India’s Massive Identity Project: The Identity and Privacy Lens
By Tanu Sood-Oracle on Mar 26, 2013
Indian administrators are undertaking one of the most ambitious e-projects ever – collecting biometrics data for the 1.2 billion citizens and assigning every individual a unique 12-digit ID. This unique, randomly generated ID along with the biometrics data collected in a database, will be used in identity verification for any individual and will allow even the most economically poor citizens access to Government welfare programs and services.
The project is a game changer! India has seen rapid economic growth but challenges with economic disparity and illiteracy is certain sectors still remain. As a result, the most vulnerable citizens are almost invisible –with no state issued IDs or proofs that will allow then access to Government issued benefits. Without an ID, imagine trying to open a bank account or getting phone and utilities for your home or small business/farm. Identity fraud further aggravates the issue.This is where Aadhaar (translation: foundation) comes in. Systematically, this State run program will build a database of individual’s photographs, fingerprints and iris scans and assign a randomly generated 12-digit ID. With this, identities can be verified anytime-anywhere using any device so long as it is connected to the internet. Now, every individual will have a valid identification proof, one that is backed by biometrics authentication.
Once completed, it will be the world's largest biometric database – no other ID database comes even close to the size and scope of this project. With valid identification, people will have access to the welfare programs and Government issued services. The same, validated authentication can be used to open bank accounts, make money withdrawals, submit loan applications, and more. The empowerment possibilities are limitless.
But, with that, the idea of having this one, all powerful database with all-you-need identity information in it, is a cause of concern for some privacy and cyber security experts. How do you balance the individual’s right to privacy with the enormous benefit that this project has the potential for? How do you alleviate the security concern? Is data security enough of a safeguard against potential misuse of this wealth of information? How do you enable responsible identity management?
We invite the community to discuss this and other security and privacy related issues on the upcoming twitter conversation on Thursday, April 4th at 10 am PDT / 1 pm EDT. Ontario’s Commissioner of Information and Privacy, Dr. Ann Cavoukian, will be participating in the live talk and we look forward to getting her perspective on this and other such topics. Please join in the conversation with #PrivQA; we look forward to hearing your opinion.
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