UIDAI, and its CEO, are Yet to Say Anything That Can Help us Trust Them

With only one biometric authentication, and five failed attempts, Ajay Bhushan Pandey’s authentication history for five months doesn’t exactly spark more faith in the UID system.

Dear Mr. Ajay Bhushan Pandey,

Over the last five years, I have received multiple requests – some polite, some forceful, but mostly threatening – to hand over my data to the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the organisation you head. Each time, I have most respectfully declined.

Trusting any third-party with items of importance is a task best handled with care. It also involves ascertaining that the organisation that you are handing over your data to is absolutely capable of taking good care of it.

It seems to me, from your public statements and Aadhaar authentication history – portions of which you made public in the ongoing Supreme Court hearings – that it is likely you might not be able to do so. Let me explain.

First up, finding and eliminating bugs in the Aadhaar system – which can lead to critical data leaks – is not one of your priorities.

India has pushed and cajoled over a billion people into signing up, and there is no official public policy on how concerned security researchers can report potential vulnerabilities. This is akin to saying that ‘all is well, there are no problems because nobody has told us we have an issue’.

And yet, you say that hacking threats (from domestic and foreign entities) give you sleepless nights. Perhaps a bug-reporting policy would give you an extra couple of hours each night? “There are attempts almost every day to hack [the] Aadhaar system, but none has succeeded,” you said recently.

No one has succeeded? The real question is whether you would tell us if an attempt had been made, given your controversial and often misleading history of denials.

Indeed, you deny too much. In the past month, you said that the UIDAI has “trashed” the ZDNet report and “refuted” the Aadhaar data leak by a Delhi researcher.

However, when you don’t say anything, it’s equally revealing. And there have been no public tweets denying The Tribune’s expose. I checked and checked, yet could not find any.

Moving on, you believe that the advent of Aadhaar and Aadhaar-linking cannot possibly result in any state or potentially hostile private entity constructing a 360-degree profile.

In the ongoing Supreme Court case, to prove this point, you made public your Aadhaar authentication history, but it actually revealed the following:

Between November 2017 to March 2018, you authenticated your Aadhaar identification a total of 26 times, of which five attempts failed. While it isn’t a good enough sample to derive any concrete conclusions, it’s more proof of how probabilistic Aadhaar is as an identification technology.

There’s a good chance that you currently hold three accounts in ICICI bank (bank accounts or credit cards), which are Aadhaar linked. It is possible to conclude that these are three distinct accounts, because the “UKC” fields are different, thus implying that these are different transactions and hence not the same account number (Linking one account number is usually a single transaction).

You also have an IDFC account, which is curiously not Aadhaar-linked, since it failed once and there were no further attempts to link it again in the history.

While there is an Aadhaar-linked Vodafone postpaid SIM card in your name, you probably don’t have your insurance accounts linked with Aadhaar. There are probably no insurance policies linked with Aadhaar, since there were no attempts from AUAs which are insurance companies.

Unlike your predecessor, Nandan Nilekani, you don’t appear to use the Aadhaar-enabled biometric attendance system as you enter your office and start a day’s work. If you did, there would be more authentication attempts recorded.

Also unlike the famous Matunga hotel in Mumbai, whose owner eats there – and hence first-hand knows the potential problems with the food cooked there – you don’t generally use biometric authentication (only once) and hence may find it difficult to empathise with the troubles facing some of India’s poorest and most vulnerable.

You are indeed a good bureaucrat who loves demos and follows up on progress methodically. And you certainly do spend time at work when there is a crisis.

I hope that I have demonstrated to you with the examples and analysis so far, why I find your proposal to hand over my data very unconvincing. Since you hold a doctorate in computer science, might I remind you of an old joke about what metadata can reveal about a person:

“I know you called your doctor, then your insurance company, then your doctor again, then two cancer treatment centers, then your ex-girlfriend, then your wife. But don’t worry, I have no idea what you talked about.”

Actually, jokes are redundant when your out-of-touch responses themselves generate laughs, as when you claimed that there were no privacy concerns with the Aadhaar ecosystem because the main database is behind “13 feet-high, five-feet thick walls”.

This is not looking good at all. If you can’t laugh at yourself, it may be difficult to handle the stress of all those hacking threats and take prompt action.

I sincerely hope that you consider my rejection to hand over my data in the right spirit. As a citizen of the country, whose tax money helps fund your organisation, we are all in this together – even if we don’t see eye to eye on about my private data and your capability to keep it safe.

Anand Venkatanarayanan

 
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Rehabilitating children is a good challenge for me, says Mumbai cop who has rescued 953

Speaking at Democracy Wall, sub-inspector Rekha Mishra said she always knew she wanted to do something good for the country.

New Delhi: Identifying and rehabilitating runaway children is a good challenge and makes her feel good about the fact that she had helped their parents, said Railway Police Force sub-inspector Rekha Mishra. The Railway Police Force sub-inspector, who has been posted in Mumbai for three years, says she has already rehabilitated 953 runaway children.

Mishra was in conversation with ThePrint’s Associate Editor, Manasi Phadke, at Somaiya Vidyavihar in Mumbai.

Democracy Wall is a monthly free speech campus initiative organised by ThePrint in collaboration with Facebook. The third edition of the event featured Mishra, MP Baijayant Jay Panda, actor Tannishtha Chatterjee, author Amish Tripathi, constitutor Meghnad, and comedian Shyam Rangeela.

Roadblocks surmounted

Mishra said it wasn’t always easy for her to help children due to barriers in language. For instance, three girls from Chennai who had been kidnapped and brought to CST, but only spoke Tamil, and couldn’t understand her.

The sub-inspector said that she managed to find someone who spoke Tamil, and later also found that cases of kidnapping had been filed by the girls’ parents.

“I called the local police and the girls’ parents to come and take them home,” she said.

Another roadblock that Mishra spoke about were parents, who did not even realise that their children had been missing for over two days.

“Identifying and rehabilitating such children is a good challenge for me and I feel good that I have helped these parents,” she said.

Ensuring proper rehabilitation

Mishra, who hands over the custody of lost children to the government’s Child Welfare Committee, said that they ensure that the child wants to return home.

“The child has the full freedom to decide whether or not to go back with their parents. If the child seems unwilling to go home, under no condition do we send them back to their parents,” Mishra said, adding that the child can stay in the custody of the CWC until they have made up their minds.

Mishra also said that she visits the CWC regularly to take feedback from the children and to ensure that they are being looked after properly.

“We send the child to CWC but we need to ensure he/she isn’t going missing in between or being forced into child labour. We ensure that they are getting proper food, clothes and schooling at CWC, as they should be,” she said.

Divya Narayanan

Indians have imported casteism to the US & a black journalist writes on the need to ban it

Civil rights laws do not explicitly ban discrimination based on caste. It was not seen as an issue in America when those laws were written.

Until six months ago, I had never considered that Indian immigrants had imported the caste system to the United States. That was when a senior reporter at the public radio station where I work as a senior editor in Boston told me he wanted to do a series on caste in America. He cited a few examples of discrimination he’d heard about. I endorsed the proposed series as a fine idea. As African-Americans, we both see the clear parallels between race and caste.

Last week, that reporter and I were astonished to find ourselves at a forum, inside a church near Harvard University, where an activist group of Dalit Americans unveiled a survey titled, ‘Caste in the United States’. The reporter has yet to hear back about his grant proposal to fund his series, but he’s the kind of journalist who gathers string for ambitious stories. He was there with his microphone, recorder and questions.

The first of its kind, the survey found that the caste system had indeed penetrated south Asian life in America, appearing to confirm the reporter’s story idea. I was intrigued because caste was a theme of my coverage of India as a foreign correspondent two decades ago. But was the survey valid?

After I sat down in the room crowded mostly with young people of different races and devoured a couple of samosas, the first thing I did was review the methodology in an appendix to the 49-page report. The sample size was 1,200, more than sufficient for a national survey in the United States.

The venerable Gallup polls rely on national samples of 1,000, for instance. In India, a country four times as populous, samples need to be larger, but 1,200 was big enough for the United States.

The limitation on the Equity Labs survey conducted online is how the sample was drawn. It was not a random sample. The authors did broad outreach through their contacts and other south Asian organisations to obtain a sizeable but self-selected sample.

The authors appear to recognise the survey’s limitations; they do not report a margin of error. It would be prohibitively expensive, if not virtually impossible, to conduct a random survey of Dalits and low-caste south Asians in America, given their small percentage in the overall population of 300 million.

That said, the survey stands as a preliminary, impressionistic picture of casteism operating in the United States. A recurrent theme in the findings is the shunning of a people once called “untouchables” at workplaces, schools, romantic relationships and houses of worship.

Two-thirds of the Dalit respondents, for example, said they had experienced “caste discrimination” where they had worked —perpetrated by other people of south Asian descent. Not surprisingly, just over half the Dalits reported they were doing what African-Americans would call “passing”, hiding their caste identity.

Caste bias has survived in America, despite the country’s egalitarian creed, because immigrant communities of all kinds can and do retain some of their traditional practices. Civil rights laws do not explicitly ban discrimination based on caste. It was not seen as an issue in America when those laws were written.

Most specific examples cited in the report were about acts of personal prejudice, not the kind of institutional discrimination that would be vulnerable to a legal challenge under such laws. But other examples described the effects of a “hostile environment” at workplaces or schools, which would be covered under civil rights laws. And physical assaults mentioned in the report could be classified as “hate crimes”.

A couple of findings did surprise me. Nearly half the Dalits have postgraduate degrees, compared to about a quarter of Brahmins. I would have expected something like the reverse.

The reason appears to be related to India’s reservations: Three-quarters of Dalits said they had benefitted from affirmative action in their countries of origin. India’s leadership class might want to contemplate why so many Dalits were taking their reservation-enabled educations and leaving, perhaps never to return.

The survey report’s authors, Thenmozhi Soundararajan and Maari Zwick-Maitreyi, make modest recommendations that American institutions raise awareness about caste bias in their ranks. Colleges are asked to add caste to their anti-hazing and anti-bullying policies, and religious institutions are advised to establish reporting and monitoring procedures to root out caste prejudice.

A bolder approach would be to call for caste to be added to national and state civil rights laws that bar discrimination on specific grounds, along with race, sex, religion, colour, national origin and, in some cases, sexual orientation.

That addition would be harder to achieve and would require increased awareness of casteism as a first step anyway. The US Congress passed the seminal Civil Rights Act of 1964, after all, only once a media-savvy movement swayed public opinion.

Kenneth J. Cooper, a senior editor at WGBH in Boston, was south Asia bureau chief of The Washington Post from 1996 to 1999.

Can India’s board exams break out of cheating and question paper leaks?

Illustration by Siddhant Gupta

On Wednesday, the CBSE announced it would be conducting a re-examination for Class X maths and Class XII economics after the question papers were leaked. Some students are now demanding that a re-examination be conducted for all the subjects.

CBSE paper leak shows we need to revisit how papers are distributed, collected and stored 

Ashok Ganguly
Former CBSE chairperson

There is a saying that is very relevant in this context — nothing fails like success. The CBSE conducted board examinations impeccably for decades. But such success brings with it complacency, negligence and arrogance. I have a hunch that faith in the infallibility of the system led to this unfortunate situation.

We cannot do away with board examinations at this point in time. There is no alternative to it.

The CBSE is a national board. It is in a unique position to craft syllabi and conduct examinations across the country and abroad. It can’t be equated with a state board. We pioneered the move to introduce multiple sets of question papers. However, they did away with multiple question papers in this session. If they hadn’t, the impact would not have been so far-reaching. We could have avoided a situation where pan-India exams have to be re-conducted.

The CBSE exams are an offline system, which means that there is usually the complicity of an insider in leaks. By insider, I do not mean the CBSE staff. There many other people who are involved in printing the papers, distributing them, collecting them, and even storing them. Although the CBSE does try to institute a system of multiple checks and balances, there is always room for variability.

CBSE has a good system of checking unfair practices and cheating in the examination. By having different sets of question papers in the same examination room, it checks the mass copying and unfair practices in the examination. By doing away with multiple set of question papers, there is apprehension that cheating and unfair practices may flourish in the examination.

We need to revisit how examination papers are distributed, collected and stored. Weeding out chinks in the chain is necessary.


Krishna Kumar
Former director, National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT)

My answer to this question is: Of course it can. Exams are conducted by the boards, so any improvement in the conduct of exams depends on reform in the boards. Let us start by asking why some boards are better than others? The answer is simple: Boards that want to bring about improvements and have the resources to pursue a reform agenda do so.

The National Curriculum Framework, 2005, gave several basic recommendations for reforming the secondary-level exam system. These are elaborated in the position paper titled ‘examination reforms’, prepared by a national focus group that had among its members the chairpersons of several boards, including the CBSE. You can ask why the CBSE didn’t implement these recommendations. The answer is: It tried for some time, then gave up. To sustain any effort of this nature, you need institutional continuity, cohesion among different institutions, and openness to ideas.

One reason why the CBSE is unable to improve itself is its bureaucratic structure and ethos. Also, it carries an unwarranted burden of numerous exams and entrance tests, in addition to the the secondary-level exams, i.e. Class X and XII, that it was set up to conduct. Its inner world is quite opaque, so the chances of any real introspection are bleak.


 

Divya Bhatia
Principal, Amity International School, SaketPrincipal, Amity International School, Saket

The events of the last few days, related to the leak of CBSE board papers, is a matter of disgrace for the entire nation, notwithstanding the anguish and anxiety caused to millions of young students and their parents.

Where is the credibility of our system when exams of such a stature are mired with controversies? This has shaken our faith in the system and requires detailed introspection by the CBSE and all the stakeholders to plug such loopholes in the future. Media debates are turning the issue into a political mud-slinging match. Since the future of our youth is at stake, it is time to join hands and work out solutions instead.

This year, for the first time, the CBSE had a common paper. Earlier, leaks affected only students of the state where they occurred. This year, the crisis is magnified because everybody is affected.

Tuition and coaching centres have a huge role to play in disseminating the papers. They need to be taken to task as well.

Each year, the CBSE has a set of experts frame questions, and compilers make the various sets of papers. Here is another possible way to do this —have a large bank of questions of varying difficulty levels, a marking scheme, and software that uses these to frame papers, which, in turn, are accessed by schools with a secret code and printed just 30 minutes before the exam. However, I am not sure how this would work for remote areas.

To mitigate the impact of leaks, we could also have all states conduct completely different exams with moderation done to bring students on a par with each other.

We need to take strict action against the miscreants by giving them exemplary punishment. And more importantly, restore the value of integrity among our students, parents and educationists, and the credibility of the system.

But, above all, we need to remove the hype around the board exams, reduce stress, and the race for 100s.


Basanti Roy
Former Mumbai divisional secretary, Maharashtra State Board

This is a very rare example. The boards are taking adequate measures, but cheating has become easier because of technological advances. For example, WhatsApp has made it easier to circulate leaked papers. And this could be one of the reasons why copying is difficult to curb.

Sensitisation of people is important to make exams cheating-proof. Furthermore, there should be stricter penal action against those who cheat and use unfair means, which currently gets a student debarred from appearing for board exams for three years.

Copying happens at two levels. At the level of people involved in conducting the exams (black sheep), and in exam halls during the course of the exam. The invigilators are not doing their job properly, and thus indirectly encouraging copying.

The number of CBSE schools has also gone up. Today, any Tom, Dick or Harry can open a CBSE school. The promoters of such schools adopt leaks and other dubious measures to attract people to their schools. Every street has a CBSE school today.

More than 17 lakh students appear for the CBSE exams now. With such a huge number of examinees, things are not manageable for one board. They are not able to implement strict discipline proportionately.

But there is no scope of corruption in this paper leak as the board is very vigilant.


Anubhuti Vishnoi
Deputy Editor

While lakhs of students and their parents are understandably distressed over the cancellation of two CBSE exams, trashing the CBSE as an institution beleaguered with exam leaks is excessive.

The CBSE has grown to become the most credible of this country’s school examination systems, and is looked up to for the quality benchmarks it sets. That a number of schools from various parts of the country continue to seek affiliation to this central government-backed board is a testament to the institution it has developed into and the prestige it enjoys.

The leak of the exam papers is an obvious pointer to the need for a technological reboot in the entire process of setting up question papers and conducting the exam. That the board needs to address this on top priority cannot be overemphasised.

There is, however, another equally significant aspect to the question paper leak, the retest and the agony it has brought to students and their parents.

It is about exam pressure and how much is predicated on this one end-of-the-year exam. The very possibility of having to re-appear for the board exam is enough to throw countless students into deep distress.

It is the debate about the academic rigour that the Indian schooling system brings and how it can suddenly teeter dangerously into life-and-death scenarios for a number of students. That was also the debate that turned political when one government made the Class X board exam optional and another brought it back.

The question paper leak sharply exposes the need for an overhaul and the need for a good hard look at what a nail-biting year-end exam does to every child in school.


Compiled by Deeksha Bhardwaj, journalist at ThePrint.

Arun Jaitley and Justice Chelameswar, face-to-face

The two will take part in a panel discussion on the higher judiciary, in the midst of its increasing tensions with the executive.

New Delhi: A senior government minister and one of the four dissenting judges of the Supreme Court are set to come face to face for the first time since the landmark January press conference by the four judges.

The two individuals in question are finance minister Arun Jaitley, an eminent lawyer who served as the union law minister in 2000-04, and the second most senior SC judge, Jasti Chelameswar. Both are listed as speakers in a panel discussion at a book launch in the capital on 9 April.

The book, Appointment of Judges to the Supreme Court of India: Transparency, Accountability, and Independence, is published by Oxford University Press. Paul Craig, professor of law at the University of Oxford, will be the third speaker on the panel, with the topic of discussion being ‘The Indian Higher Judiciary: Issues & Prospects’.

Why it is significant

The two will come face to face in the midst of increasing tensions between the executive and the judiciary.

While Chelameswar has raised the banner for independence of the judiciary, the Narendra Modi government is accused of stalling appointments to the higher judiciary.

ThePrint had reported that in a letter to the Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, on 21 March, Chelameswar questioned why the chief justice of the Karnataka High Court, Dinesh Maheshwari, initiated an inquiry against senior district and sessions judge P. Krishna Bhat despite his elevation to the high court being cleared by the Supreme Court collegium twice.

Chelameswar had also written about the independence of the judiciary and the importance of insulating the judiciary from the executive.

“We, the judges of the Supreme Court of India are being accused of ceding our independence and our institutional integrity to the executive’s incremental encroachment. The executive is always impatient, and brooks no disobedience even of the judiciary if it can,” the letter said.

History of the rift

Along with the CJI, Chelameswar had marked the letter to 22 other judges of the Supreme Court, after facing complaints that the other judges were not taken into confidence during the unprecedented press conference on 12 January, when Chelameswar and the next three senior judges — Ranjan Gogoi, Madan B. Lokur and Kurien Joseph — publicly expressed reservations with the functioning of the SC.

The four judges had expressed their “great anguish and concern” regarding Misra’s administrative style, the allocation of cases by him, and certain judicial orders passed by the apex court.

The press conference exposed the trouble that had been brewing within the top court of the land, and the growing rift between the four judges and the CJI.

Source : theprint.in