a gigantic project, that will assign unique numbers to all people in India, to serve as a single reference point to firmly establish their identity. UIDAI, the Unique Identity Authority of India, has been set up, ad interim, as a department of the Planning Commission of India to steward this project.

AadhaarLogo.png

A friend of mine, Ram Krishnaswamy, has tracked well over 400 articles extolling the merits of the project, and gathered them at the blog “Aadhararticles.blogspot.com”. Specific references are linked in this blogpost.

Rather than reassure, however, they raise questions in the mind about the worth of the project. Ram and I decided to work together to compile some key questions. A detailed version of our study has been published in print, in MoneyLife, the magazine brought out by crusading journalists Sucheta Dalal and Debashis Basu, here and here. This blogpost reflects that article (which is part of an ongoing series). It also reflects some additional information about Q2 below received after it was originally written, and is updated as of Friday, 20 August, 2010.

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Private? uh uh

A couple of mornings ago, I read in a local newspaper that the police somewhere had caught a robber who stole a gold chain off a little girl’s neck. Unfortunately, the intrepid fellow had apparently swallowed the chain, thus neatly concealing all evidence. Not to be left clueless, the police ordered an X-ray examination of his abdomen, and the evidence was unearthed in plain black and white. And in other colours, to be revealed when the forcibly administered laxatives got to work.

I searched for the news item online, so as to post it here. I didn’t find it, but a strikingly similar theft apparently happened in Mexico two months ago. Is this copy-catting or what? According to a mail I got recently, ‘pagerism’ is a journalist using someone else’s beeper, but I suspect this isn’t quite as innocent.

Anyway, this isn’t really about missing evidential chains, but about the kind of thinking that pervades the thinking of some people in authority, that the badge of office confers the inalienable right to invade other people’s space, including subjecting them forcibly to potentially cancer causing radiation for non-medical reasons.

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