With a gesture of great hope, India has announced NATGRID. This is a logical consequence to unique ID (UID) started a year back. The census exercise was designed as a preparatory step to this end and with people formally registering for (UID), a sharper data-set would be available to planners. An incentive had been originally envisaged and now various state governments are offering Rs. 100 to different segments, so that each individual has a bank account. The government will directly transfer a sum equivalent to US dollar 2.23 into the bank accounts of beneficiaries of social security schemes, pensioners, physically disabled and widows, and those of rural employment guarantee scheme who are below poverty line after they produce relevant documents as proof at the time of enrolment. Apart from understandable requirement for ration card (the sole universally obtained card across all sections in the country), other documents needed for UID like IP pump set details, Passbook number in milk cooperative society, Customer card number for LPG connection etcetera imply that data being collected would be used for other purposes as well.
The digital age is slowly bringing out value of data that has traditionally been collected by governments, organizations and institutions. It has also demonstrated the problem of keeping data secure. The best of governments are not able to take responsibility for protection of information relating to individual citizen.
NATGRID will keep and update 21 kinds of data, taking it from different departments/ministries, state police, immigration bureaus, property registrar offices and telecom service providers. All data relating to an individual’s bank accounts, income tax, travel, immigration, insurance, property, credit and debit details, telephone and internet usage will be stored in the system. TOI
The go ahead was given by CCS only after ‘being convinced of the safety mechanism of the system … of an individual’s privacy’. It would take some time for a digital society to get mature enough to understand the concept of ‘privacy’ in true perspective. Banking information might be one of the few things that people don’t give away over Social-networking sites.
ACLU on its public website makes an appeal to oppose the bill for Lawful Workforce Act. It does that solely on ground of inability of departments involved, to maintain privacy of data.
Congress is once again considering expanding E-Verify to require every employer in the United States to cross-check their employees’ and new-hires’ citizenship status with Social Security Administration (SSA) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) databases before giving workers permission to work. Both databases are buggy and inaccurate, even by the departments’ own admission. In addition, government plans for a massive worker database would leave your personal information vulnerable and increase the risk of identity theft.
Every coin has two sides. One set of agency gathers data to execute, the other to bring out flaws in execution. In a developing nation, the need for infra-structure is felt, visualized and addressed differently by various competing stake-holders.
The concept of crowd-sourcing has been kick-started by a group focusing on power-condition in India in real time. The statement in about page of powercuts.in says,
The project aims to crowdsource, primarily from twitter and other mediums like Mobile Web, SMS, Smartphone Apps, information about the Power Cuts happening in India starting this summer. The primary aim of the website is to collect data from people and make it accessible in various formats and provide it back for public use.
Ajay Kumar and Shefali Yogendra manage this project with several volunteers. It is licensed under Public Domain Dedication and License, freedom to everyone to share, create and adapt. Commercial startups like justdial, naaptol, shaadi, makemytrip etc spearheaded by the Indian Railways online ticket reservation system, have already proved value of internet to an average citizen. With powercut.in, they get their true democratic right. For decades, they wanted their voice to be heard in the democracy, but it needs a complex, powerful, efficient system to hear as well as assure them of ‘being heard’.
This is the kind of initiative that might help in educating and developing a wise, mature citizenry capable of making choices resulting in efficient governance and superior quality of life. Information, as also their right to it, getting so accessible has raised people’s expectations. Requesting the government to check corruption by approving Lokpal bill in stipulated time, a-political leader Anna Hazare recently said, “No one can stop the emerging social and political change in India. Now people have realised that they have to become agents of change and must not rely only on leaders and political parties.”
It is said, —‘give them the tools and they will build their own destiny’. The tool is on verge of being given. Both, formal and informal agencies are coming up with structures and innovations that lead to open, transparent existence. There shall be impediments. People would have to learn to deal with them, not live with them. There already is a movement on, ‘net-neutrality’ that is directed to “save the internet” from giant cable corporations. It is only the informed, who can protect their freedom. Thus, the laureate prayed,
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake
As it is only those awake who read this, entreat others to discard their slumber. Spirit of democracy lies both in individual thought and power of collective speech.