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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).
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.