Biometric Verification for Access to Services

Categories: technology, governance

What? In 2009, India set up its Aadhaar program, a bio-metric enrolment plan for its citizens with the goal of collecting biometric information (iris scan and fingerprints) for all 1.2 billion citizens.  As of January 2016, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIAI) had enrolled 970 million people, with an enrolment rate of 1 million per day. This program is voluntary and aims to enable citizens to have direct access to government services and banking. Individuals receive a 12 digit unique identification number recognized by the government as a valid document. Service providers confirm a person’s identity by verifying the 12 digits through UIDAI’s website. UIDAI is not permitted to release biometric information to any third party (government or non-government) unless there is written consent from the client. The government has reported that through this project it is saving roughly US $1.9 billion annually.

So what? One ID per person can reduce the risk of fraud and corruption. However, there may be negative effects for individuals who have not enrolled and are no longer able to access services. Biometric data on citizens can also be used in other ways. For instance, it is already being used to track attendance of Government of India employees through the Biometric Attendance System. Additionally, citizens can access a DigiLocker linked into the system where users can see their documents online and share with government officials electronically as required (without needing to carry them). This creates the potential for electronic passports, medical records, etc. This new presence of the national level government at very local levels or in rural areas could reduce the influence of local leaders in India who currently have significant authority in their communities.


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