NEW DELHI: Citing a letter from Department of Electronics & Information Technology, Ministry of Defence sent an Urgent/Top Priority Circular to Chief of the Naval Staff, Chief of the Army Staff and Chief of the Air Staff asking them to compulsorily ensure that all the employees enrolled for UID/Aadhaar Number.

Another letter was sent by Ministry of Personnel, PG & Pensions Department of Personnel & Training to the Secretary Department of Defence Production asking him to introduce Aadhaar enabled Biometric Attendance System in the department of defence production.

The system would enable an employee with an Aadhaar number to register his/her attendance (arrival/ departure) in the office through biometric authentication. It also says that a web based application software system will enable online recording of attendance and that the dash board relating to real time attendance and related statistics, can be viewed by everyone.

Similar letters were sent to some 169 government agencies. This was done pursuant to a letter from Secretary, Department of Electronics & Information Technology.

The date of issuance of both the circular and the letter demonstrates that they are in violation of the Supreme Court’s orders.

The first order of the Court making it voluntary was issued on of September 23 , 2013. It was reiterated on November 26 2013.

In a related case the Court passed an order dated March 24, 2014which reads as follows: “More so, no person shall be deprived of any service for want of Aadhaar number in case he/she is otherwise eligible/entitled. All the authorities are directed to modify their forms/circulars/likes so as to not compulsorily require the Aadhaar number in order to meet the requirement of the interim order passed by this Court forthwith” in Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) Vs Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) case.

These orders remain valid even today because it has been reiterated by subsequent orders of the Supreme Court and High Courts.

Is it the case that the Court orders are not applicable to Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology, Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Personnel?

If not then how else should one comprehend the blatant disregard of Court’s orders?

From the national security perspective, it is quite alarming that defence employees have been compelled to enrol for UID/Aadhaar despite The Court’s categorical orders. Notably, two very senior former military officials of established technical and scientific competence have challenged the implementation of Aadhaar in the Supreme Court.

The fact is that the application of biometric Unique Identification (UID)/Aadhaar Number was restricted to ‘civilian application’ and was not meant for defence application.

Now the entire information of the employees working in the Department of Defence Production, which will include related statistics, will be stored online and on cloud will be available to everybody.

It cannot be said that application of UID/Aadhaar in the Department of Defence Production is in the national interest becasuse it is making defence employees visible to everyone on the computing cloud.

The Government argues, “Attendance of Govt. employees is already being maintained and the Biometric Attendance System, maintained by the is just digital equivalent of the age-old attendance register. This is part of contractual relationship between the Public Servant and the Employer, viz. the Government of India, wherein the former has consented to/agreed to the terms of service and is therefore, contractually bound to follow the rules and regulations as specified for him by his/her employer.”

It will have us believe that there is no difference between the “age-old attendance register” and UID/Aadhaar enabled Biometric Attendance System.

There is a logical compulsion for withdrawing the letter and all consequential letters by which UID is made applicable to defence application i.e. Department of Defence Production in the interest of supreme national security. The coverage of defence employees under Aadhaar enabled Biometric Attendance System implies that iAadhaar is being put to defence application contrary to government’s claims.

With regard to the issue related to national security, in Rajya Sabha, Minister of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) who is responsible for Unique Identification of Authority of India (UIDAI) gave an evasive reply when he was asked a question (Unstarred Question No-2792) on “Misuse of Aadhaar cards and data collected under UID scheme” by Dr. K.V.P. Ramachandra Rao.

The extremely specific questions were: a) whether it is a fact that a Pakistani spy caught in New Delhi in October carried an Aadhaar card issued in his name? (b) if so, whether the system of issuing Aadhaar cards is faulty or lacks proper supervision; and (c) whether Government is assessing the possibility of misuse of Aadhaar cards and the data collected under the UID scheme?

The minister replied saying, “(a) to (c): UIDAI only issues Aadhaar to the residents of the country. Aadhaar is not a proof of citizenship or nationality.” It is classic example of an irrelevant response from the central government.

In his exemplary performance, the minister added, “The methodology approved for issuance of unique identity for every resident of the country involves use of certain basic demographic information combined with ten finger prints, both irises and photograph to uniquely identify a resident through a process of de-duplication.” His reply does not answer the query about a Pakistani spy caught in New Delhi in October who carried the 12-digit biometric unique identification (UID)/Aadhaar issued in his name.

The Minister further said, “The demographic and biometric attributes of residents are collected by various agencies of the Central and the State Governments and others who, in normal course of their activities, interact with the residents. These entities are ‘Registrars’ of the UIDAI. The information is subsequently uploaded by these agencies to UIDAI where it undergoes a number of quality checks and biometric de-duplication before an Aadhaar is generated.”

This reply does not explain whether the system of issuing Aadhaar cards is faulty or lacks proper supervision. It maintains studied silence about the role of foreign biometric de-duplication companies.

The Minister said, “The verification procedure for demographic data submitted by the resident during enrolment includes supporting documents, introducer system and National Population Register process of public scrutiny. Major portion of the enrolment is document based. There are well defined lists of Proof of Identity (PoI) and Proof of Address (PoA). Under document based enrolment, a resident has to submit any of the PoI/PoA from the said list.”

He did not inform the Parliament that the then Chairman of UIDAI has been given ID Limelight Award at the ID WORLD International Congress, 2010 in Milan, Italy on November 16, wherein Safran Morpho (Safran group) was a key sponsor of the ID Congress. Its subsidiary, Sagem Morpho Security Pvt Ltd has been awarded the contract for the purchase of Biometric Authentication Devices on February 2, 2011 by the UIDAI.

Coincidentally, in 2009 a similar award was given to the head of Pakistan’s National Database Registration Authority (NADRA) which successfully implemented a UID/Aadhaar like project, which has been shared with authorities in USA as per cables leaked by Wikileaks.

Against such a backdrop, the question raised by Dr. K.V.P. Ramachandra Rao in the Rajya Sabha about biometric Aadhaar issued to a Pakistani spy remains quite relevant from the point of national security.

It may be recalled that on July 30, 2010, in a joint press release, it was announced that “the Mahindra Satyam and Morpho led consortium has been selected as one of the key partners to implement and deliver the Aadhaar program by UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India).”

This means that at least two contracts have been awarded to the French conglomerate led consortium. Is it a coincidence that Morpho (Safran group) sponsored the award to Chairman, UIDAI and the former got a contract from the latter?

It is apparent that UIDAI Chief was given the award "For being the force behind a transformational project ID project in India...and "to provide identification cards for each resident across the country and would be used primarily as the basis for efficient delivery of welfare services. It would also act as a tool for effective monitoring of various programs and schemes of the government."

It may also be noted that UIDAI awarded contracts to three companies namely, Satyam Computer Services Ltd (Mahindra Satyam), as part of a “Morpho led consortium”, L-1 Identity Solutions Operating Company and Accenture Services Pvt Ltd of US for the “Implementation of Biometric Solution for UIDAI” on July 30, 2010. Notably, L1 which had signed the contract agreement as a US based company (subject to USA’s Patriot Act) has been bought over by Safran Group after US Government’s national security clearance.

In his reply the Minister claimed that “There are well defined processes and guidelines of Aadhaar enrolment that the Registrars and Enrolment Agencies are bound to follow. A proper deterring mechanism is in place discouraging any deviation from these laid down processes and guidelines. The complete trail of each and every enrolment is maintained. There is provision for concurrent evaluation of the Enrolment Centres.“

If that is indeed the case it must be revealed as to who allowed the provision of personal sensitive data of Indian residents to remain with the above mentioned foreign companies in the contract agreement compromising present and future national security.

In his reply the Minister also claimed that “Aadhaar is generated after a number of quality checks and biometric de-duplication. Every attempt is made to ensure that fake/bogus enrolments are identified through quality checks and biometric de-duplication process, and rejected. In a miniscule number of cases, where an ineligible enrolment may slip through, there are provisions for taking action against the delinquent operator/supervisor/enrolment agency; financial penalties; and criminal proceedings by lodging of FIR, besides cancellation of such Aadhaars.”

This claim is factually incorrect.

Recent flood of leaks has established that online UID/Aadhaar database, the Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR) of UIDAI is one of the most vulnerable databases in the world.

Victims cannot file complain even when someone changes or attempts to change any demographic or biometric information of an Aadhaar number holder by impersonating another person (or attempting to do so), with the intent of i) causing harm or mischief to an Aadhaar number holder, or ii) appropriating the identity of an Aadhaar number holder although it is punishable under Section 35.

It is possible that such civilian and non-civilian applications are being bulldozed by some commercial entities in order to store and read biometric and DNA script of Indian population in the aftermath of the sequencing of Human Genome for epigenetics, medicine, big data, social control, inheritance, eugenics and genetic determinism.

It is germane to ponder over the question about issuance of UID/Aadhaar to a Pakistani spy caught in New Delhi. Who exactly is behind denial of exact reply to the question? Is there any reason to assume that other foreign nationals have not intruded the system like the spy in question?

UID/Aadhaar is akin to a piece of collar which the transnational powers want to tie on the neck of present and future Indian citizens. Government has allowed itself to be misled and it has failed to protect personal sensitive information which has already gone to foreign companies and continues to flow in foreign direction.

While countries like China, USA, UK, France, Germany, Phillipines and Australia have secured themselves by abandoning their UID project, India is following the path of Pakistan which has compromised its national security and citizens’ personal sensitive information through National Database Registration Authority (NADRA).

It is now up to the Supreme Court to set matters right before the neglected spark burns the house learning from the smoke in the neighborhood.

(Dr Gopal Krishna is Member, Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL) and is a recognised expert on the Aadhaar controversy)