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Indian ID Project is Foundation for Future Economic Progress

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

India is in the midst of the biggest national identification project in the country’s history. The aim is for every Indian to receive a voluntary electronic identification card containing his or her details and a unique number. Called an Aadhaar, it is a 12-digit unique number registered with the Unique Identification Authority of India (http://uidai.gov.in) (UIDAI). The project joins a growing trend across the global South to map populations in order to better achieve development goals.

About one-third of the world’s urban dwellers live in slums, and the United Nations estimates that number will double by 2030 as a result of rapid urbanization in developing countries. How to improve slum-dwellers’ living conditions and raise their standard of living is the big challenge of the 21st century.

With just four years to go until the 2015 deadline to meet the Millennium Development Goals (http://www.undp.org/mdg), and the current economic downturn reversing some gains, any tool that can make development decisions more precise has to be a benefit.

Innovators are turning to the opportunities afforded by digital technologies to reach slums and poor areas. The approaches vary, from India’s national identification system to new ways of using mobile phones and Internet mapping technologies. With mobile phones now available across much of the global South, and plans underway to expand access to broadband internet even in poorly served Africa, it is becoming possible to develop a digital picture of a slum and poor areas and map population needs.

Put to the right use, this powerful development tool can fast-track the delivery of aid and better connect people to markets and government services. In a country of severe regional disparities and caste (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caste) divisions, the national identification number has the advantage of not documenting people in a way that would bring prejudice.

India’s Aadhaar is intended to serve a number of goals, from increasing national security to managing citizen identities, facilitating e-governance initiatives and tackling illegal immigration. While critics of ID schemes complain about the civil liberties implications of national identity card projects (www.bigbrotherwatch.org.uk), it is a fact that countries that want to increase the social benefits available to their citizens need to understand who those citizens are, where they live and what their social needs are. India’s problem to date has been a lack of knowledge of its citizens: many millions exist in a limbo world of not being known to local authorities.

The unique number is stored in a database and contains details on the person’s demographics (name, age, etc.) and biometrics (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biometrics) – a photograph, 10 fingerprints and an iris scan. Residents in an area find out about the Aadhaar through various sources, from local media to local government agencies. An ‘Enrolment Camp’ is established in the area where people go to register, bringing anything they have that can prove their identity. The biometric scanning takes place here. ID cards are issued between 20 and 30 days later.

On January 13, 2011 the project declared it had registered its millionth person, a 15-year-old named Sukrity from North Tripura. The goal is to register 600 million people in the next four years.

One of the immediate advantages to many poor people is gaining access to banking services for the first time, because an Aadhaar number is accepted as sufficient ID to open a bank account. The identification authority says the scheme will be “pivotal in bringing financial services to the millions of unbanked people in the country, who have been excluded so far because of their lack of identification.”

The Times of India reported in 2010 that Khaiver Hussain, a homeless man in an addiction treatment programme, was able to get a bank account after receiving the identification number. He was able to open an account with the Corporation Bank along with 27 other homeless people. Having a bank account has removed the fear he had of being robbed of his meagre savings while he slept.

Another homeless day labourer, Tufail Ahmed from Uttar Pradesh, said “This passbook and the UID card have given people like me a new identity. It has empowered us.” He has been able to use the saved money to rent a room with four other day labourers.

In countries where no national ID card schemes exist, people are turning to other methods to register and map populations in order to improve their living conditions.

In Kenya and Brazil, digital mapping projects are underway using mobile phones to paint a picture of the population living in slum areas and shanty towns. An NGO called Map Kibera (www.mapkibera.org) began work on an ambitious project to digitally map Africa’s largest slum, Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya. The Map Kibera project uses an open-source software programme, OpenStreetMap (www.openstreetmap.org), to allow users to edit and add information as it is gathered.

An NGO called Rede Jovem (www.redejovem.org.br) is deploying youths armed with GPS (global positioning system)-equipped (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Positioning_System)mobile phones to map the favelas of Rio de Janerio.

Powerful tools now exist to aid digital mapping. Google Maps (www.maps.google.com) is one example.

While the project is impressively ambitious – and it remains to be seen if it is completed as planned – the economic and development implications of this vast data collection and national identification are enormous. It will enable very accurate identification of markets and needs and also of development challenges and needs. This should lead to many business innovations in the country in coming years and also draw in more business from outside the country.

Resources

1) Ushahidi is a website that was developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout at the beginning of 2008. The new Ushahidi Engine has been created to use the lessons learned from Kenya to create a platform that allows anyone around the world to set up their own way to gather reports by mobile phone, email and the web – and map them. It is being built so that it can grow with the changing environment of the web, and to work with other websites and online tools. Website:http://blog.ushahidi.com/

2) Google Android: Get inventing! This software enables anyone to start making applications for mobile phones. And it offers a platform for developers to then sell their applications (apps). Website: www.android.com

“Unique Identity for All”: Biometric identity is being rolled out across the planet. HSB is one of the many players in this fast-growing data collection sector.
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This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

By 2014, Southern Innovator had published five issues and become a recognised global innovation brand.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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False Data Makes Border Screening Corruptible

“Big Brother” system could violate rights of Canada’s visitors

By David South

Now Magazine (Toronto, Canada), May 21-27, 1992

New technology that can spew out a person’s life history in less than six seconds is now available to Canada’s customs and immigration officials.

And while Canada customs and immigration officers say this toy is a boon – replacing the need to memorize names of so-called undesirables – civil rights workers and refugee activists point out that the gizmo could have serious consequences, with little recourse.

The technology is called PALS, or primary automated look out system, and is already in operation at airports in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Vancouver.

PALS’ operation is based on the use of computer-readable passports. Canada is one of several countries that have started including computer strips on passports and identity cards. Officers use PALS by either keying in a special number printed on the passport or identity card or using a scanning machine to read the strip.

The system went into effect at Toronto’s Pearson airport on January 20, after a three-year pilot project in Vancouver, adding Canada to the 11 countries that have machine readers for passports. Under the old system, customs officers combined judgement, questioning and the most-wanted list to decide if a passenger required further interrogation and search.

During a demonstration of the system, customs officials at Pearson airport boast about the system’s role in apprehending a drug smuggler in PALS’ first week of operation.

Sinister sign

But to civil libertarians with experience of such systems in other countries, PALS hasa sinister implication. Many say that PALS spews out what is fed into it. And depending on the country involved, what is fed into it may not necessarily be true.

While customs emphasizes PALS’ role in apprehending popular targets like drug smugglers, terrorists and child kidnappers, its reach also includes people who have smuggled in too many cigarettes or bottles of alcohol, convicted criminals who have finished serving their time, immigrants, refugees and a range of petty offenders.

All of these face a second interrogation and detention based on what their governments have decided to incorporate into the computer strip. And it is this that worries civil libertarians and refugee workers.

Consider the case of a legally sponsored Portuguese immigrant who arrived at Pearson just after PALS had been introduced. He was detained based on information stored in PALS. His immigration lawyer Ali Mohideen recalls how the man was held because of a cheque that he bounced in his native Portugal about eight years ago.

Ed Lam, director of research for the Canadian Ethnocultural Council, feels customs and immigration already have “too many powers.” He regularly receives complaints from visible minorities and immigrants who feel they are singled out for harassment at the airport.

“This is big brother. Legal protection is not enough,” he argues. “It leads to costly court battles with the government. I would like to see an ombudsperson or complaints bureau set up. As for refugees turned back at the border, we will never hear from them.”

False data

Other critics, especially those in the US, where a PALS-type system has been in operation for more than a decade, worry that the system will simply accept information given by tyrannical governments.

“It is hard to trace false information to a foreign government,” says Jeanne Woods, legislative counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union, which monitors abuse under the United States system.

“People have been accused of being communists or terrorists who have denied it. The El Salvadoran government is one example of a regime which has called prominent human rights activists and lawyers terrorists.”

She would like the Canadian Parliament to pass a law similar to one passed last November in the US requiring the state department to report to Congress when somebody is denied access because they have been called a terrorist, so that the origin of the information can be tracked.

“People have been accused of being communists or terrorists who have denied it. The El Salvadoran government is one example of a regime which has called prominent human rights activists and lawyers terrorists.”

The Canadian database draws its information from several sources, according to customs spokesperson Suzanne Bray. The sources include immigration records and the Police Information Retrieval System, which is a database shared between customs and the RCMP.

Bray refuses to divulge any other sources, citing security, but both RCMP and customs operate their own intelligence services, sharing information with their counterparts all over the world, especially the US. Information is also drawn from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and its sister organizations such as the CIA. However, CSIS spokesperson Ray Boisvert says they have adequate safeguards against false information provided by countries known to be human rights abusers.

“CSIS does look at bias in intelligence reports,” he says.

The US equivalent of PALS has been criticized after several cases of abuse were detected. Gara LaMarche, executive director of the Fund for Free Expression, a project of US-based Human Rights Watch, has documented abuse on political and ideological grounds.

“The US public has a right to hear dissenting views under the first amendment of the Constitution,” he says. “I don’t think improving the technology of border control violates civil liberties, but keeping a massive database of information which includes people’s political associations is bad.”

Similar concerns are expressed by John Tackaberry of Amnesty International in Ottawa, which is only now beginning its own analysis of PALS. “We have concerns over data input, who controls information and basic civil liberties.”

Even as Canadian civil rights activists take stock of PALS, Canada customs is planning to use it to check cross-border shopping by expanding the system to all land entry points.

As for those visitors who feel wronged by PALS, they may have a problem seeking redress from such organizations as the Canadian Human Rights Commission. A spokesperson says the CHRC can only help those who have been admitted to Canada. And visitors turned back at the border are not considered admitted.

Sherry Gerstl, a customs superintendent responsible for the implementation of PALS at Pearson, says that people can also appeal to the Privacy Act to see information that is kept on them. But two fact sheets explaining how this can be done are located in a corner, pretty much out of public view.

Bray acknowledges that “honest” passengers could face the prospect of a search with PALS, but given its positive attributes, she says, passengers involved in such delays should simply “grin and bear it.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021