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<nettime> INDIA-BIOMETRICS: And now... bites for all? Or, IT bites all?
Frederick FN Noronha फ्रेड्रिक न on Fri, 3 Mar 2017 08:11:31 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> INDIA-BIOMETRICS: And now... bites for all? Or, IT bites all?


Whats in a unique number?

Linking of Aadhaar to a growing number of government entitlements is
misguided

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   Written by [1]Swati Narayan | Updated: February 14, 2017 1:43 pm
   Aadhaar-based mobile phone, Govt, Supreme Court, Mukul Rohatgi, JS
   kHEHAR, mobile users, fraudulent activities, India news, Indian Express
   [INS: :INS]
   Finally, if the aim was to ensure that unsold foodgrains are not
   siphoned off with accounting dodges, there are far simpler
   alternatives.

   LAST week the Union food ministry issued an unprecedented diktat. It
   has insisted that each family member must possess an Aadhaar number
   within four months, to be eligible for subsidised foodgrains under the
   National Food Security Act. This ties in with the larger plan for all
   ration shops by 2019 to verify Aadhaar biometrics at every transaction.
   So, not only must 210 million families possess unique numbers for each
   member, they must also queue up every month to prove their thumbprints.
   But does this make any logical sense?

   First, the ration dealer can still give less grain than the printed
   receipt. Only in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are electronic weighing
   scales connected to stem quantity deception. But they too work only
   when there is electricity. Besides, the greatest pilferage occurs from
   godowns, not ration shops.

   Second, to weed out ghost cards and identity fraud, a one-time
   exercise to match ration cards with the population
   census would have been more than sufficient. Already, every single card
   nationwide has been digitised and two-thirds Aadhaar-seeded to purge 20
   million fake cards.

   Finally, if the aim was to ensure that unsold foodgrains are not
   siphoned off with accounting dodges, there are far simpler
   alternatives. Bihars barcoded coupons have reduced leakages from 91 to
   24 per cent within six short years. Previously, Tamil Nadu had relied
   on offline handheld billing devices (similar to those with bus
   conductors). Andhras ration shops now use iris scanners, with a lower
   error rate than biometrics. Instead, the insistence on Aadhaar
   biometrics has already wreaked havoc. The Mazdoor Kisan Shakti
   Sangathan estimates that in the last few months, 38 per cent of
   households in Rajasthan have not been able to match fingerprints. In
   Madhya Pradesh, 20 per cent of devices have malfunctioned and have been
   returned to vendors. Similarly, in Jharkhands capital, at the outset
   almost half the cardholders were not able to prove their identity. Five
   hundred leprosy survivors without fingers in Ranchi were insensitively
   denied foodgrains for three months  for want of fingerprints.

   The ouster of these eligible, impoverished families is often then
   heroically projected as savings. But even the best of technologies are
   often no match for large-scale insider fraud. Recently, across
   Karnataka, 45,000 bogus
   ration cards linked to fictitious 12-digit Aadhaar numbers were
   discovered. Biometrics are not foolproof  the calloused fingers of
   labourers and the elderly frequently throw up errors. Aadhaar also
   requires continuous access to mobile signals or the internet, which is
   a tall order in rural areas that barely have electricity.

   A decade ago, the British Parliament passed the Identity Cards Act. The
   intent was to create a National Identity Register database of all
   citizens with biometrics, iris, face scans and longitudinal records of
   residence. But after public outcry and escalating costs, in 2010, a new
   coalition government repealed the law and the nascent database was
   permanently destroyed. Australia and New Zealand too have abandoned the
   idea of national biometric archives.
   Indias Aadhaar project, however, has ballooned since its birth. From
   April, Aadhaar will also be a must to demand work under the MGNREGA.
   The Karnataka government plans to track the progress of every school
   child with fingerprints. Soon newborns in Maharashtra will also be
   enrolled for the magic numbers in hospitals. Never mind that their
   fingerprints and irises are yet to be fully formed.

   In this Big Brother Aadhaar mania, the HRD ministry has finally
   sounded the alarm bell. It has questioned the Centres push to link
   these unique numbers to student scholarships, which is in clear
   violation of earlier Supreme Court orders. Despite the furtive
   enactment of the Aadhaar Act through the backdoor as a money bill, the
   apex court has repeatedly pronounced that the unique number must be
   purely voluntary and cannot be made mandatory for any government
   entitlement, till the matter is sub judice.

   India ranks 97 of 118 countries on the Global Hunger Index. Two of
   every three Indians are guaranteed foodgrains under the National Food
   Security Act. One of every five rural households depends on MGNREGA
   work. Let an increasingly Orwellian Digital India, in the guise of
   Aadhaar, not eat into these lifelines.
   The writer is a visiting research scholar at the London School of
   Economics and Political Science from the Tata Institute of Social
   Sciences
   http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/aadhaar-number-subsidised-foodgrains-national-food-security-act-whats-in-a-unique-number-4521285/
   --
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   _/  Frederick Noronha  http://about.me/noronhafrederick
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