Indian Editorial: A Fulsome Defense of UID

Ray of hope for the neglected (Daily Pioneer)

This one’s got some spice to it…

Well, despite the ability of the Government to track any individual, the sheer volume of India’s population makes the Government’s task fairly difficult. The inability of police forces to track wanted criminals is a case in point. The fact remains, if someone wants to disappear in India, it is not difficult.

And there is a second argument. In this ultra-connected era where we willingly put up information about ourselves; where we are, what we are doing, who we are with; is privacy really that important. Or is it just a concern of a few highly-educated conspiracy theorists?

The fact is that many countries have a national identity system, most famously the US’s Social Security Number, and while the Aadhaar number might give the Government a lot of information about its citizens, particularly biometric data, as long as that information can be securely stored, that is a cost I, and I believe most citizens are willing to pay. As for the tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists, well, in a country the size of India the one thing that surprises me is that there are not more of them.

UID: Problems and Solutions

The article by Harshal Kallyanpur linked below does a very good job of frankly confronting the challenges and mistakes of the UID process while remaining balanced about its value and the benefits of having it go forward and succeed.

UID: Soldiering on (Express Computer)

UID has by far been one of the most significant technology projects undertaken by the Government of India. Designed to give a unique identification number to every citizen in the country, the project would eliminate the need for every citizen to provide a lot of different proof of identification documents in order to get their work done.

The main purpose of the project was to ensure that each and every citizen, regardless of his socio-economic status, could partake of public services from the government. At the same time, UID will also enable an Indian citizen to provide a single proof of identity while availing of different public and private citizen facing services.

An Embarrassing Insubordination – It Takes a Human To Give Coriander an ID

Coriander s/o Pulao, Aadhaar No 499118665246 (DNA India)

Coriander and an apple, as per the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), are residents of India as they have been given an Aadhaar number. And this, perhaps, has been the last straw.

Expressing shock at this, not to mention there having been several complaints of impersonation, the Union home ministry has asked UIDAI to get an internal as well as external security audit done by a third party to fix the lacunae in the enrolment system and avoid any more goof-ups.

OK, let’s get this out of the way. This story is funny and embarrassing. We even had some fun with it in April and May of this year: UID Embarrassment: Vegetable Gets an ID and Take that, Cilantro!.

It is also being blown way out of proportion. Nobody used Coriander’s ID to do anything good or bad.

P Keshav, a Member of Legislative Assembly from the district where the fraud occurred has speculated that the fraud was probably a prank played by someone who wanted to show how casually the process of data collection is done in villages and that the private agencies entrusted with the job have no understanding of the job.

So the hoax was probably an inside job. At the very least it required the complicity of an employee of a trusted entity: one of the companies that facilitates enrollment. Nevertheless, a corrupt official at the DMV issuing false documents doesn’t call the whole drivers license regime into question, and the same is true for UID, but it does encourage policy changes.

The unwanted attention the fraud has brought on the UID enrollment process has led to policy changes that should make the situation better. More attention will be focused on the private operators who charge money to collect enrollments. There’s no reason why the private agency and the employee responsible the fraud couldn’t be sanctioned. In fact, UIDAI probably should institute some sort of performance metric that affects payouts to the private firms based upon data quality, which despite The Coriander Affair, has remained high even as costs have fallen.

It’s important to remember that the management challenge of UID is every bit as difficult as the technical challenge.

Back to Three Sides of the Same Coin

NSADAQ Poster Bullish on UID

India’s new biometric identity system will help alleviate poverty (NSADAQ)

Over the past few months, we’ve been rather critical of the inefficacy of Indian government policy towards the economy (and rightly so). However, it would be disingenuous to claim that endless bureaucracy has impeded every initiative the government has undertaken. Rather, in one instance, it’s been quite the opposite: the attempts by the Indian government to introduce a biometric identity system are a rare instance of dynamism in the behemoth Indian government.

UID Back on in Pune

UID phase II begins in rural parts of Pune (Times of India)

According to the district administration, an identity proof, residence and birth date proofs are required at the time of enrollment. After filling up the detailed form, the officials at the centres collect the biometric impressions of fingers and the iris scans of the applicants. After completion of formalities, a 12-digit UID is issued. A receipt is given to the applicant at the time of enrollment and the UID number card is sent by post to the applicant’s address.

It’s good to see UID back at work.

But doesn’t requiring an identity proof, residence and birth date proof before issuing a UID number make it harder to give an ID to those who haven’t been able to get one in the past? I seem to remember that there was some mechanism in the UID system whereby neighbors and relatives could vouch for the identity of undocumented persons to get them an Aadhaar number.

Indian Cabinet to UID, NPR “Play Nice”

Govt asks UIDAI to take Registrar General of India (RGI) data (The Statesman)

Accepting the demand of the Union home minister, Mr P Chidambaram, the government today directed the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to consider the biometric data collected by the Registrar General of India (RGI) while issuing the unique ID number.

The decision to direct the UIDAI to accept the National Population Register (NPR) data was taken at today’s meeting of the Union Cabinet. Mr Chidambaram had taken up the issue with the Prime Minister last week and complained that the UIDAI chief, Mr Nandan Nilekani, was not accepting the NPR data for de-duplication and generation of Aadhaar number.

ID Rivalry Reignites in India

In the Dec. 6, 2011 post, India: How Much Fraud is Acceptable in NPR, UID, we touched on the philosophical differences between NPR and UID and the men behind the two efforts.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s biggest point has always been that his organization’s database, the National Population Register (NPR), is for Indian citizens only with a view toward issuing a citizenship card. His concern is that loose enrollment standards will lead to issuing the citizenship card to non-citizens and doing that exposes India to intolerable security risks.

The UIDAI, led by Nandan Nilekani is more concerned with providing everyone in India with a legitimate identity. The implicit assumption is that in a situation where a significant portion of the population will be unable to prove with scientific precision who they are (because they don’t have ID), you’re better off getting everyone an ID and then trying to sort things out later.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh set the conditions for both efforts to proceed in parallel, sharing tasks and infrastructure (in areas such as de-duplication) when possible, and otherwise staying out of each other’s way.

Though he never really seemed to accept the legitimacy of the pro-UID point of view Chidambaram took his medicine on January 24, 2012, in essence proclaiming “Rivalry! What rivalry?” See: UID: Home Ministry Climb-down.

Three days later the truce was sealed. UID would enroll 600 million people in 16 of India’s 28 states, and the NPR would issue 600 million credentials elsewhere. See Compromise reached on Biometric ID in India (January 27) which predicted that the rivalry would soon heat up again.

…which brings us to today:
Chidambaram, Nilekani spar over collection of biometric data (Times of India)

Sources said the cabinet again discussed the issue on Thursday after Chidambaram recently wrote to the Prime Minister complaining that the NPR project had “come to a standstill” because of the UID scheme.

“The collection of photographs and biometrics has been facing hurdles at every step on account approach of the UIDAI, which, it seems, has failed to appreciate the core purpose of the National Population Register,” Chidambaram said in his letter.

He also slammed the UIDAI for allegedly not following the cabinet’s orders.

“Despite clear orders from the cabinet, the UIDAI is objecting to the conduct of NPR camps in certain states and is also refusing to accept the biometric data of NPR for de-duplication and generation of Aadhaar number,” he said.

Versions of this article are all over the news today. I chose this one from the Times of India for the quality of the discussion in the comment section.

Of course, all this is highly political. But as we say around here all the time: Biometrics is about people. That applies across the board. It applies to the relationship between the individual and the ID management system, and it applies to the political and managerial people who implement and operate ID management systems.

Politics will always play a part in national biometric deployments and they should. What’s interesting in this case is that the political battle isn’t between pro- and anti-biometrics forces. It’s between two giant biometric deployments and, yes, the people who run them.

UID: Radical Ideas & Real Challenges

Why India’s identity scheme is groundbreaking (BBC)

With a unique identity, previously anonymous poor Indians can have access to services such as bank accounts, mobile connections and driving licences.

That is already something, for a country which has a population of 1.2 billion but only 50 million passport-holders and 200 million with driving licenses.

Indians design and build some of the world’s most sophisticated software and technologies for multinational corporations.

Now, some of this hi-tech savvy promise to transport India’s neglected millions from the technological dark ages, propelling them from complete obscurity to an online identity.

This highly recommended article pulls together a lot of the themes we discuss here.

UID Back On, Will Finish Enrolments by March 2014

UIDAI will finish all enrolments by March 2014, says deputy director general Anil Khachi (Economic Times)

Once more unto the breach. Nandan Nilekani’s Unique Identification Authority of India has told its regional offices to resume Aadhaar enrolments.

It had temporarily ceased all enrolments in January to address safety-related concerns which had been voiced by, among others, the home ministry. Close to five months down the line, Anil Khachi, a deputy director general with the UIDAI who looks after enrolments told ET that the new system is now ready for rollout. And that UIDAI will finish all enrolments by March 2014.

There’s a lot of good updated information at the link.

In other UID news…
Pune Municipal Corporation waits for machines to start 2nd phase of Aadhar (Times of India)
The second phase of Aadhaar enrolment in Chandigarh region was launched (Daily Pioneer)

Take that, Cilantro!

Software, norms delay UID Phase 2 (Hindustan Times via @francesIDexpert)

There are two major reasons for this slow take-off of the second phase of enrolment.

First is introduction of a new software to register enrolments with new fields for agencies to improve “quality of demographic data”. “All documents, including residence proof, have been made mandatory,” a UIDAI official said. Just not that, now the three biometrics — iris, fingerprints and face — will have to be taken in higher resolution for quicker and easier generation of Aadhaar numbers. The UIDAI has decided to carry out 100% manual check of all biometric exceptions — a person whose biometrics cannot be captured — to prevent a repeat in the second phase. Second is unwillingness of many agencies to adhere to new norms at the old price of maximum R50 for each successful enrolment. This is because the UIDAI for the second phase has decided to impose a penalty of R150 for every error in enrolment and R500 for violation of its guidelines.

That should cut back on the error rate and the amount of credentialed plant life.

Also, ratcheting up quality requirements while keeping compensation per enrollment stable will squeeze less efficient enrollment operations.

Fun facts: Cilantro vs. Coriander… What is Cilantro – What is Coriander

UID to Link With Criminal Records System

Home Ministry plans to link its crime records with UIDAI (Economic Times)

The Union home ministry plans to link its crime records with the Aadhar unique identity project, signaling a reversal in its hostile stance towards the Nandan Nilekani-led Unique Identity Authority of India.

The home ministry’s 2,000-crore Crime and Criminal Tracking System project, which aims to create a central database of all crime records in the country, will have a provision for linking up with UID or Aadhar numbers, an official associated with managing the project said.

“The big plan is to link crime records with UID,” the official told ET. “This will make the database easier to handle and more accurate.”

UID has an incredible potential to help bridge Indian bureaucratic silos.