Assam to introduce biometric tracking for suspected illegal immigrants
The Assam government, together with the Union home ministry, plans to introduce a “biometric-based real-time” tracking system for suspected illegal immigrants identified though the National Register of Citizens (NRC), senior government officials familiar with the matter said.
The tracking system will be part of a Rs 99 crore e-Foreigners’ Tribunal project, a digital platform that would ensure illegal immigrants are not issued government-approved identity documents such as passports, driving licences, PAN cards, etc and they do not have access to social welfare schemes once they are declared foreigners.
Around four million Assam residents were not included in the NRC draft released in July 2018. Earlier this week, the NRC secretariat released an additional draft list of over 100,000 people who have been excluded from the register.
Those whose names do not figure in the final list will have to appeal in the foreigners’ tribunals, the quasi judicial bodies where they will have to prove their citizenship.
According to Anand Tiwari, the Indian Police Service officer appointed to head the e-FT, the digital platform would comprise a biometric-based common database as well as digitization and automation of all records and processes pertaining to suspected illegal immigrants.
The Supreme Court-approved standard operating procedure (SOP) for the claims-and-objections exercise of the NRC last year directed the collection of biometric data of those who were excluded from the NRC draft and filed claims and also those against whom objections have been filed.
The SOP said those who make it to the final NRC list will be issued Aadhaar numbers but remained silent on what would be done with the biometric data of those who don’t make it to the list.
According to the e-FT detailed project report (DPR), the single window platform will help “detection, prosecution, detention and deportation of declared foreigners” on a real-time basis.
The application is being built using the existing infrastructure of the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems (CCTNS), a nationwide tracking system “around investigation of crime and detection of criminals”.
To ensure sharing of data on real-time basis, the e-FT will be integrated with the NRC and the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) databases and dovetailed with the Interoperable Crime and Justice System (ICJS) in the second phase of the exercise.
The ICJS, an extension of the CCTNS, aims to integrate police stations with databases of courts and prisons in the first phase and then with other pillars of the criminal justice system - forensics, prosecution, juvenile homes and a nationwide fingerprint data base of criminals -- in a phased manner.
“The integration with these databases, once approved, would enable tracking of suspected illegal foreigners when they move to other states and restrict their access to government documents and services,” a second government official familiar with the project said.
“The integration of the e-FT with the NRC and the UIDAI will ensure sharing of biometric information on a real time basis,” the DPR says. “E-FT solution will be integrated with the NRC database, UIDAI for biometric authentication (subject to Supreme Court approval) to detect illegal migrant settled outside the state.”
The NRC and the e-FT database will be provided to all state and central agencies for biometric verification through the UIDAI biometric authentication process that would validate information and alert the agency.
Under the present system of detection of illegal immigrants, over 80,000 of the more than 1,00,000 people declared foreigners have gone missing, officials said. The details of these individuals are also proposed to be fed into the database.
According to the proposal, the integration with Aadhaar database would help authorities deny suspected immigrants government services such as passport, driving licence, cooking gas connection or bank account anywhere in the country.
“The key objectives of the e-FT project include biometric validation; biometric and biographic data of e-FT and NRC will be shared with all stakeholders for validation purposes. This will enable maintenance of a state-wide database. This database, a digital repository, will be created for easy data access, validation, audit and review of illegal migrant issue,” Tiwari said.
“The NRC’s linkage with UIDAI and ICJS will help in validation of eligible beneficiaries for social benefit schemes, issuance of government-approved identity documents such as passport, driving licence, bank account, PAN, LPG, Aadhaar and voter ID, among others, from Assam or any other state of India,” he added.
Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta, head of the Border Organisation mandated to catch illegal immigrants who has been involved in the database since earlier this year, said those who do not make it to the NRC need to be kept track of and the database can help do so.
As part of the project, the Assam government officials have started collecting biometric data during the ongoing claims and objections exercise, deploying all the resources in the state that were involved with Aadhaar enrolment.
However, the data is being currently stored in UIDAI’s servers though it is being collected by the state’s home and political department.
Under the Aadhaar law, a court order is required to seek a person’s biometric data from the UIDAI. Ashutosh Agnihotri, the commissioner and secretary, home and political department, said the provision is not applicable in this case as it would be wrong to assume it is UIDAI data. “It is not UIDAI’s biometric data. One cannot assume that,” he said.
Economist Jean Dreze, who has been studying Aadhaar’s interface with government schemes, said as per Section 29(1) of the Aadhaar Act, the UIDAI cannot share biometric information with anyone.
He, however, said if the state chooses to share its own biometric database with the UIDAI that may not come in conflict with the law. A data centre in Guwahati is part of the project report. “One could argue that it is not part of the UIDAI’s mandate. But the government could argue this is being done in pursuance of the Supreme Court’s request to ensure illegal immigrants do not get Aadhaar,” he said.
Dharmananda Deb, a lawyer from Silchar who is part of the All Assam Bengali Hindu Association, questioned the collection of biometric data.
“The Aadhaar Act does not allow the UIDAI to collect biometric data for any purpose other than to generate the 12-digit identity number,” he said. “Under the law one cannot be compelled to give information. Under this exercise persons are being compelled to give their biometric information,” he said.
Asked about UIDAI sharing the biometric data, an Assam government official said the details were being discussed with the UIDAI, which has biometric data of about 1.2 billion Indians. UIDAI officials in Guwahati refused to comment and the office of its chief executive officer in New Delhi did not respond to a detailed questionnaire.