Open Letter to fellow citizens against turning the citizenry into ‘paper citizens’ through undemocratic and unconstitutional Compulsory Identity Proof

Dear Fellow Citizens,

This is to submit that the increasing demand for compulsory identity proof for Unique Identification (UID) is autocratic, undemocratic and unconstitutional. It is an exercise to turn the present and future generation of citizenry into ‘paper citizens’. It is an exercise by a minority government to delegitimize citizens at the behest of identification and surveillance industry.

I submit that linking basic need and services to identification regime is a gross act of violation of human rights. It imposes unacceptable surveillance on the mobility of citizens and their monetary and non-monetary transactions.

I submit that this is movement towards replication of a failed and rejected European Union model for identification based on the coupling of biometrics with Information Technology puts the body center stage. The unsuspecting citizenry and the political class is yet to apply its mind to comprehend the implications of a readable human bodies becoming related to identity by transforming the body’s surfaces and characteristics into digital codes and ciphers to be `read’ by a machine.

I wish to draw your attention towards a very apt editorial titled ‘Rail ID is anti poor’ (November 3, 2012, The Asian Age). I submit that the totalitarian dictate of compelling Indians to subjugate themselves to any Identification regime is anti-citizen in general. This indiscriminate identification exercise is creating an emergency architecture.

I agree with the contention of the editorial that in the name of regulation which is supposed to be effective from December 1, 2012 “is invidious and, on the face of it, anti-poor.” The editorial has rightly argued that it will “effectively to discriminate against all those, including the large numbers of migrant labour, who might need to travel at short notice.” This will make railways passengers vulnerable to fleecing by checking staff. If this exercise is allowed very soon similar exercise will made compulsory for buses and other modes of transport.

I wish to draw your attention towards what Bharat Jhunjhunwala, former Professor, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore has underlined the ramification of identification linked access to transportation in a recent article ‘Don’t intrude into our privacy’ (Financial World, October 29, 2012)  saying, “Say, one is taking part in the anti-corruption movement. Booking of rail tickets is linked to Aadhaar as well as withdrawal of cash from ATMSs. It thus becomes possible for the government to pinpoint and track movements of political opponents.” The article is attached. This tracking is valid for political parties from opposition and all the peoples and farmers movements. He has argued that Aadhaar (UID) like identification exercise being linked to social services is government’s excuse to access personal data. He wrote a similar article in Dainik Jagran.

In a paper “The illegal body: `Eurodac’ and the politics of biometric identification” published in the journal Ethics and Information Technology (Volume 1, Issue 4, pp 295-302), the author, Irma van der Ploeg of University of, Rotterdam, The Netherlands reads: `Your iris is read, in the same way that your voice can be printed, and your fingerprint can be read”, by computers that, in turn, have become “touch-sensitive”, and endowed with seeing and hearing capacities. Thus transformed into readable “text”, the meaning and significance of the biometric body will be contingent upon “context”, and the relations established with other “texts”.

In view of the above, I submit that even before the political ramifications of the coupling of human body and IT have been ascertained, the hurried manner in which the current minority government at the centre is rushing ahead to create a convergence economy based on e-payment and e-identity in furtherance of the policies of World Bank, NATO and Interpol is pregnant with alarming ulterior motives. It is not about these initiatives being anti-poor alone, it is about the emergence of a social control regime that is being facilitated by ungovernable technology companies. These initiatives must be resisted by the informed citizens, peoples’ movements and the progressive political class irrespective of their ideological affiliations.

In Solidarity

Gopal Krishna

Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties (CFCL)

ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)

New Delhi