Followers of news from India and anyone interested in the issue of secure identification in today’s world will be aware of how the Aadhaar biometric identification system has been rolled out across India at an ever-increasing rate since it was first launched in 2009. The central ideas behind Aadhaar are, first, to create a secure biometric means of establishing one’s identity and, second, to use that secure biometric identification system as a condition of accessing government services throughout India. The vast project of getting Indian citizens to register for Aadhaar has now gathered pace to the extent that one million new identification numbers are being issued each day. While this ambitious project is attracting much praise, as with any major process of implementing change, important moral and social questions have arisen alongside purely technical ones. For the most part, these questions lie in the balance between secure access to public services on the one hand, and privacy and the defense of individual human rights on the other. Let’s take a closer look at some of the issues involved.
Identity and Efficiency
Critics of the Aadhaar identification system maintain that it limits the exercise of fundamental rights while also threatening privacy. The fear is that, by making biometric identification a required precondition for accessing essential state services, the roll-out of the Aadhaar card might expose large numbers of people to greater poverty and disenfranchisement. Proponents of the Aadhaar system, on the other hand, point out that secure biometric identification methods not only enable the streamlining of service provision across such a complex and populous country as India but also provide the best-known means of combating fraudulent claims while at the same time avoiding unintentional duplication and waste. In brief, defenders of the whole Aadhaar project maintain that only the provision of a secure means of establishing identity can make sure that essential public benefits and assistance are reliably delivered to the people who need them instead of being diminished through inefficiency and fraud. The World Bank seems to be in agreement with this latter viewpoint, since it finds that, by cutting down on fraud and inefficiency of delivery, Aadhaar is enabling India to make annual savings of approximately one billion US dollars.
Why Is Aadhaar Important for India’s Future?
Nandan Nilekani, the first chairperson of the body that oversees the implementation of the Aadhaar system, the Unique Identification Authority of India, acknowledges that there have been some problems along the way. However, he insists robustly on the overall benefits that Aadhaar has brought to the country. Nilekani also maintains that already-existing legal penalties should be sufficient to deter such abuses as the wrongful disclosure of data. India’s Attorney General, Mukul Rohatgi, has also defended the Aadhaar biometric identification system in the strongest terms. According to Rohatgi, Aadhaar is quite simply indispensable to allow administrators to keep up with the ever-increasing pace of social and economic change in India today.
So, for now, the debate remains unsolved. Processes of this magnitude cannot but awaken profound public discourse, and this in itself is one of the great advantages of progress and change.
Recent News: following this post I gave an interview for Noobpreneur.com magazine in a piece about Microfinance and Aadhaar card. Check it out here.
Debates about the Aadhaar identity system: A… by sharone-perlstein