When India launched the UID (Unique Identification) in 2010, people scratched their heads in confusion. Nothing was clear as to what the hullabaloo was about yet another sarkari ID card. But when news filled in about the Aadhaar Card being an all-purpose ID, the rush to get oneself registered started.
Around November 2010, as I was walking in Central Delhi’s Connaught Place area, I happened to see the UIDAI office and walked in just out of curiosity. What I thought would be a hi-tech process like they show in those sci-fi Hollywood thrillers turned out to be just the mere filling of a form and furnishing some documents. Than I was made to sit for an iris scan, finger print scan, and voila! The registration was done! I walked out of the building with a receipt, feeling very happy with the fact that a government document could be applied for in such a hassle-free way.
A few days later, my domestic help said she wanted to get an Aadhaar to avail subsidised LPGs. She was ready to pay Rs 500 to a tout, who was willing to take the ‘pains’ on her behalf. I told her the way I got myself registered, and she left my place in glee, only to return the next day to narrate her sob story. She didn’t have any permanent address proof….so no Aadhaar for her.
The mammoth move by the Congress-led government to give every Indian resident an ID card was not fool-proof, I realized. Comically enough, the poor, who the government said would benefit from this drive, were the ones who struggled to get all the necessary documents in place. So much for the drive.
And then the conspiracy theories started tumbling out one by one. UID, some claimed, was a threat to our privacy. With all our biometric data stored with the government, our privacy could be in grave danger, if it was shared with the American CIA or the FBI. Once again, my simple mind could not understand what the US would gain by accessing my details. But the matter was far more complicated than this. Apparently, the details of the millions of Indians, saved in just one place, the UIDAI, could spell trouble if it fell on the hands of militants or anti-national elements. There was the great risk of terrorists stealing our identities, along with the biometric data, because in this digital age, duplicating anything is just the game that ID hackers play.
I shuddered at the thought. What if someone committed multiple political murders by recreating my finger prints on latex, and then implicated me in the case? The UID cards made sure we were under government surveillance, by our own approval.
It was alleged that Nandan Nilekani, the man behind the UID drive, siphoned off a lot of money, with great support from the government. Also, there was big conspiracy theory about the foreign biometric technology and equipment, principally three of them – L1 Identity Solutions (L 1), Accenture PLC and Mahindra Satyam Morpho (MSM) – that was put to use by UIDAI. L1’s directors are former officers of FBI and CIA and it provides intelligence services to US agencies. Accenture, a US-based company, also provides services to US intelligence agencies and the defence department.
It’s difficult to tell if we are vulnerable to identity thefts. But the good thing about linking Aadhaar to the LPG subsidy has made sure people who had access to 24-30 gas cylinders with the aid of ghost/deceased beneficiaries document can no longer indulge in this malpractice. The Supreme Court ruling in October 2015 that an Aadhaar card can be used only for availing subsidies under the public distribution system and purchasing kerosene and cooking gas has terminated the debate over the extended misuse of UID for now.
It’s a mysterious world we live in…