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Configuring the UID

The Unique Identification (UID) project, or Aadhar, may perhaps be the UPA government's most ambitious project, but the global experience with such projects has not been encouraging.

twitter-logoManu Kaushik Print Edition: October 31, 2010

The UID is launched… The project, under the stewardship of one of the most trusted and respected names of India Inc., Nandan Nilekani, was flagged off by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the Nandurbar district of Maharashtra in October. It is an ambitious project and will provide a unique 16-digit UID number to 1.2 billion Indians. The UID card will have basic demographic information and a photograph of the individual along with biometrics, including fingerprints and IRIS, stored in a chip.

… And has an ambitious agenda… The entire project is going to cost around Rs 45,000 crore to the exchequer. The government has set a target of 100 million numbers to be issued in the next one year, followed by 500 million cards in the next four or five years. The card will be the identity proof for all Indians and will be used by the public distribution system, banks and various welfare schemes. The UPA government hopes it will empower the poor in India who cannot access the various public benefit programmes without a clear identity proof.

… But there are problems… The project has both technology and privacy concerns. Experts argue that a comprehensive information database of all Indians lends itself to misuse. Among the major risks are errors in compiling information about individuals in a project of such a gigantic scale and unauthorised access to information. The use of biometric system, too, has been questioned. Electronic scanning and matching technologies are not 100 per cent error-free.

… And the global experience has not been encouraging. The new coalition government in Britain has repealed the Identity Cards Act 2006 in order to safeguard citizens' privacy. In the US, the Social Security Card doubles up as the national identification number, but the attempts at issuing cards bearing biometric information have drawn a backlash from rights groups on grounds of privacy violation.

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