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Biometric IDs For Every Indian Citizen 166

wiedzmin writes "This month, officials from the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), armed with fingerprinting machines, iris scanners and cameras hooked to laptops, will fan out across the towns and villages of southern Andhra Pradesh state in the first phase of the project whose aim is to give every Indian a lifelong Unique ID (UID) number for 'anytime, anywhere' biometric authentication. While enrolling with the UIDAI may be voluntary, other agencies and service providers might require a UID number in order to transact business. Usha Ramanathan, a prominent legal expert who is attached to the Center for the Study of Developing Societies in the national capital, said that, 'taken to its logical limit, the UID project will make it impossible, in a couple of years, for an ordinary citizen to undertake a simple task such as traveling within the country without a UID number.' Next step, tying that UID number and biometric information to to their RIM BlackBerry PIN number."
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Biometric IDs For Every Indian Citizen

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @10:11PM (#33516266)

    That's what it basically is in other countries. What is the news here? That India only started the practice now?

  • by morari ( 1080535 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @10:13PM (#33516280) Journal

    The difference seems to be that this number is tied to a fingerprint, iris scan, and facial photograph. That's a lot scarier than my social security number currently is.

  • Troll article (Score:1, Insightful)

    by BangaIorean ( 1848966 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @10:33PM (#33516410)
    What exactly is wrong with having a Unique ID number? The main purpose is to streamline things. Instead of having one 'PAN Card', one 'Voter ID Card' and a dozen other cards like we do now, this will substitute all of them. And what's this nonsense about privacy? People should not write articles without first researching the safeguards built into the system, and believe me - there are a LOT of them. Maybe you ought to think a bit harder about the positive implications of this such as crime prevention, speedy resolution of land disputes, etc. etc. etc.
  • by Compaqt ( 1758360 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @10:46PM (#33516512) Homepage
    Yeah, the credit fueled binge and bust worked out real well in the US ...
  • by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @11:22PM (#33516764) Journal

    I once was talking about biometrics with a preacher whose PC I was installing. The whole bit where the guy had his entire life and house controlled by the RFID chip in his hand had folks talking, so I naturally assumed a preacher would think Revelations. "Nope, not worried about that in the least" When I asked him why he said "Do you really think a being THAT old, that originally stood at the side of God, would be THAT obvious? It is so much easier to do, and the public will NEVER catch on". When I asked him how he asked me to tell him my last three SS digits, which of course I could from memory. He then emphasized this passage "And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads . He said we ALREADY had a mark, and all it would take is a national rationing system like in time of worldwide disaster to make it true. While I don't believe in religion, I have to admit I couldn't think of a comeback for that one.

    As for TFA, in many ways I feel sorry for India. While we were able to gradually progress they are basically trying to jump from third to first world pretty much in super fast forward. The logistics of doing that and dealing with the unreal amount of info one has to collect to keep from having widespread fraud in the digital age is just insanity. While I can understand them wanting to take any shortcuts they can gvet, tying this much info without a hell of a firewall around it will come back to bite them in the ass if they aren't careful.

  • by Constantin ( 765902 ) on Wednesday September 08, 2010 @11:47PM (#33516906)

    There are many benefits to having a national ID system that go well beyond the SSN in the US. For example, authorities may finally have a pretty good idea how many folk live in a particular area, which helps for voting, disaster-relief, and other efforts traditionally spearheaded by the authorities. Similarly, the use of one unified system that does not rely on the presence of a physical card could hopefully make law enforcement a bit better at avoiding false positives and negatives.

    In a country with over a billion inhabitants, having a system that assigns a ID number which is anchored by multiple biometric identifiers seems like a pretty good start, assuming the back end is secure, hard to tamper with, etc. This is what worries me though - similar previous Indian Government efforts, such as "untamperable" electronic voting machines designed for the Indian elections, have been proven to be quite vulnerable to tampering. Similarly, given how easy it can be to bribe corrupt officials, I wonder what the quality of the data will be once it has been entered / maintained / etc. for a while.

    The bottom line is that systems which rely on aggregating a lot of data have to be pretty resistant to being fed garbage in the first place and/or manipulated in the future. This is where Indian institutions have to do better in the future and one good reason why India lags other nations as badly as it does. And yet, I imagine the system that is being presented will still be light-years ahead of what India has now.

  • by williamhb ( 758070 ) on Thursday September 09, 2010 @01:32AM (#33517444) Journal

    The original intent of this ID is create something akin to the social security number in the US.

    I'll tell you two important reasons for this
    1. Make resource allocation more efficient.
                For example, there is a concept of basic items like rice, wheat etc... being sold subsidized to poor people.
                That mechanism is very inefficient and red tape laden presently.The ID is supposed to streamline it .

    2. Currently there is no concept credit history in India other than a credit card.
                    There is no way a dealer would sell you a TV on credit unless you bring somebody known the dealer along with you.

    Imagine US without SSN. That is what it is now in India. very inefficient.

    My goodness -- it'd be like ... Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and all those other countries that don't use a social security identifier as a de facto single compulsory ID for everything else in your life apart from just social security. How horrifying!

    In a related topic, the UK's proposed national ID has been scrapped even before it has become compulsory, with the government scrapping it saying they want 'to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties and roll back state intrusion.' When you've got a government saying that national IDs are a substantial erosion of civil liberties, it's worth listening to

    Of the two "important reasons" for an SSN you mention, neither is valid.

    The first does not require your social security number to be used by anyone other than (shock) social security themselves. It doesn't even need to be a universal number across both tax and benefits (and given that tax law and benefits law might sometimes consider income differently, or in ways that are open to case-law interpretation, it seems like a good idea not to link the databases too closely). In India, one of the controversial aspects of the biometric ID is that it will include your caste -- seemingly inviting caste-based discrimination. Again, a case where there's an advantage to deciding not to keep information on file.

    The second doesn't require a social security number at all. Australia, Britain, and many other countries have reasonable credit history checking methods that do not require revealing your tax, social services, or other government identifiers.

    I suspect India is actually more interested in the biometrics than in the individual ID. The problem they face is that they have a very large rural population who don't interact with official government documentation very often -- and do not have birth certificates, driving licenses, passports, and other documents that are used as proof of identity in more urban/developed countries. A biometric ID would give them one, and one that doesn't matter if the ID card itself gets lost on the farm.

  • by hawkingradiation ( 1526209 ) on Thursday September 09, 2010 @02:11AM (#33517586)
    This is also why a UID is scary. Imagine a future when resources are scarcer such as in a war. An identity like this would be used to ration goods. That is the positive side when money doesn't mean anything. But there could also be potential drawbacks in the same situation, and huge ones. Suppose someone somewhere doesn't like you and they have access to *deny* you goods and services and this is possible that it could be a large overbearing institution like the government or a large corporation. Right now we can get away from this because we use money, and everybody wants more of it so it is unlikely that someone will refuse a service because they can gain financially from it. So no problem if you can get some money then you can live comfortably. But if the value of money is scarce such as with hyperinflation (tick,tick,tick...) people without a uid could be refused service. Simply because a computer database has determined that they: used up their allotment, or they are on some sort of watch list, and all of these conditions must be met before they receive any goods. People without the id could not be issued service from the entity because they are not in the database: The problem exist when the database owner/maintainer relates to the entity that is giving out the service and not an abstraction like money. Kinda reminds me of an old Twilight Zone episode where a guy is punished for a crime and then has a mark put on his forehead. He is then an outcast of society and nobody can even speak to him because there are drones monitoring everything. He goes to the hospital and then a nurse asks him to remove his hat. Only if he doesn't have the mark will he be allowed service. He shows his mark and he is turned away.The uid is the same thing as the "mark" but in this fictional case it is measured by presence of it and not the absence. i.e. the absence is also a mark. One wonders how in the future one could survive without the uid...without the help of society and the burdens.
  • by AGMW ( 594303 ) on Thursday September 09, 2010 @06:05AM (#33518650) Homepage

    ... You also have an easier time being sure someone is who they say they are ...

    The problem, as I see it, is that people are led to believe that such a biometric system is infallible and therefore unquestioningly accept such proffered 'ID' as secure. Given that such biometric IDs simply aren't infallible this means that those who wish to offer a false identify can do so more readily because no one questions the biometrics. The other side of the coin is that if people always do question (ie mistrust) the Biometrics (as indeed they should!) then they are no better than the old system.

    Simply put, Biometrics aren't the answer ... now what was the question again?

  • by AGMW ( 594303 ) on Thursday September 09, 2010 @06:18AM (#33518704) Homepage

    All it needs is proper implementation and security.

    OK, now I've worked in 'Computing' for 30 years or so and I know the only way to guarantee that a computer system is 100% secure is to not have it connected to anything else and for it to be stored in a sealed room. This somewhat degrades the usefulness of the system for real-world applications.

    In all areas of 'Security' you have to be successful at maintaining the security 100% of the time, whereas those who feel the need to breach your security only have to do so once, and they often have a really powerful inclination to do so. Indeed, it could be argued that the more successful the security is, the greater the value of breaking it because if such an ID system is perceived as 'bullet proof' and you are the only person to break in then you can sell fake or cloned ID's that will NEVER be questioned.

    ... and all that before you even consider whether or not you feel you can trust your current government, and all future governments, to not abuse their position [].

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 09, 2010 @08:36AM (#33519484)

    ....I feel sorry for the poor bastards that have to deal with it, but if they're not willing to fight for their freedom, then this is what they'll get...

    Sigh. The trouble here is that the vast majority (the uneducated, illiterate poor) are at the beck and call of the politicians they are supposed to order around. Feed them and throw around some money and clothes during elections and festivals, and bam! You're a member of parliament.
    People don't (or can't) think big enough to realize the sort of problems a move like this will enable, and those that can (and do) are in too much of a minority to matter.
    Politicians don't give a rat's arse about the middle classes and the educated. They have their vote banks rooted firmly in the poor, and their money flowing in from the rich (think industrialists).

  • Re:Troll article (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Threni ( 635302 ) on Thursday September 09, 2010 @08:52AM (#33519644)

    > Every system is corrupt, even this one. If your authorities want to screw you, trust me, they don't need this. This is only for the better.

    Faulty logic. This makes it far, far easier for the authorities to screw with you. How are you going to get on the internet, train, order tickets for flights abroad etc etc if you're going to get rejected because your number's on a database, having been added by someone who knows you and doesn't like you?

"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas