The National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights has ordered an inquiry into the allegation against the Government of Kerela, India. According to the allegation,  a coercive circular by the State government to its public education department was meant to deploy a questionable online school management software. Named “Sampoorna”, this software was to be implemented in schools across the State in a manner that it would violate the right to privacy and dignity of children there.

In a letter to the Secretary of the Education Department, Govternment of Kerala, the NCPCR on Friday asked the department to investigate the matter and take further necessary action. A factual report, along with authenticated copies of relevant documents, would have to be sent to the Commission within 15 days.

A circular issued by the Kerala government directing the public education department to deploy online school management software called Sampoorna in schools across the state drew flak from civil liberties activists. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The report would have to look into the matter urgently and provide details on how the department planned to safeguard the children’s right to privacy and dignity in the use of UID/ Sampoorna software.

The NCPCR has been constituted under the provisions of the Commissions for Protection of Child Rights (CPCR) Act, 2005 for protecting child rights and other related matters. One of the functions assigned to the Commission under Section 13 (1)(j) of CPCR Act is to inquire into complaints and suo motu cognisance in relation to deprivation and violation of child rights.

The Commision’s move came following a complaint filed in August this year by civil society activists Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Anivar Aravind and Usha Ramanathan drawing attention to a circular, based on which details of as many as 6 million students spanning over 15,000 schools in the state would be captured under the scheme. All schoolchildren would have had to have unique identification numbers (UID), which would help in tracking their movements in educational institutions and academic records. The circular said: “The headmasters of the schools should ensure that all students have filled in the forms before 31/08/2011, ordered by class and division. The education officers are directed to monitor these explicitly.”

The complainants said that a law to govern the UID project was yet to be passed by Parliament. The National Identification Authority of India Bill 2010 was introduced in Parliament on December 3, 2010, and sent to the Standing Committee of Finance on 20th December 2010. The committee has reportedly expressed serious reservations about the project. The project is, in other words, currently operating outside the protection of law.

“It has been acknowledged that there are abiding concerns about privacy that the project has to address before it can be allowed to proceed. There is a draft Privacy Bill that has not yet been introduced in Parliament. There are no protections that the law provides. There are no protocols about who can access the information, how the UID number may be used, what will happen if there is identity theft and identity loss. There are no protections against tracking and profiling. The collection of biometrics increases the concern,” they said.

“There is no means of controlling the recording and retrieval of data about children, and that is especially serious since our jurisprudence clearly states that the records relating to children except public exam marks should not be carried into adulthood. This is especially important where the child has had a difficult growing up and may have encountered problems of being a ‘neglected child’ or a ‘child in conflict with the law’. These are specifically proscribed from being carried into adulthood, with good reason. The UID, with its ability to link up data bases poses a threat to this important area of personal safety and protection of the child.”