India: creating a unique identity

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EY’s Guru Malladi reports on the Indian Government's project to set up an online database of personal biometric identities for nearly a billion people.

India's national identity scheme involves capturing 12 billion fingerprints, 2.4 billion iris scans and 1.2 billion photographs in a database.

India is attempting to give a unique identification number to its 1.2 billion residents – a truly groundbreaking project.
The lack of an official ID prevents individuals from accessing basic services and means there is a lack of accountability and transparency in the delivery of social security benefits.

To address these challenges, Indian policy-makers have created an online ID platform, overseen by a new body, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). A 12-digit unique ID, or Aadhaar (meaning foundation in Hindi), is being issued to every individual.

UIDAI’s technology is underpinned by the latest biometric, cloud computing, encryption and search capabilities to ensure every resident is issued a unique ID, and no resident receives more than one official identification.

Such a task involves capturing:

  • 12 billion fingerprints
  • 2.4 billion iris scans
  • 1.2 billion photographs in a database

It also involves checking the resident’s number against every other record to ensure the ID’s uniqueness. A vendor-neutral technology is being used to ensure the Government is not locked in to any one particular hardware or software.

As of June 2013, 364 million Indian residents have been issued their unique ID. More than 600 million are expected to be issued by 2014.

Aadhaar brings with it the promise of economic and social transformation:

  • UIDAI has created digital platforms that authorize payments for a resident using a cell phone, smart phone, tablet or any other device linked to the internet.
  • UIDAI has also created systems that enable the transfer of money directly into an Aadhaar linked bank account.
  • Pilot projects are underway for banks to use the ID to deploy low cost micro-ATMs in villages that leverage fingerprint authentication.
  • Aadhaar authentication is being used to deploy subsidized food grains and cooking gas.
  • In 2012, the Indian Government announced a Direct Benefits Transfer Program, in which various welfare benefits are transferred to an Aadhaar-linked bank account.
  • Telecom operators have started using online Aadhaar authentication when providing new mobile connections.
  • Indian agencies are increasingly recognizing it as a proof of identity for multiple services, including passports, voting and train travel.

The private sector is also keen on adopting Aadhaar for advanced applications that include an individual’s credit rating, electronic medical history and education records. The platform approach and interfaces provided by UIDAI allow entrepreneurs and software providers to develop innovative applications in sectors such as health, education, employment and agriculture.

Several logistics partners, consulting firms, biometric service providers, device vendors and software solution providers are working alongside UIDAI to streamline service delivery by using a data-driven and electronic approach.

EY India is providing consulting services to the Indian Government and UIDAI for setting up the central ID infrastructure, and on other critical projects which support the day-to-day operations at UIDAI.

The ID program and Aadhaar applications are set to allow many more Indian citizens to join the mainstream population on the journey of economic and social growth.

Read our article: The dawn of a digital era