The Unique Identification project, named ‘Aadhaar’, initiated by the Prime Minister under the chairmanship of renowned Nandan Nilekani has caught the imagination of the nation like never before. While the UID in itself is harmless and purely optional, the far reaching impact on empowerment of the citizens and prevention of impersonation has evoked much of the debate on the topic. Recently there have been many articles in the media against launch of UID in India.
As we know, the project is in the most critical stage. So far over forty million UIDs have been processed. Six hundred thousand UID enrolments take place everyday nationwide. Some of the criticism has the potential to derail the whole project. UID is one of the most path breaking initiatives aimed at empowering the citizens of the nation. Technologically, UID project is a challenge because of its sheer size and character. The stakeholders face formidable adversities because of its potential to root out corruption by enabling transparency and preventing benami transactions (Transactions carried out in fake names). The fight against corruption has never been easy. Some of the myths that are put forward against the project are discussed in detail:
Myth No.1: Giving Biometrics for purpose of UID will result in loss of Private data
UID is all about identifying a person with respect to one’s biometrics. One’s photo or profile has comparatively very less significance and all of that can be changed by applying again, except the biometrics and the linked UID. Hence it is only natural that some citizens are worried about losing sensitive data, namely, personal biometrics. But why is there no criticism when biometrics is being taken for Driving License, CHIS (Comprehensive Health Insurance Scheme) health cards or for many other applications; the only additional data being captured now is iris. The outrageous criticism against UID is unjustified; yet the underlying reason is easy to guess.
Secondly, the so called biometrics collected was never as securely kept as in the case of Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR). This is the first time the biometrics’ data is being kept safely, far better than other contemporary applications and the critics will agree too. Yet they feel that private data can be lost from even though the data is kept under secure encryption and state of the art technology firewall, which was not the case in the past. It is pertinent to note that the biometrics has been in use in the past and especially where the citizen has signed using his thump impression. UK, Western countries and even UAE captures one’s biometrics before entry into their country. In above cases the safe custody of biometrics is never ensured. But till date there has been no complaint or debate. However, when biometrics is being used for creating a UID, to empower the citizens’, to prevent impersonation, duplication and exploitation there is anger and criticism, even though it is kept under tight security. Again, the UID system does not allow any biometrics data available to any other agency. The UIDAI system only verifies the identity of a citizen by giving a monosyllable ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ as an answer. Despite all these security measures, why is there an outburst against UID from some section of public? Is empowering our citizens and preventing impersonation affecting someone’s interest? Who will benefit if the UID does not take off? Are vested interests trying to sabotage this project?
Myth No.2: UID project is too costly for the nation
The allegation on financial impact of the project is much easier to handle, especially when the country is dealing with black money to the tune of over a hundred lakh crores (2 Trillion USD) and dishing out huge bailout packages for Air India. UID project will only cost a fraction. But let us compare with similar instruments like PAN card which is already available in the country. Cost of getting a PAN card is Rs.100/- while the cost of enrolment for UID is Rs.50/-. The recurring expenditure towards maintenance of all the data and application is expected to be less than Rs.500 Crore annually. Hence in comparison to PAN card it is less expensive. It is a matter of choice whether the nation is bearing it or the citizen. UID is truly empowering the citizen and also has far reaching ramifications on national security. It is a very small amount to pay in that context. In future UID will replace the multiple identity cards in the country, and also be an alternative to the VISA and Mastercard. The cost savings for each citizen and collectively for the nation is going to be high, leading to lower production costs and over all efficiencies. It is a quantum jump over other countries that do not have such a system. It is also a good demonstration of use of technology for driving down costs.
Myth No. 3: De-duplication using Biometrics may fail due to illegible finger prints
De-duplication is the process of comparing each one’s biometrics with the other and issuing a unique identification number. De-duplication may throw up some errors when we are limiting finger prints capture to just one or two fingers. Also there are illegible finger prints. But very seldom are all the ten fingers illegible. Again, we are taking the iris along with the finger prints. Since the de-duplication process involves comparing ten finger prints and irises the chances of errors are almost nil. But enrolment could pose a problem as the enrolment devices and software application insists for quality of all the ten finger prints and Iris. However, the enrolment client software has undergone refinements and presently there is in built correction mechanisms to accommodate such variances during enrolment.
Myth No. 4: Cyber criminals may misuse UID Database
Let us ask, what will Cyber criminals get from CIDR even if they manage to hack into the sophisticated firewall and encryption? No emails or mobile numbers are mandatory for UID enrolments. If they want biometrics it is freely available in other applications, especially at the visa issuing embassies. The NPR (National Population Register) seeks to issue an identity card where the biometrics and all data will be available in the chip of the card. So if they want biometrics or people’s data there are other easy options. The case of UID enrolments is much different. Once the biometrics gets registered through UID then it is difficult to misuse them. Each one’s biometrics is getting patented in the process. Impersonation will become close to impossible. Hence, contrary to the belief; UID will prevent cyber crimes related to identity theft.
Myth No. 5: Anyone can get enrolled for UID using fake documents
A UID enrolment necessitates every individual to have a proof of address and a proof of Identity. In case these documents are not available then he or she needs to have an introducer. An Introducer has to be authorized by the enrolling Registrar and registered in CIDR as an ‘Introducer’ and should have a valid UID number. So any Indian citizen can get enrolled for UID by following any of the above procedure. In case of a scenario where falsified document is used for enrolment’s then it will result in false identity. It is true that many people have multiple ration cards, passports, licenses etc and these can be used as identification for UID enrolment. But when they come for enrolments they will be able to get only one identity or one UID, subsequent enrolment will be automatically rejected; rather if any one attempts for a second UID by impersonation then he will be caught at the time of de-duplication. This will desist people from giving false identity during enrolment and the system will automatically clean up duplicates and prevent impersonation. Subsequently, linkages will start taking place between UIDs of parents and children. In due course of time all personal certificates, bank account numbers, etc will start getting linked to UID number. The future road map is thus clear; an India free of benamis.
Is UID going to be a Game changer?
UID enabled India is at the tipping point for emergence of a new future founded on truth. The answers to following questions are a revelation of the impending transformation.
1. Is UID ubiquitous? Yes
2. Will every Indian citizen having UID be able to prove his identity any time, anywhere in the India? Yes
3. Is it possible for somebody to impersonate? No
4. Is it possible for anyone to get two passports, birth certificate or any duplicate certificates in different names? No.
5. Is it possible for anyone to operate bank accounts in another person’s name? No
6. Will the transactions and bank accounts of one individual be interlinked? Yes.
7. Will a UID enabled banking system be deterrence to black money generation? Yes
8. Is every citizen who has a UID be safe from impersonation and misuse of his identity? Yes.
9. Can anyone impersonate and break through a UID mandatory security system? No
10. Can a UID based security system ensure a safer tomorrow? Yes.
About the Author
Korath V Mathew is an ICT Specialist providing consulting services in IT projects especially in the field of e-Governance. He has worked on projects of ADB, DFID (UK) and World Bank, besides private firms. He is presently the Director of Akshaya, Kerala’s flagship e-Governance programme. About 80% of the UID enrolment in Kerala is done by Akshaya. He can be contacted on kvmathew @ gmail.com.
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