A new US$1 billion national identity card project has undermined the Indian government's ambitious "Aadhaar" project to catalogue the biometric details of over 1 billion citizens.
Indians' biometric details are being captured by two separate organizations: the National Population Register, to develop the resident identity card (RIC); and the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), to create a unique identifier (UID), commonly referred to as "Aadhaar" number.
Both projects are designed to streamline the distribution of welfare and social services to citizens--a process that is currently mired in corruption.
In an interview with ZDNet, Centre for Internet and Society's India executive director, Sunil Abraham, said the ID smartcard and ID number are fundamentally different, not complementary, as the government has previously said.
"Those are two very separate visions. You cannot mix them up and make some kind of salad and have a little bit of this and a little bit of that. You have to go the whole hog in one direction," Abraham said.
He said it was easier for the government to proceed with both projects, rather than cancel Aadhaar, which has been criticized over reports there were duplicate biometric information and data abuse.
"The government is afraid it made a mistake," Abraham said. "It could just continue to create a hodgepodge of both ideas, both visions, and continue making big mistakes and have ghosts [in the UID system] and large scale corruption."
On March 12, India's house of representatives, the Lok Sabha, Minister P. Karunakaran asked the Minister of State, R.P.N. Singh, to clarify the overlap between the proposed biometric identity card and UID. Singh confirmed the government would spend over US$1 billion (55.52 billion rupees) to issue a resident identity card (RIC) that featured the Aadhaar number.
"The RIC would enable both online and offline authentication of identity in a secure manner and will complement the efforts of Aadhaar," Singh said in a written response. To avoid duplication, he explained that if citizen biometric data was already captured by the UIDAI, then the Aadhaar number would be recorded on the RIC smart card.
Independent lawyer Usha Ramanathan told ZDNet the government had overstepped its legal bounds. She said the UIDAI has demonstrated biometrics are imperfect but the government has persisited with the project.
"The UID is lawless. Now we will have an RIC which will be lawless," Ramanathan said. "All we are offered is the UIDAI 'confidence' that the project will work."
"Privacy and personal security continue to be unprotected. And there seems to be an inexhaustible amount of money to experiment on the whole population," she noted.