The Hidden Hand Behind National Population Register

Documents in possession of GreatGameIndia reveal an insidious conspiracy to smuggle biometric and demographic data of Indians collected during a Pilot Project initiated under National Population Register to Taiwan. Such sensitive data in the wrong hands in a foreign country could not just result in identity theft but pose a threat to India’s National Security.

Conspiracy to smuggle NPR biometric data to Taiwan
Conspiracy to smuggle NPR biometric data to Taiwan

National Population Register Pilot Project

Complaints and letters to the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Finance, CFT Cell and RTIs in possession of GreatGameIndia sheds light on a criminal conspiracy by Smartmatic Services Corporation and APR Biometric ID Services Private Limited to smuggle Biometric data of Indian citizens to Taiwan. The biometric data was collected in a pilot project of the National Population Register (NPR).

In the year 2010, in connection with the creation of the NPR, the Department of Information Technology (DIT) setup various Information and Communication Technology enabled Common Service Centers (CSC) in different parts of the country for capturing biometric and demographic data.

During the Pilot Project conducted in seven states, including Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Meghalaya, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa at 20 locations, the aforesaid Companies collected biometric and demographic data of approximately two lakh Indian individuals which was stored in the machines used for data collection – the PARmobiles.

The PARmobiles

The PARmobile, a proprietary product developed by Smartmatic is a portable identity enrollment device widely recognized as the ‘Next-Generation Device for Enrollment of People’. It is an all-in-one device with a finger-print scanner, signature pad, digital camera and electronic ID reader.

The data captured and collected on the PARmobiles was supposed to be deleted by Smartmatic and APR Biometric ID Services after the completion of the Pilot Project. According to the whistleblower, this data was not deleted and the aforesaid Companies tried to mislead and defraud their employees to export these machines (containing biometric and demographic data) to Taiwan without approval from concerned Government Agencies regarding the contents.

Edgar Zorrilla, then Senior Vice President of Smartmatic and advisor to CEO along with other officers, told the whistleblower that the PARmobiles (80 in number) were imported by Smartmatic under the name of its previous partner Smart Identity Devices Private Limited and were stored in a warehouse. Further, the said officers hatched a criminal conspiracy to export these devices with the data in them to Taiwan.

Such sensitive data in the wrong hands in a foreign country could not just result in identity theft but pose a threat to India’s National Security. The incident was brought to the notice of the Home Ministry and the Combating Financing of Terrorism Cell (CFT Cell) in the Ministry of Home Affairs which deals with the policy matters on Combating Terrorist.

The Investigation

In response to the steps taken by the whistleblower to protect the data the corporate bodies filed a joint criminal complaint before the Patiala House Court, New Delhi. During the preliminary investigation the conspiracy was revealed to the officer in-charge, following which the Court directed the Police to register FIR and investigate the entire matter.

The whistleblower approached the investigating officer seeking permission to surrender 79 PARmobiles and 31 finger-print scanner which were under his possession. The same were seized by the Delhi Police.

Meanwhile, a complaint was also registered against the investigating officer by Smartmatic and APR Biometric ID Services alleging serious lapses in the investigation being conducted.

According to the whistleblower, the Companies sought custody of the PARmobile machines and fingerprint scanners in order to extract biometric data and sell it to foreign countries. The value of this data in international black market is between US $20 million to US $100 million. The machines and the fingerprint scanners were sent by the Court to Forensic Science Laboratory for analysis.

The Department of Electronics and Information Technology, the nodal agency appointed by the Registrar General of India to carry out the National Population Register’s Pilot Project was urged to intervene in the matter. The said case is still pending in the Patiala House Court, New Delhi.

Smartmatic – The Elections Company

Smartmatic belongs to the Smartmatic group of companies, which is a privately owned multinational corporation that designs and deploys end-to-end custom technology solutions to government agencies and large enterprises in the three key business divisions namely, electoral solutions, identity management solutions and Smart Cities.

Smartmatic was incorporated in 2000 in Delaware, United  States of America and its headquarters were moved to London in 2012. For furthering its business activities in India, Smartmatic setup a wholly-owned subsidiary in India namely APR Biometric ID Services Pvt Ltd. Later, the name was changed to Smartmatic India Private Limited.

The Controversies 

The case gets more sensitive since it involves the smuggling of biometric and demographic data of Indians by the company which also provides end-to-end Election Management Platform and is infact marketed as The Elections Company.

De la Rue

Following the 2004 Venezuelan recall election, Smartmatic acquired Sequoia Voting Systems, one of the leading US companies in automated voting products from the British company De La Rue in 2005. De la Rue was the official Crown Agent of the British Empire who still prints banknotes for the Bank of England. Crown Agents ran the day-today affairs of the Empire. 

In his book Managing the British Empire: The Crown Agents author David Sunderland explains how the Crown Agents printed the stamps and banknotes of the colonies; provided technical, engineering, and financial services; served as private bankers to the colonial monetary authorities, government officials, and heads of state; served as arms procurers, quartermasters, and paymasters for the colonial armies. In effect, Crown Agents administered the British Empire, which at one point in the 19th Century, encompassed over 300 colonies and nominally “independent countries” allied to the British Crown.

De La Rue is banned and blacklisted in India for supplying substandard paper for printing Indian currency notes and also for its involvement in the Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICN) with Pakistan, posing a threat to India. De La Rue’s role in printing Indian currency notes was exposed by GreatGameIndia in 2016 following the announcement of Demonetization in India.

Sequoia Voting Systems

The acquisition by Smartmatic of Sequoia Voting Systems from De La Rue triggered a controversy in America for its “possible ties to the Venezuelan government”. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) of the U.S. Treasury Department, which had been investigating whether there were any ties between Sequoia, Smartmatic, and the government of Venezuela dropped the investigation when Smartmatic agreed to divest Sequoia, in a deal whereby all of Sequoia’s shares were sold off to SVS Holdings for an undisclosed price.

The Wall Street Journal wrote that “Smartmatic scrapped a simple corporate structure” of being based in Boca Raton “for a far more complex arrangement” of being located in multiple locations following the Sequoia incident. Both Smartmatic and Sequoia are mired with electoral related controversies in many countries. Since last year, the status of its three subsidiaries Smartmatic India Private Limited, Smartmatic Biometrics Private Limited and Smartmatic Technology Private Limited remain inactive and the case in Patiala House Court still pending.

GreatGameIndia is a journal on Geopolitics and International Relations. Get to know the Geopolitical threats India is facing in our exclusive book India in Cognitive Dissonance

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