India Launches Universal ID System with Biometrics

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India's Unique ID number will be tied into iris scans and fingerprints.

India has launched an ambitious program to fit each of its 1.2 billion residents with an Unique identification number (UID). Each number will be tied into three pieces of biometric data: fingerprints (all ten digits), iris scans (both eyes), and a picture of the face. Starting this month, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) will begin processing people in various locations around the country. UIDAI aims to slowly roll out the program through February of 2011 and to ID 600 million people in the next four years! This is a mammoth program. While residents are not mandated to get a UID, a growing list of services including social welfare and even some bank accounts will soon require the identification number. If successful, this will be the first biometrically verified universal ID implemented on a national scale. India is forging new ground, drawing both fears and hopes of what a national ID number may bring with it.

Ostensibly the UIDAI was formed, and the idea of UID green-lighted, to help those 440 million Indian people who were found to be below the poverty level in 2002. The nation has an extensive series of social welfare programs – everything from medical support to home heating fuel subsidies – but many of these services are ripe with corruption and bureaucratic stagnation. Many of India’s poorest citizens do not have ID cards, bank accounts, or even addresses that they can use to register for social services. Often the money for these programs ends up in the hands of middle class families tricking the system by using false identification schemes. With the UID, India hopes to give every resident a means of accessing welfare services as well as cut down on fraud. To the UIDAI, the purpose of a national ID is to enable the government to get help to those who need it.

Yet the UID is going to be used for much more than social welfare programs. The UIDAI is in discussions with many institutions (banks, local/state governments, etc) to allow them to use the UID as a means of identity verification. These institutions will pay the UIDAI some fee to cover costs and generate revenue. There seems to be little doubt that once it is established, the UID will become a preferred method (if not the preferred method) of identification in India.

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Fingerprinting for the UID will cover all digits on both hands.

There, of course, will be some advantages to this. Drivers from one state will not need, nor be able to, acquire licenses from another state as their information will be universally accessible in the national database. Migrant workers, displaced poor, and refugees can all be confident that their UID identifies them no matter where they go in their country.

Ultimately I wouldn’t be surprised if the UID, with its biometric data, could be used as a means of payment (when linked to a bank account), or as an access key to homes and cars. Purchase a meal with your fingerprint and unlock your door with the twinkle in your eye. Similar results could be expected in other nations that adopted biometric identification systems.

To privacy advocates, however, the very concept of a national ID number is anathema. Putting all the personal information in one system opens the possibilities that it can be used for nefarious purposes – everything from identification fraud to genocide. The inclusion of biometric data such as fingerprints and iris scans increase the accuracy of such a system but also lends it an air of oppressive technologically-enabled surveillance.

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The UID will also include a photo of the face...but doesn't everything these days?

In order to alleviate some concerns, the UIDAI has highlighted ways that the UID is less binding than it may appear on the surface. First, they emphasize that acquiring the UID is not mandated. Though, as we’ve said, the number of benefits that will be exclusively offered through the UID will make it so desirable as to be effectively mandated. The UIDAI also points out that the UID is just a number, not an ID card. Each Indian state will still be responsible for issuing licenses and identification cards. While these cards are going to reference the UID, they may or may not contain the biometric data and other personal information gathered during UID registration. The actual UID number will not contain any intelligence; that is, it will not code for anything. It’s only a random string of digits, making it harder for hackers to exploit the system. UID’s will be given to every resident of India, no matter their citizen status.

The registration process has also been made transparent. When a resident is interviewed for the UID, they can see everything that the processor does via an outwardly facing computer screen attached to their laptop. Residents provide their name, date of birth, gender, father’s UID (if applicable), mother’s UID (if applicable), and address (if applicable). Fingerprints, picture, and iris scans are collected at the same time.

I understand the creepiness factor associated with a government agency registering everyone, giving them a number, and scanning their fingers and eyes. There’s some chilling Big Brother-like aspects to this whole affair. Yet the problem of insuring that resources make it to India’s poor is very real, and there’s the strong possibility that the UID will be empowering and democratizing to the 440 million Indians below the poverty level. It will take years before we know if the benefits of the UID program will outweigh the abuses it could create. The debate on privacy and national ID continues, but in India it looks like the UIDAI is already moving towards victory.

[image credit: UIDAI]
[source: UIDAI, UID Strategy Overview (PDF), Financial Express]

Discussion — 17 Responses

  • Vicmagna September 13, 2010 on 5:52 pm

    Awesome I bet alot of those people would rather have the system to Any amount of benefit than not have it at all

    • SkepticThink Vicmagna January 13, 2012 on 4:05 pm

      I bet they’d rather be free from tyranny

  • Jimt2000 September 14, 2010 on 10:02 am

    OK so long as private enterprise has no access to it and there is independent oversight on how it is used.

    • Anon Jimt2000 September 15, 2010 on 6:15 pm

      The government use of this information is FAR more sinister than any private enterprise application.

      • Anonymous Anon September 17, 2010 on 5:31 am

        @anon – if that was the case, they could have changed the figures of your bank account balance by several zeros.

    • Indian007 Jimt2000 September 20, 2010 on 3:43 pm

      This is a sinister agenda.. The fruits of this sinister agenda will only be revealed in the years to come. India is implementing a Global agenda advanced by global elites and that is to microchip all humans with RFID chips. This is only a first step to that end goal. [Please watch Aaron Russo’s historic interview available on the Youtube]. Don’t be deceived by what the Govt. or some benificiaries of this project say. This is exactly in line with what US did. They called for a National Security ID after US 9/11. The first calls for UID in India also came after series of terror attacks leading to India’s 9/11. There are quite a bit of parallels in what’s unfolding and the people doesn’t seem to care a damn about it..
      The following blog lists out some parallels between US 9/11 and India’s 9/11 and the events leading to the call for UIDs..
      http://indian007-newswithviews.blogspot.com/2010/09/some-parallels-between-us-911-and.html

  • Ivan Malagurski September 14, 2010 on 12:44 pm

    Wow, now that’s an ambitious program…

  • Dav September 14, 2010 on 6:00 pm

    beginning of the end times where everyone who want service to buy food will need the mark. Read Revelations

    • Samwatcher Dav September 14, 2010 on 9:52 pm

      i totally agree with you…its the begining of the mark.

      • wayne Samwatcher September 15, 2010 on 12:53 pm

        Exactly look how there currently comparing the al queda bombing in Nigeria and they have a Mosque with in walking distants of where over 499 people died from the bomb of a Muslim terrorist so we should be like them. media mind control 101

  • gworkers September 15, 2010 on 1:39 pm

    Suggested reading for all: Saved By The Light (a true story based on a man’s near death experience and the visions he saw…..written a while ago and many of his visions have already happened.) Also 1984, and Revelation……and make your own conclusions. God help us all!

  • Indian007 September 20, 2010 on 2:46 am

    This is a sinister agenda.. The fruits of this sinister agenda will only be revealed in the years to come. India is implementing a Global agenda advanced by global elites and that is to microchip all humans with RFID chips. This is only a first step to that end goal. [Please watch Aaron Russo’s historic interview available on the Youtube]. Don’t be deceived by what the Govt. or some benificiaries of this project say. This is exactly in line with what US did. They called for a National Security ID after US 9/11. The first calls for UID in India also came after series of terror attacks leading to India’s 9/11. There are quite a bit of parallels in what’s unfolding and the people doesn’t seem to care a damn about it..
    The following blog lists out some parallels between US 9/11 and India’s 9/11 and the events leading to the call for UIDs..
    http://indian007-newswithviews.blogspot.com/2010/09/some-parallels-between-us-911-and.html

  • Bldegl1 September 27, 2010 on 6:16 am

    With tears I see happening what they used to say was impossible. So, Bible prophesy is foolish? I think not! The mark of the beast is upon us and people will welcome it! Make way for Antichrist, believe it or not!

  • Stephanie October 13, 2010 on 10:49 am

    Ambitious but sounds like a great move for the Indian authority especially so that the system will benefit those who are less fortunate and in need of assistance. This will take much time but I believe in the long run it will be for the best interest of the people.

    • SkepticThink Stephanie January 13, 2012 on 4:03 pm

      Have you read 1984?

  • SkepticThink January 13, 2012 on 4:09 pm

    I hope they revolt.