In simple terms, Aadhaar is the largest-scale program for establishing biometric identity ever launched. Taking its name from a Hindi word meaning “foundation,” Aadhaar aims to provide everyone living in India with a personal 12-digit identification number. This unique identifier is based on the holders’ securely registered biometric data. This data is gathered by recording Aadhaar users’ iris patterns, facial character, and fingerprints. The aim of creating such a biometric identification system is to enable every resident of India to have his or her identity formally and securely recognized by the Indian government. The systematic means to securely identify themselves will then enable Aadhaar users to gain access to such vital services as healthcare and social benefits while also providing them with the means to securely open bank accounts.
The highly ambitious process of creating the Aadhaar system was launched in 2009 by the Indian government, which created a dedicated body known as the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to oversee all of the complex planning and work that goes into such a vast and intricate undertaking. The process of registering Aadhaar users, which is voluntary and requires the would-be user to apply for registration, commenced in late September 2010. The roll-out of Aadhaar has now reached the stage of development where 10 million new numbers are being assigned every 10 days.
An Efficient and Secure Registration Process
Essentially Aadhaar gathers the same four kinds of basic demographic data that any census-taking process would be expected to collect: name, address, gender and date of birth (or age). To prevent redundancy or unintentional duplication as well as fraudulent registration, Aadhaar compares this basic demographic information in each case with the relevant biometric data. The essential biometric information gathered for each registration process consists of 10 fingerprints, two scans of the applicant’s irises and a photograph of the applicant’s face. However, the registration is not restricted to mandatory user data, applicants can also elect voluntarily to provide additional information, such as mobile numbers and email addresses, that will allow them not only to securely identify themselves but also to avail of further Aadhaar services and updates.
The Dramatic Acceleration of the Aadhaar Project
All of the biometric data gathered during the registration process is securely stored in a central database maintained by the UIDAI, whose first priority is to thoroughly check that each identity registered is indeed unique and that no resident of India has been registered more than once. With the registration process now having reached the point at which as many as one million Aadhaar numbers are being assigned every day, there can be little doubt that this is the most intensive and rapid process of recording biometric data and using it as the basis for secure personal identification. According to the World Bank, Aadhaar is generating savings of roughly one billion US dollars per year by cutting down on fraud and by making government services more efficient. In the following posts, we will further discuss the social, commercial and even philosophical dimensions of the remarkable Aadhaar story.