Aadhaar: Soon, In India, Everyone Will Be A Number

from the national-identity-card-club dept

National identification numbers are common enough — many countries issue their citizens with a unique identifier. But in terms of scale, few can match Aadhaar, India’s identity number system. As The Times of India explained a few years back, when the scheme was first announced:

Aadhaar is a 12-digit unique number which will be issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to all residents of the country. It’s a step towards putting India in the club of more than 50 countries around the world that have some form of national identity cards. These include most of continental Europe (not the UK), China, Brazil, Japan, Iran, Israel and Indonesia. The number will be stored in a centralized database and linked to the basic demographics and biometric information photograph, ten fingerprints and iris of each individual. The number will be unique and would be available for online and offline verification and, hence, will rule out the possibility of duplicate and fake identities from government as well as various private databases.

The Aadhaar system is designed to make it easier for people on the sub-continent to prove their identity:

One of the key challenges faced by people in India is difficulty in establishing identity. People have multiple identity documents, each serving a different purpose. The most important characteristic of Aadhaar is its universality and it is assumed that the biometric card with the number will be gradually accepted across the country as the identification number by all service providers and government agencies.

The system is almost in place. According to an article in The Economic Times, as of this month, 870 million Aadhaar numbers have been issued. The hope is to achieve “universal coverage” — 1.2 billion people — by December.

Initially, the Indian government insisted that the scheme was voluntary, although even in 2013, there were concerns that it was effectively mandatory because various state benefits required its use. In 2014, India’s Supreme Court reiterated that the system should not be compulsory, and also forbade the authorities from sharing biometric data held on the associated database with the police or similar agencies without the permission of the person concerned.

That raises one of the principal concerns with such centralized databases: the fact that, once created, there is a natural tendency to use them for purposes that have nothing to do with the original justification. For example, in 2013, there were suggestions that the Aadhaar card could be linked to driving licenses. In December last year, 100 million bank accounts were already associated with Aadhaar numbers. Last month, it was revealed that the Indian Railways may make the use of the Aadhaar number mandatory for booking online tickets. All of those will make tracking a person’s activities much easier.

As the use of the Aadhaar system spreads to more domains, and becomes indispensable for more everyday services, that single number will assume an ever-greater importance in the lives of people in India — and therefore become increasingly useful for identity fraud. It will doubtless make things much easier for the public there; but it will also provide the authorities with the perfect way of unifying all the information that they hold about citizens. Let’s hope that by the time that happens, India has in place suitably robust laws regulating both government surveillance and data protection.

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Comments on “Aadhaar: Soon, In India, Everyone Will Be A Number”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Social security numbers aren’t dangerous.

Coupling ssn with 10 finger prints and iris data is slightly worrying since these data seems more like a police gesture than a personal useful feature.

Protection against abuse can be mostly assured by photo or a single finger print in situ and by use of one-time codes on paper in vitro.

What is really problematic in most countries with ssn is the continual concentration of data in single points of failure. It is solvable by grouping and separating the data on different machines with different logins. Having it all in a single database as we see today is reckless.

Anonymous Coward says:

The number will be unique and would be available for online and offline verification and, hence, will rule out the possibility of duplicate and fake identities from government as well as various private databases.

By the application of strict logic, all that can be proven by such a database is that the data in the database matches the person using the ID number. If it security is broken, then someone can overwrite someone else’s details in the database to steal their identity. Also, anybody with access to the database could cause trouble for other people by modifying the their stored details. So this database will be a reliable means of identification if and only if the security and data entry and protection are perfect.

Violynne (profile) says:

Agreeing with the first comment: just a number used similarly to Social Security.

As a side note: the SSN wasn’t supposed to be used for anything other than Social Security as well, but, as is always the case, the number slowly crept into our daily lives and has become our national identifier.

You can’t even get a job without one. Well, legally, anyway.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

just a number used similarly to Social Security.

And that hasn’t be abused at all!!

> You can’t even get a job without one. Well, legally, anyway.

Of all the actual problems with SSN usage you picked the one thing that is not an issue. Social Security is funded by your paycheck. Of course they need an SSN (but not necessarily your SSN if you don’t care about social security). If you want to complain about Kafkaesque requirements for a job, go read up on E-Verify.

yankinwaoz (profile) says:

Sounds like it will be a major CF

All India has to do is look at the US and our Social Security numbers for a preview of the horrors they will face.

You can’t get a drivers license in the US without a SSN. Technically, you are suppose to be able to, but good luck with that. They make it almost impossible.

Obama Care requires that your health insurance have and report you via your SSN.

You can’t open a bank account with a SSN.
You can’t get many utility services without a SSN.
Your credit history is keyed on your SSN.

SSN’s are stolen, faked, and abused all over the place. The fact that they are the keys to interfacing with government services is almost criminal.

Has any country managed to implement a national ID number system that hasn’t gone sideways?

jilocasin (profile) says:

If it's established, it _WILL_ be abused.

Social Security Numbers:
Only for Social Security… they told us.

And Only for Tax Information… they told us.

And Only for Gov. Benefits…. they told us.

[and they really mean it] They make it illegal for the government to require it, without it being _specifically_authorized_by_law. But only for the Federal government.

Industry starts using it to tie every database together, state government starts requiring it. You have to use it when applying for a drivers license, and many states will go so far as to use them as your drivers number and print them on the license itself {Massachusetts did (does?) this and it’s a metric ton of paperwork and hassle to get then NOT to use/print it on your license.}.

Finally the government just starts mandating them everywhere.

In a bit of surrealist comedy, the government spends lots of time/money warning people to:

keep your social security number private

At least we don’t have to carry around a government issued ID, yet. [Though that might not be a bad idea, if you are in any way Hispanic looking and happen to live in Maricopa County, Arizona.]

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m suddenly curious. What do they do (not necessarily on this system in India, I’d be surprised if anybody here knows that, but just in general in any system, maybe some criminal system in the US) if somebody doesn’t have all 10 fingers? How do they fingerprint you? Do they leave the space blank, or duplicate a finger, or what?

AlexanderSMD (profile) says:

I don't know what a bruhaha is all about..

I grew up in Thailand and it has an identification number system that is issued to all its citizen. You need it for everything. You also need to register your place of residency. If you moved, you have to register to your new residency. This system had been in place since before I was born. And I was born in 1969. Thai people feel that it’s just part of our life..

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: I don't know what a bruhaha is all about..

And how would you rate Thailand’s Government record for honesty and transparency? Civil Rights? Elections?

Has there ever been any fear that the Government might utilize this database for nefarious purposes among the Thai public?

Is there any sort of public awareness of what the Thailand Government does from day to day or does all the public information come fully prepared for public consumption by the government or its media partners?

Isn’t Thailand the place where I would go if I were a pedophile with cash – seems I heard something about 8-10 year old hookers being a major Thailand tourist attraction.

Was this just rumor?

GEMont (profile) says:

Sounds more like a for-runner of the Internet ID card...

Let’s hope that by the time that happens, India has in place suitably robust laws regulating both government surveillance and data protection.

hohohohohohohohoho hahahahahahahaha hehehehehehehehe

Damn that was the best laugh I’ve had in days.
Thanks. I needed that.

Sarcasm at its very best! 🙂

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