A primer on biometrics and discussion on usefulness of Aadhaar…

As humans we should be weary of technology/intervention which tries to rectify many ills with one solution. More so, if State is involved in such a solution. Aadhaar which was meant to be an identity card (why not call it just Pehchaan card meaning identity) has been under lot of fire lately as numbers have been leaked with very little investment.

India Spend points to this interesting set of papers on biometrics and Aadhaar. The papers are written by staff members  of IDRBT, an organisation established by RBI. Infact, there are series of papers on technology and banking by the institute which should be a decent read.

Indiaspend sums the research as:

The benefits of Aadhaar, India’s biometrics-based unique national identity system–the world’s largest–are unclear and the impact of direct benefit transfers it will be used to deliver to the poor is not studied enough, a new study published by an arm of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has concluded.  

The paper, ‘Biometric and Its Impact in India’, was a part of Staff Papers series published in its October 2017 edition. It is written by S Ananth, an adjunct faculty at the Institute for Development and Research in Banking Technology (IDRBT), which was established by the RBI as an autonomous institute.

Aadhaar is becoming central to India’s public policy with increasing number of programmes being linked to it. And its scope is constantly increasing. In the seven years following its introduction, 1.12 billion Indians or 88.2% of the population have enrolled for Aadhaar,IndiaSpend reported in March, 2017.

Established by Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) under Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016, Aadhaar is now used for direct benefit transfers as well as distribution of foodgrains and essential commodities–under the public distribution system (PDS)–by the state. It includes various payments linked through Aadhaar-enabled payment system.

The Supreme Court has extended the deadline of linking of Aadhaar with various welfare schemes up to March 31, 2018.

The paper has flagged issues related to Aadhaar such as problems of access to the last mile, issues with the quality of authentication, unclear financial benefits and security concerns and said there needs to be caution in the manner in which the government is linking more economic programmes and activities with Aadhaar.

Ever since its inception, Aadhaar has been caught in various debates, especially over the issue of the citizen’s right to privacy and threat of information leak. The latest of these controversies is an investigative story reported in The Tribune on January 3, 2018. It alleged that unrestricted access to details of over one billion Aadhaar numbers can be purchased at as little as Rs 500.

By paying Rs 300 more, the details of any Aadhaar card can be printed, the report said. “..[It] is a major security breach,” the deputy director of UIDAI regional officer Chandigarh was quoted to have said.

One of the papers written by S.Ananth who is an adjunct faculty slams the scheme like no other:

Thanks to Aadhaar, for the first time in the history of India, there is now a readily available single target for cyber criminals as well as India’s external enemies. In a few years, attacking UIDAI data can potentially cripple Indian businesses and administration in ways that were inconceivable a few years ago. The loss to the economy and citizens in case of such an attack is bound to be incalculable.

There is lot more in the piece and he cautions against any more expansion of the biometric project.

Appreciation to IDRBT for agreeing to publish such research given it is a public organisation.

Should read up these papers…

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One Response to “A primer on biometrics and discussion on usefulness of Aadhaar…”

  1. vikramml Says:

    Completely against Aadhaar as anybody can tell you that Indian institutions cannot be trusted with information security. Just fought a 17 day battle with ICICI as they blocked my internet banking unless I signed off that if I don’t give them Aadhaar by 31st March, they will close my account. They argued this citing RBI PMLA guidelines. On threatening legal action, they withdrew this declaration block from my account (after 2 weeks of silence from them). I also asked RBI why they have issued this unconstitutional guideline. No response as yet.

    For the legal argument of why RBI PMLA guidelines are unconstitutional please see the letter to MoF at the end of this link:

    http://www.moneylife.in/article/linking-aadhaar-to-mobile-and-bank-accounts-is-illegal-here-is-what-you-can-do-if-you-are-forced/51786.html

    I’m going to email RBI yet again to see what they have to say.

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