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UIDAI has no skin in the system

NewsUIDAI has no skin in the system

Identification is a responsible process. It requires someone to take responsibility of identification.


UIDAI wants to use the photographs associated with Aadhaar as a means to recognise persons. This must indeed be some feat considering most of the photographs associated with an Aadhaar cannot be used by those with an Aadhaar to recognise themselves. While continuing to insist on newer and newer sci-fi scenarios to match data, the UIDAI refuses to identify any person.

It has confirmed under RTI that it does not acknowledge, certify or take responsibility to the identification of any person. They cannot. They know that a match of the biometric or photograph associated with an Aadhaar number to one being submitted for authentication does not identify anyone. Just as your username and password to your email account do not identify you. Just as the key that opens the lock to a door does not identify you.

Identification is a responsible process. It requires someone to take responsibility of identification. To take responsibility it requires the person identifying another to be co-present. Co-presence confirms that the identified person is real and not mere photographic, video-graphic or biometric data. It confirms the identified person is there in their own free will. It causes the person undertaking the responsibility for identification to confirm satisfactory identification for the transaction for which the identification was undertaken. In order to identify a person using an official document (like the passport, driver’s licence or election ID), the official document has to acknowledge or certify that the data captured on the official document is genuine and belongs to the person who it claims to belong.

The UIDAI does not take any responsibility of identification. It is not co-present with the person being identified. It does not and cannot confirm whether a real person was present and not their photographic, video-graphic or biometric data. It does not and cannot confirm the presence of the identified person in their free will. It does not and cannot take responsibility to confirm satisfactory identification for the transaction for which the identification was undertaken. The Aadhaar number does not certify that the biometric associated with the number matches the demographic data associated with it. It does not certify that the data captured on the official document is genuine and belongs to the person who it claims to belong. Your Aadhaar is not signed by the UIDAI officials to acknowledge their responsibility.

The UIDAI admits that no person acknowledges or certifies the biometric or demographic data. They also admit that the data associated with any number has never been verified as belonging to the person it claims to belong to. They also admit that the data has never been audited to confirm that the person whose data it claims to have captured actually exists, enrolled and the proof of identification, proof of age, and proof of address documents from which the demographic information’s captured were genuine and have been noted. In fact they admit that not only they do not know what documents were used as proof of identity or address, but they do not know if the operator enrolling the person for an Aadhaar number was actually in the village or town where the person was enrolled.

If this isn’t enough to say why the UIDAI has never expressed any confidence in its own database by certifying every record and standing by identification, their own affidavit to the Supreme Court in WP 494 of 2012 should be. The affidavit of the UIDAI admits that more than 50% of those allotted an Aadhaar number have “never ever used biometrics for authentication”. Is there a danger that the system will in parts get associated with fake or duplicate biometric and demographic data, to facilitate ghosts and duplicates?

What use is matching photographic, video-graphic or biometric data with uncertified, unverified and unaudited photographs or biometrics associated with an Aadhaar number? What use is the Aadhaar over the original documents, on the basis of which 99.97% of the Aadhaar numbers were issued? Can the UIDAI be allowed to play matching games with the lives, livelihoods and properties of Indians?

By presenting identification as authentication, and passing off Aadhaar as an identification document that it is not, the UIDAI is replacing existing identification documents with Aadhaar, thereby is causing disappearance of evidence, framing unverified records, and causing possible injury to those whose real documents are rejected or replaced by an Aadhaar. This may destroy the good databases of government departments and service providers by replacing them with ghosts and duplicates who may form part of the Aadhaar database.

Transactions with Aadhaar cannot be verified as those undertaken by genuine individuals. The UIDAI does not acknowledge or certify these transactions as genuine or as those undertaken by genuine and real persons. The UIDAI takes no responsibility for any transactions undertaken with any Aadhaar. Without any acknowledgement or certification by the UIDAI can such transactions stand the test of validity and proof in legal proceedings?

One doesn’t ask the travelling salesman to look after children in a classroom. One does not ask the real estate developer to develop forests. One does not ask engineers to protect the environment. One doesn’t ask venture capitalists to make public policy. They don’t share the purposes of the systems they are being called to participate. In fact they may actually benefit from harming the purpose of these systems, if they were to participate. They do not have a skin-in-the-system.

Does it, then, make sense for government and service providers to ask a third-party, like the UIDAI and its ecosystem, to decide on their ability to recognise persons that they have had a relationship for decades? What is the UIDAI’s skin-in-the-system? How does the UIDAI share the purpose of the various government departments and the citizens whose rights and benefits they are meant to protect? Or the common purposes of the various service providers and their customers? How is the UIDAI responsible, and accountable to the purposes for which the people and their governments and service providers engage in a relationship? These are questions awaiting an answer from the government.

Dr Anupam Saraph is an expert in governance of complex systems and advises governments and businesses across the world. He can be reached @anupamsaraph.


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