In the Dec. 6, 2011 post, India: How Much Fraud is Acceptable in NPR, UID, we touched on the philosophical differences between NPR and UID and the men behind the two efforts.
Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s biggest point has always been that his organization’s database, the National Population Register (NPR), is for Indian citizens only with a view toward issuing a citizenship card. His concern is that loose enrollment standards will lead to issuing the citizenship card to non-citizens and doing that exposes India to intolerable security risks.
The UIDAI, led by Nandan Nilekani is more concerned with providing everyone in India with a legitimate identity. The implicit assumption is that in a situation where a significant portion of the population will be unable to prove with scientific precision who they are (because they don’t have ID), you’re better off getting everyone an ID and then trying to sort things out later.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh set the conditions for both efforts to proceed in parallel, sharing tasks and infrastructure (in areas such as de-duplication) when possible, and otherwise staying out of each other’s way.
Though he never really seemed to accept the legitimacy of the pro-UID point of view Chidambaram took his medicine on January 24, 2012, in essence proclaiming “Rivalry! What rivalry?” See: UID: Home Ministry Climb-down.
Three days later the truce was sealed. UID would enroll 600 million people in 16 of India’s 28 states, and the NPR would issue 600 million credentials elsewhere. See Compromise reached on Biometric ID in India (January 27) which predicted that the rivalry would soon heat up again.
…which brings us to today:
Chidambaram, Nilekani spar over collection of biometric data (Times of India)
Sources said the cabinet again discussed the issue on Thursday after Chidambaram recently wrote to the Prime Minister complaining that the NPR project had “come to a standstill” because of the UID scheme.
“The collection of photographs and biometrics has been facing hurdles at every step on account approach of the UIDAI, which, it seems, has failed to appreciate the core purpose of the National Population Register,” Chidambaram said in his letter.
He also slammed the UIDAI for allegedly not following the cabinet’s orders.
“Despite clear orders from the cabinet, the UIDAI is objecting to the conduct of NPR camps in certain states and is also refusing to accept the biometric data of NPR for de-duplication and generation of Aadhaar number,” he said.
Versions of this article are all over the news today. I chose this one from the Times of India for the quality of the discussion in the comment section.
Of course, all this is highly political. But as we say around here all the time: Biometrics is about people. That applies across the board. It applies to the relationship between the individual and the ID management system, and it applies to the political and managerial people who implement and operate ID management systems.
Politics will always play a part in national biometric deployments and they should. What’s interesting in this case is that the political battle isn’t between pro- and anti-biometrics forces. It’s between two giant biometric deployments and, yes, the people who run them.