A recent New York Times article written by Lydia Polgreen explores how a combination of innovative biometric and fingerprinting technologies may help to put a stopper in the flood of Indian poverty and bureaucratic corruption. Utilizing a 12 digit, social security like identification code along with biometric iris readings and digital fingerprinting, the poor of India may finally be able to escape from the anonymity that, among other things, leads to denial of health care, food subsidies, and employment on a daily basis. In a world where the poor can have no real identities beyond their local village, the possibility of having an identity that spans an entire country as vast as India is beyond life changing.
Although the programs cost is estimated to take up 326 million in the next financial year, the program’s benefits appear to be worth it. By providing people with identities, the poor will be able to claim the government benefits that they so desperately need. No longer will the poor be forced to stay in small villages with corrupt leaders who squander government aid for themselves. Now they will be able to leave without leaving their identity behind and along with it their ability to claim food subsidies or even open a simple bank account. Moreover, these 12 digit combinations will lock out corrupt government officials who attempt to take these benefits for themselves; a problem that is far too common. What’s even more exciting is that all of these benefits come at no cost to the citizens who need it, whether they be rich or poor. The process is free and only requires a name, year of birth, and home address along with the digital fingerprint and biometric reading. With India’s 1.2 billion people and the thirty million people already in the system, the program promises to quickly become one of the largest digital identification systems in the world.
As always, providing people with identities through technology comes with risks to that identity and personal privacy. However, unlike the complex digital fingerprints that usually consists of credit card numbers and life stories; the fingerprints in this system will be very limited as the program only includes names, addresses, and years of birth. In fact, access to the system will only provide simple yes or no answers as to identification and little else. Moreover, the complexities of the digital system will make stealing government benefits, something that was quite easy in a tangled and unordered system, much more difficult to do. While there is concern over the government using this information to track citizens, such a thing maybe inevitable considering the fear of terrorism and the modern world and may even be beneficial if used correctly.
Looking at the bottom line, the program promises to be an innovative tool in combating poverty and technology while at the same time leaving a minimal digital footprint for the shifty to follow. With the programs large amount of government support and its potential to supplement India’s evolving economy; it will be interesting to see how things play out.
*For source of information, see Lydia Polgreen’s New York Times article entitled “Scanning 2.4 Billion Eyes, India Tries to Connect Poor to Growth”.