I was reading this article on livemint and wondering what to make of it. I had also read an article called “UID: Facility or Calamity” at South Asia Citizen’s Web that Aashish had shared on Google Reader a while back, which I also wanted to revisit and link to, but their site is partially broken and I can’t get at the page: here’s a cached version on google. It says, essentially, that:
a) the Unique ID/Aadhar scheme, which gives a biometric ID to all citizens is not voluntary in any real sense of the term for a lot of people, because it’s required to access certain “social security” services,
b) that it is being implemented in a hap-hazard fashion which doesn’t ensure coverage for everyone,
c) that it will be inaccurate, (pretty much guaranteed, it’s only “how bad” that we can control)
d) that this program is going to be very (too?) huge in scope, allowing for conditional cash transfers and rolling up several existing services into one, and
e) that it is going to turn into a surveillance tool that is almost guaranteed to be misused, and that there are no options for redressal of grievances that do not go through the same body.
Now, all of these are true to some extent, but… well, b) and c) are going to be true for just about any government initiative, isn’t it? And one would think a biometric ID would, if anything, be less amenable to fraud than anything else. As for d): it was DESIGNED for that, wasn’t it? I didn’t really see the problem in that when it was first proposed, and I’m not sure I see the problem now, apart from a natural distrust of big government; but somehow I don’t think that was the problem for the authors. So we are left with a) and e), and I realized, I’m not actually very concerned about a) . (This would be the matter of principle referred to in the title.) In theory, I should be quite upset about it, especially when combined with e), but if it comes with sufficient efficiency gains for people who, let’s face it, really need all the help they can get, I’m a lot less upset about it. I’m concerned about e), of course, and I’m not getting this thing unless I absolutely have to, but I find myself willing to take the risk for other people, when there are other considerations in play… and n0, the sheer hypocrisy of this doesn’t escape me. That’s just how I roll sometimes. (Read the Livemint article I linked to earlier for some context, though.)
A large part of the reason I’m not more upset at this is that I do have a little bit of a fetish for this sort of technocratic solution to all our problems, implemented by fairly well-respected members from the private sector; although the last time I re-read the Foundation series was at least a year ago! I think I would take b), c), and e) a lot more seriously if this were something else. As it is, I can’t honestly come down on this one way or the other, except to say that “calamity” seems to be a remarkable overstatement.