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Illegal Trade In Biometrics

The definition of biometric information is provided under section 2(g) of the the  Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services Act, 2016 (“Aadhaar Act 2016”). It means photograph, fingerprints, iris scan or such other biological attributes of an individual as may be specified by regulations. This very sensitive information is the private property of an individual. Therefore, it needs to be respected and guarded fiercely. More than 120 Crore unique identification numbers or Aadhaar cards have been issued to residents.

However, complaints of fake Aadhaar cards started coming as soon as the scheme was rolled out. It excited curiosity among citizens as to what purpose will be served by going in for fake Aadhaar numbers when one could get genuine Aadhaar cards made. One speculation was that illegal immigrants from neighbouring countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka could abuse the scheme and live on welfare schemes meant for the country’s poor. Even terrorists could misuse the unique identification number to fool the police and other investigating agencies. The role of the contractors, who were engaged to collect the data and biometrics, can’t be ruled out in the illegal trade of fake Aadhaar cards. Even officials entrusted with the data could have conspired to sell the data for rewards in cash or kind. It has created problems for genuine citizens whose data fails authentication and creates huge embarrassment to them.

Many Aadhaar card holders suffered a painful experience when their fingerprint authentication failed. This is evidence that the plan of covering the whole population under the Aadhaar scheme has been rendered futile by the incompetent people. The UIDAI takes no responsibility or provide the individual any explanation how such a horrendous mistake could happen. The UIDAI can’t certify the correctness of the data in its possession or that all biometric details of every cardholder stand verified and there is no case of failure of fingerprint authentication or iris authentication. The UIDAI ought to have woken up to the dangers of the illegal trade in biometrics, which can harm the interests of the individual and even the country.

There are possibilities of such data by all varieties of criminals, such as fake passport and visa manufacturers, smugglers, drug dealers, terrorists, enemy aliens, business interests like those of Cambridge Analytica, Facebook, Twitter and similar other big data commercial entities. Identity thefts are wide spread. All kinds of conmen create fake documents, such as bail bonds in criminal cases. The question is: can’t the UIDAI guarantee that the biometric authentication will not fail under any circumstances?

The UIDAI may need to carry out a reliable check of each cardholder and his/her biometrics to ensure a foolproof and error-free data bank. Without it the reliability of the data will remain questionable and continue to cause embarrassment to citizens in public places like passport office, banks, phone connection, ration, pension, health insurance, property related documents, admissions to educational and professional institutions and employment. One goes about confidently trusting that s/he carries a solid identity proof in the shape of an Aadhaar Card, only to get fooled at the time of need. Why should the citizen carry this load- only for getting publicly humiliated?

India has yet to begin to value individual information as captured on the Aadhaar card. The information is handled very casually, by highly incompetent persons and easily parted for a petty amount. Before the IT revolution, the Postmen used to harass the people by not delivering the examination admission cards, interview call letters, appointment letters, cheques, property documents etc. and the MTNL or telephone authorities regularly sold phone numbers to unauthorised persons/companies in spite of being registered under the do not disturb category. Tele-callers made a nuisance of themselves with impunity. Postmen continue to fleece the public even now and have no shame in extorting a bakshish or tip on major festivals like Diwali or a cut from the money sent through money orders before paying it to the addressee. E-mail has though cut them to size.

The theft of  more than 50 million users’ data by the Cambridge Analytica has sent shock waves the world over and put all governments on notice from the USA to Europe and India. More than 5 million Indian’s data has been stolen by Cambridge Analytica and used for commercial or other wholly illegal gains.  The government of India is taking legal action in the matter and also working out the possibilities of asking foreign firms to locate their server in India. It is also considering owning a server of its own.

Still, there is no mechanism to guard the data. There is no security check of people entrusted with the data or access to it, whereas all such persons need to be security checked more strictly than what is required for Reserve Bank Mints and currency printing presses, Ministries like defence, external affairs, finance etc., the Prime Minister’s office and many other sensitive organisations.

It will take no more than another 10 years for the Transnational Big Data & Analytics Corporations to pose a greater threat to world peace or survival than the atom bomb or biological or chemical weapons of mass destruction. The world faces a new challenge from developments in artificial intelligence. AI has   potential of turning users in to technology slaves. They will simply obey orders. The individual will not even know about herself/himself as much as the data corporations would know. They will regulate customer requirement.

Imagine the next generation of inhabitants of the virtual colonies leading a virtual life without a job or employment and having no use for her/ his brain because the robots would do everything on time or whenever required as they would read individual mind, needs and choice and serve 24×7. Life style will radically change sparing human beings of the drudgery of marriage or child birth. Human society will develop designer children, genetically modified and produced in special clinics under the careful watch of a robot.

Isn’t it necessary to set up expeditiously the necessary regulatory mechanism before nothing is left to guard? All financial transactions will be watched by foreign corporations. Governments will come under their virtual control and supervision.

Since this warning comes before time, it is likely to be ignored. But only at a heavy cost to people and the nation. Data authentication has to be assured by the UIDAI.

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