The Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) on Sunday (11) flayed the government for having agreed to grant some Indian companies access to the biometrics of Sri Lankans under the proposed Unitary Digital Identity Framework project.
FSP Education Secretary Pubudu Jayagoda said the High Commissioner of India to Sri Lanka, Santosh Jha had, on 01 February, told the media that an Indian company would print national identity cards with biometric features soon. Jayagoda said there were some issues in the bids made by Indian companies in 2023, but they would be sorted out by mid-2024.
In 2023, the Indian government provided 450 million Indian rupees for the implementation of the Unitary Digital Identity Framework project in Sri Lanka. According to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) the vendor should be an Indian company.
The Sri Lankan government called for tenders to select a service provider, but the two Indian companies were disqualified because they were not able to comply with basic criteria.
Jayagoda said: “The ID cards we use now have bio-data like name, date of birth, etc. In 2015, the Registration of Persons Act was changed to allow the issuance of an ID with biometrics.
When this act was amended, only one MP opposed it. We don’t think that the state has the right to access biometrics without a court order. This harks back to the time of kings, when rulers owned the physical bodies of their subjects,” he said.
Jayagoda said that the issue of collecting biometrics had national security implications.
“This started during the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration. In July 2021, criteria were prepared for a new electronic national identity card. On 28 January 2022, the Cabinet approved Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Cabinet paper seeking approval to award the digital identification card project to an Indian company. This opened doors for India to step in. On 08 May 2023, the Ranil-Rajapaksa government called for tenders for the project that was only open for Indian companies. The entire project costs 41.09 billion rupees. India will only give about 22 billion rupees and will get access to the biometrics of 22 million Sri Lankans. What an amazing deal for India,” Jayagoda said.
Madras Security Printers (MSP) and Protean Technologies were the Indian companies that offered bids. MSP, who has been blacklisted in India as well as in several other countries, nearly got the tender.
“The project did not get off the ground due to public outrage. Now tenders will be called again. No matter what Indian company wins, this will give access to invaluable data to a foreign state. This is a great threat to national security. No other country has given access to the biometrics of its people to a foreign country.”
Jayagoda said a country like Singapore, which collects biometrics, has gone to great lengths to prevent access to data for private or foreign companies. In the 21st century, data and information are tools that can be used to dominate other states.
“We urge people to not give their biometrics to any foreign company,” he said.