Indian Supreme Court issues two-pronged UID decision

It’s been a while since we’ve dealt with the topic of India’s UID project here. This post picks up with current events. Newer readers can catch up by sifting back through the India label (also located in the post footer).

Nandan Nilekani: Supreme Court decision on Aadhaar vindicates our stand Nandan Nilekani (Economic Times)

Earlier this month, UIDAI approached the Apex Court, challenging a Bombay High Court order which had ordered the Agency to share biometric data to help solve an ongoing criminal investigation.

But it’s hard to see how this part of the Supreme Court decision isn’t a set-back.

SC: Withdraw Orders Making Aadhaar Must for any Service (Indian Express)

In a clear direction that a person’s information is private and cannot be misused, the Supreme Court on Monday directed the Centre to withdraw immediately the instruction, if any, issued by it for making Aadhaar card mandatory for citizens to avail of government services…

If UID is going to bring the power of biometrics to radically curtail the use of ghost recipients of direct transfers, making it mandatory could certainly help. Then again, there are other incentives that can be brought to bear. Most people would rather get a subsidy for propane directly deposited into a bank account rather than wait in line at a government store.

Also, putting a legal wall between the welfare system and criminal justice system should increase participation.

UID enrollment continues apace

Little signs of let-up in rush for unique Aadhaar ID (The Hindu)

Over a month after the Centre put on hold its ambitious scheme of transferring cooking gas subsidy to the bank account of the household, something for which it had made Aadhaar number a pre-requisite, there are little signs of any let-up in the rush in the State for getting the unique identity number.

“People continue to come [to get Aadhaar] like before,” says M.R.V.Krishna Rao, Joint Director of Census Operations & Controlling Officer, Directorate of Census Operations here.

Nilekani out at UIDAI

Aadhaar loses its unique identity, Nandan Nilekani to quit (Financial Express)

ique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) chairman Nandan Nilekani on Friday said he would resign from his job by March end to join mainstream politics and contest the Lok Sabha election on a Congress ticket, causing many to wonder if his absence at the helm would derail the Aadhaar project, vital for slashing India’s subsidy expenditure and increasing the efficacy of welfare programmes.

Also from the Financial Express…

Editorial: End of Aadhaar?

See also this post from September 2011 for some background on Nandan Nilekani and the UID project: India: Is UID Under Siege?. At the time, we said…

Nandan Nilekani is the animating spirit of the UID project. He knows technology through education and experience among the founding generation of Unisys. He knows management, evidenced by his rise to become CEO of that firm. He knows India (inasmuch as India is “knowable”), having attended Indian schools at every level of his education and having lived in several places there. And he knows government through his service on various committees and advisory groups. He is, perhaps, the only person capable of pulling this off.

Hopefully, as he has indicated elsewhere, the UID project no longer requires Nandan Nilekani to sustain it.

India: UIDAI & NPR still at it

This is a “dog bites man” story but it has been a while since we dropped in on the India ID effort…

Govt likely to allow UIDAI to start enrolment in NPR states (CNBC India)

Government is likely to allow on Thursday UIDAI, which issues unique identification numbers to residents, to start enrolments in areas other than 18 states and union territories allocated to it for the purpose.

According to an official source, the Cabinet Committee on Unique identification Authority of India (UIDAI) will discuss a proposal of the Planning Commission to allow UIDAI to start enrolments in states and union territories which were not part of its mandated operations.

UIDAI proposal not taken up by Cabinet due to paucity of time (Business Standard)

A Cabinet Committee could not discuss today the proposal to allow UIDAI to start enrolments in areas other than 18 states and union territories allocated to it, due to paucity of time.

According to an official source, the Cabinet Committee on Unique identification Authority of India (UIDAI) meeting scheduled for today to discuss the proposal was not held as the meeting of the Cabinet took time to decide on LPG cylinder issue and other matters.

Both the committees are headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

For some background on the UIDAI-NPR bad blood, see ID Rivalry Reignites in India.

Building out the UID

UIDAI launches Aadhaar-enabled electronic know your customer service (Times of India)

Under the e-KYC process, one can authorise the UIDAI to release the KYC data to a service provider. The consent can be provided either in person (through biometric authentication) or online. The UIDAI will provide the details like name, address, date of birth, mobile number and email address to the service provider electronically.

The promise of UID is in the apps. It’s nice to see them starting to trickle through.

India: UID contains iris data, too.

All applications I’ve heard of are designed to access the UID (unique identification) biometric database have relied on fingerprints, until now.

If I’m reading this right, the state of Maharashtra (containing Mumbai & Pune) has some interest in exercising the iris end of the UID database and is preparing a pilot program to do it.

Aadhaar may soon try ‘authentic’ iris (DNA India)

The linked headline may have things backwards, though.

Aadhaar is UID — a database of identity information including biometrics. Anyone can develop apps that tie in to the UID database, and I’m pretty sure that the organization that maintains the UID database, the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India), has scrupulously avoided competing in the app market by inventing its own apps or developing apps for outside customers whether they are public entities like state governments as in the example linked above, or private entities like banks.

That is wise. In maintaining the world’s most ambitious ID repository, the UIDAI has plenty on its plate already and telegraphing to would-be app developers that they are going to be in competition with the guy that “owns” all the information would certainly hinder the app market.

So, Aadhaar is not going to “try” iris biometrics. It has already carved out a section of the database dedicated to iris biometrics. The news is that the iris part of the UID database is attracting the attention of end users and the second biggest state in India is taking the first steps toward integrating UID’s iris functionality into its operations.

Computerworld honors Aadhaar

Computerworld Honors 2013: ID program empowers citizens in India (Computerworld)

An estimated 400 million Indians cannot prove their identity. As a result, they’re shut out of countless opportunities. They cannot access educational programs, open a bank account, apply for welfare benefits or seek higher-level employment. Lack of identification is also problematic for the government, because as much as 40% of the $40 billion it directs yearly toward helping these individuals doesn’t reach the intended beneficiaries.

Aadhaar is more than a technology program that collects biometric data from residents. It is a transformative initiative that will allow all Indian residents the opportunity to participate more fully in society.

The Computerworld Honors Program, now in its 25th year, recognizes organizations that use information technology to promote and advance the public welfare, benefit society and business, and change the world for the better. This year’s 267 Laureates are that rare group with the ability to recognize problems and the courage to take bold steps to solve them. They are an inspiring reminder that great things can happen when determined people explore technology’s full potential.

Dikshit sics Nilekani on banks

CM seeks Nilekani’s intervention to clear obstacles in UID cash transfer (Indian Express)

Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit on Monday sought Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) chairman Nandan Nilekani’s intervention in overcoming obstacles in opening accounts in banks, which the government maintained, had not rendered active cooperation. Dikshit said she also plans to write a letter to the Union Finance Minister in this regard shortly.

Following a meeting with Nilekani, Dikshit said the government was keen on increasing the number of beneficiaries under the Aadhaar-based direct cash transfers. “We hope to increase intended beneficiaries in Delhi to at least 30 lakh but there are still obstacles in opening bank accounts. This results in difficulties for beneficiaries,” Dikshit said.

It was about a year ago that Chief Minister Dikshit reached out to Mr. Nilekani to help lift the pace of UID enrollment in Delhi.

Delhi is one of the most populated cities in the world. It’s also right next to/contains India’s capital of New Delhi (see Delhi or New Delhi: What’s the Delhio?). So, if UID is to be considered a success at streamlining the welfare system through cash transfers, it needs to succeed in Delhi.

Permanent UID service centers

UIDAI launches new services, permanent enrolment centres (NetIndian)

The services that were launched today are Authentication service using Iris, Authentication service using One-Time PIN and eKYC (Electronic- Know Your Customer) service.

Launching the services, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia said they would give a boost to the use of the Aadhar identity platform for authenticating the identity of people.

“This is a transformational initiative, and I am sure the Aam Aadmi (common man) will start reaping the benefits of the Aadhaar project in the near future,” he said.

Who know’s what’s going on here? Rumors that people were going to get cut off from subsidized LPG probably made some people mad, but it almost certainly made some people accelerate their plans to get a UID number.


Confusion over LPG-Aadhaar link in Chennai (The Hindu)

LPG distributors of various oil companies in the city say they have not received any instructions about the scheme to link Aadhaar numbers to LPG subsidies.

The recent Central government announcement about plans to provide subsidies to LPG subscribers directly to their bank accounts from October 1 using the Aadhaar (unique identification) number has left residents and distributors, somewhat confused.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Get Aadhaar card or pay double for LPG from October (Times of India)

IMF sees substantial savings from UID

Direct cash through Aadhaar to save 0.5% of GDP for India: IMF (New Indian Express)

Integration of direct cash transfer with Aadhaar will take time but the scheme will help Indian government save 0.5 per cent of the GDP, International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on Monday.

“… the total savings could be substantial: if the combination of direct cash transfer and Aadhaar eliminates the estimated 15 per cent leakage cited above for the programmes being integrated, savings could total 0.5 per cent of GDP in addition to the gains from the better targeting of spending on the poor,” the IMF said in a report.

That may be an undersetimate.

UPDATE: Event Video Added — Round-up of news on Nilekani’s Washington DC appearance


The Center for Global Development has posted a video of the event 

Original post follows:

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

India’s Biometric IDs Put Its Poorest on the Map (Bloomberg)

That’s because it was an audience of development specialists, and the benefits of universal ID in poor countries are potentially huge. In advanced economies, proposals to gather biometric data and associate them with universal ID numbers immediately raise civil-liberties concerns. Not long ago the U.K. abandoned plans for a national ID card, partly on grounds of cost and partly because the idea was unpopular. This contrast in attitudes is worth pondering.

In recent years many developing countries have embarked on biometric ID programs. The Center for Global Development’s Alan Gelb and Julia Clark have surveyed 160 such projects and written an indispensable guide: “Identification for Development: The Biometrics Revolution.” As they and Nilekani point out, India’s project is unusual for its scale and scope, and because its aim was to create a system of identification independent of the uses to which it might be put — a platform that can support many uses, rather than one specific application (such as checking eligibility for poverty relief).

Could a program tracking identities of 1.3 billion Indians be the secret to ending poverty? (Washington Post)

This is not, Nilekani insists, a scary example of government intrusion. Rather, he and others described the effort in near revolutionary terms during a lecture Monday at the Center for Global Development in Washington.

Suddenly, said Nilekani, tens of millions of people born without a birth certificate or any formal registration “exist” in the eyes of the government – and can demand services and benefits, get a mobile phone or open a bank account. Putting all the data on the cloud, he said, breaks the monopoly of civil servants over the distribution of such things as food and fuel subsidies.

Once you’re in the database, your identity can be verified at any government office, distributed from a bank, or transferred automatically to a bank account. It’s efficient. It cuts down on opportunities for corruption, such as bribes or what economists call “rent-seeking,” the skim off the top an official might demand for delivering a service.

600 million Aadhaar cards by 2014, says Nilekani (The Statesman)

“Today we have enrolled 380 million of the 1.2 billion people. Our daily processing is about a million people a day. Our goal is to reach 400 million this year and 600 million by 2014,” he said, adding there are between 25,000 to 30,000 enrolment centres in the country.

Noting that this unique identification number is now becoming “an internal passport and gateway” to various services for Indians, Mr Nilekani said by working with various regulators they have ensured that this ID is sufficient to get their services. It enables one to get services quickly and in a hassle free manner, he said.

Brainstorming UID with Srikanth Nadhamuni

300,000,000,000,000 biometric queries a day

“…[T]he Aadhaar system was deliberately built as an identity platform as opposed to an end user application, so that government departments and private companies/startups could build their own apps leveraging the platform.”

Technology startups have a huge opportunity to leverage the Aadhaar system (VC Circle)

“This is an ecosystem play.”

Sometimes we get bogged down in the scale of the enrollment challenges associated with UID. It’s good to get back to the amazing scale of possible apps that can be spun out of the ecosystem.

Nilekani: UID to cover 600,000,000 by 2014

600 million Aadhaar cards by 2014, says UIDAI chairman (CNBC: Money Control)

“Today we have enrolled 380 million of the 1.2 billion people. Our daily processing is about a million people a day. Our goal is to reach 400 million this year and 600 million by 2014,” he said, adding there are between 25,000 to 30,000 enrolment centers in the country.

Noting that this unique identification number is now becoming “an internal passport and gateway” to various services for Indians, Nilekani said by working with various regulators they have ensured that this ID is sufficient to get their services. It enables one to get services quick and hassle free, he said.

That’s not good: 300,000 UID enrollments lost in hard drive crash

Maharashtra loses data of 3 lakh UID cards (Times of India)

The Maharashtra government has admitted the loss of personal data of about 3 lakh applicants for Aadhaar card, an error that has forced the inconvenience of reapplication on unwitting victims and sparked concerns over possible misuse of the data.

Containing PAN and biometric information, the data was being uploaded by the state information technology department from Mumbai to the central Bangalore server of the Unique Identification Number Authority of India when it got “lost”. “The information is encrypted when uploaded. While the transmission was in progress, the hard disk with the data crashed. When the data was downloaded in Bangalore, it could not be decrypted,” said an official from the state IT department, which is overseeing the enrolment of citizens for Unique Identification number (UID) or Aadhaar card. The data mostly belonged to applicants from Mumbai.

3 lakh = 300,000
That data loss represents a lot of people’s time and effort. It will be inconvenient, to say the least, to redo 300,000 enrollments and the data loss has caused some to worry about UID data security.

If the Times of India reporting is accurate though, the data isn’t “lost” so much as it is unreadable… by anyone.

India & UID: Connecting the ID and financial infrastructure

FinMin to study progress of financial inclusion, direct benefit transfer schemes (The Hindu)

The Finance Ministry has convened a meeting of the heads of state-owned banks on February 6 to take stock of their financial inclusion drive and readiness to roll out direct benefit transfer across the country.

In the run-up to the general elections, which is only a year away, the UPA Government apparently wants the financial inclusion and direct benefit transfer (DBT) initiatives to reach the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid.

UID will be good for the poor

‘Aadhaar-based scheme can reduce corruption in PDS’ (The Hindu)

In a release, he said that kerosene distributed through PDS was one of the largest generators of black money in the country. He has quantified it at Rs. 25,000 crore a year. “This amount plays a crucial role during elections and is also the main reason for the lack of reforms in the public distribution system,” he claimed.

If corruption gets harder, somebody’s ox gets gored. It’s refreshing to see the argumentum ad hominem go the other way for a change.