The way biometric data collector Nandan Manohar Nilekani has become – and has been allowed to become – a salesman of sensitive information about the citizens of India is quite shocking. But there’s more, snd we’re not talking abouit reports that Nilekani will soon become a neta and contest the 2014 elections on a Congress ticket. Nilekani, heading the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) shared its contract agreement with French and US biometric technology companies but it became evident that crucial pages are missing from the contract agreement after Central Information Commission (CIC) heard the matter on September 10, 2013.
For long, UIDAI refused to share a copy of all contracts given to French and US biometric technology companies, namely, L1 Identity Solutions and Accenture respectively. L1 was a US company till recently. UIDAI’s letter written to the CIC submits that “contractual obligation in respect of BSP (Biometric Solution Provider) contracts has expired. Therefore, UIDAI has no objection in sharing the following contract details:-a) Copy of contract of UIDAI with M/s L1 Identity Solutions for Biometric Technology; and b) Copy of contract of UIDAI with M/s Accenture for Biometric Technology”.
After examining these documents with regard to the M/s Accenture for Biometric Technology, it was noticed that the first 237 pages appear to be in order but after that there is a one pager titled Annexure J Technical Bid Technical Bid as submitted by M/s Accenture Services Pvt Ltd. The Technical Bid document is missing. After that there is a one pager titled Annexure K Commercial Bid Commercial Bid as submitted by M/s Accenture Services Pvt Ltd. The Commercial Bid document is missing.
With regard to the M/s L1 Identity Solutions for Biometric Technology, it was noiticed that the first 236 pages appear to be in order but after that there is a one pager titled Annexure I Non-Disclosure Agreement as submitted by M/s L1 Identity Solutions Operating Company Private Limited. But this document is missing. After that there is a one pager titled Annexure J Technical Bid as submitted by M/s L1 Identity Solutions Operating Company Private Limited.The Technical Bid document is missing. After that there is a one pager titled Annexure K Commercial Bid as submitted by M/s L1 Identity Solutions Operating Company Private Limited.The Commercial Bid document is missing. UIDAI has been asked for the missing pages from the copies of the contract.
The reasoning of UIDAI in its letter to CIC dated September 10, 2013 stating that “contractual obligation in respect of BSP (Biometric Solution Provider) contracts has expired” is flawed in the light of the previous judgment of the CIC. Under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the Public Information Officer (PIO) cannot deny information citing commercial confidence for agreements between a public authority and private party. While giving this judgment, CIC said “The claim of ‘commercial confidence’ in denying access to agreements between private parties and the masters of the public authorities—citizens—runs counter to the principles of the Right to Information.
“Any agreement entered into by the Government is an agreement deemed to have been entered into on behalf of the and in the interest of ‘We the people’. Hence if any citizen wants to know the contents of such an agreement he is in the position of a principal asking his agent to disclose to him the terms of the agreement entered into by the agent on behalf of the principal. No agent can refuse to disclose any such information to his principal,” the Central Information Commission (CIC) said in its order dated 27 July, 2009. The Commission was of the view that “The objectives of the RTI Act would be defeated if public authorities claim exemption based on a claim that ‘terms and condition were much more favourable to the Government’, and therefore these must be kept away from the Public. In fact public feels that quite often the contrary is the case,” the Commission noted. The CIC observed, “Any so called imaginary moral or reciprocal obligation cannot be permitted to subvert a solemn constitutional and legal obligation” and directed the PIO to provide a copy of the agreement.
In the contract agreement between the President of India, as purchaser and M/s L1 Identity Solutions Operating Company, as a “Biometrc Solution Provider” it has been officially admitted that the latter is a corporation of U.S.A. based in Delaware as of August 24, 2010. L-1 has since been bought over by French corporate conglomerate, Safran Group after the US Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) was convinced that there are no unresolved national security concerns with respect to the transaction. L-1 Identity Solutions announced agreement to be acquired by Safran on September 20, 2010.
From the contract agreement between the President of India, as purchaser and M/s Accenture Services Pvt Ltd as a “Biometrc Solution Provider” dated September 1, 2010 it is evident that it has not been disclosed that Accenture Services Pvt Ltd is a subsidiary of Dublin, Ireland based Accenture plc, a US company. Till January 1, 2001 it was known as Andersen Consulting. As a consequence of French corporate conglomerate Safran’s purchase of US company L-1 Identity Solutions, the de-duplication contracts of UIDAI’s Centralized Identities Data Repository (CIDR) and Home Ministry’s National Population Register (NPR) which was given to foreign companies on July 30, 2010 to three companies now lies with two companies of French and US origin namely, Safran Group and Accenture.
L-1 has been a US company that admittedly worked with intelligence agencies of USA. Now it has been purchased by French company, Safran Group in which the French Government also has a stake and which has forty year partnership with China. The latter is a US company that works admittedly with security agencies ofUSA. UIDAI has not disclosed whether there has been any fresh agreement between UIDAI and Safran Group and its subsidiaries and who all are the biometric solution providers after the expiry of the “contractual obligations” with L-1 Identity Solution and Accenture. The contract agreement with Accenture Services Pvt Ltd at clause 15.1 it reads: “By virtue of this Contract, M/s Accenture Services Pvt Ltd/Team of M/s Accenture Services Pvt Ltd may have access to personal information of the Purchaser and/or a third party or any resident of India, any other person covered within the ambit of any legislation as may be applicable.” The purchaser is the President of India through UIDAI.
Clause 15.3 reads: “The Data shall be retained by Accenture Services Pvt Ltd not more than a period of 7 years as per Retention Policy of Government of India or any other policy that UIDAI may adopt in future.” The contract agreement with L1 Identity Solutions Operating Company at clause 15.1 reads: “By virtue of this Contract, M/s L1 Identity Solutions Operating Company/Team of M/s L1 Identity Solutions Operating Company may have access to personal information of the Purchaser and/or a third party or any resident of India, any other
person covered within the ambit of any legislation as may be applicable.” The purchaser is President of India through UIDAI.
Clause 15.3 reads: “The Data shall be retained by L1 Identity Solutions Operating Company not more than a period of 7 years as per Retention Policy of Government of India or any other policy that UIDAI may adopt in future.” This implies that all this data is available to the US Government and the French Government. It is noteworthy that the ‘Strategic Vision on the UIDAI Project’ document that was prepared and submitted to the processes committee of the Planning Commission (set up in July 2006) by Wipro Ltd (consultant for the design phase and programme management phase of the pilot UIDAI project) too seems to be missing from the public domain.
Citizen groups have been campaigning against unregulated biometric, surveillance and identification technology companies since 2010 and had appeared before a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance in this regard. Justice M. Rama Jois, MP, Rajya Sabha had shared his views with the Parliamentary Committee as well. The silence of the opposition and non-Congress ruled States which are quite vocal about threats to federal structure from the Union Home Ministry‘s National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) and National Intelligence Grid (NATGRID) that integrates 21 sets of databases in the matter of the creation of UID’s Centralized Identities Data Register (CIDR) disregarding the fact that Planning Commission’s CIDR and Home Ministry’s National Population Register (NPR) is inexplicable.
To protect the rights of the citizens of their respective States, the States must un-sign the MoUs they have signed with the UIDAI whose now that the Supreme Court has made its poition clear. Although belated, legislative assemblies, councils, panchayati raj institutions, Gram Sabhas, universities etc must take seriously the illegality and illegitimacy of biometric data based identifications of citizens and put a stay on the implementation of UID and NPR related projects. It is sad that the very basis and nature of the world’s biggest biometric database initiatives is so questionable.