UIDAI admits to tie-ups with French, American companies
By Yatish Yadav | Published: 13th September 2013 09:23 AM |
The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has finally agreed to disclose the contracts it had signed with French and US biometric technology companies, L-1 Identity Solutions and Accenture.
The UIDAI, which was conceived by the Planning Commission to provide identification for each resident across the country, signed a contract with L-1 Identity Solutions in July 2010. Subsequently, it awarded over 30 contracts to various private companies to deliver Aadhaar numbers, but the agreements were never made public apparently because of a commercial confidentiality clause. In September 2010, L-1 Identity Solutions was acquired by a French company, Safran SA Group, which had worked with law-enforcement agencies in other countries. Interestingly, the Nandan Nilekani-led UIDAI had said in an RTI reply that “there are no means to verify whether the said companies are of US origin or not”.
The reply came in July 2011, exactly a year after L-1 Identity Solutions was contracted to supply finger and iris biometric capture devices for approximately $24.5 million.
A plea to access the contract agreement was filed by Mathew Thomas, a former defence scientist from Bangalore.
Gopal Krishna of the Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties, who represented Mathew in the Central Information Commission (CIC), described it as a clear act of omission, and said that feigning ignorance about the companies’ origin wasn’t pardonable at all.
“Didn’t Nilekani know the country of origin of the companies which were awarded contracts by the UIDAI? As far as providing information under the RTI Act is concerned, the CIC had earlier mentioned that citizens own the government and all information belongs to them. So the claim of commercial confidence is contrary to the RTI Act,” Krishna said.
Civil society groups had opposed the collection of personal biometric data, raising suspicions of potential misuse.