Photo by Sffubs
India is rolling out a new ID system based on biometrics – retina scans and fingerprints – that seems revolutionarily awesome. A lot of the problems of governance break down to poor communication. It’s impossible to communicate without an identity, yet national IDs are tied up in tons of arcane and often corrupt bureaucracy. This could be a break.
The new number-based system, known as Aadhaar, or foundation, would be used to verify the identity of any Indian anywhere in the country within eight seconds, using inexpensive hand-held devices linked to the mobile phone network.
Identity is the next killer app, at the end of the day, that’s the asset that Facebook has and which Google is trying to cobble together. With an identity you can get into these systems, and it’s the same way with government.
This idea, which I heard of via the New York Times and LIRNEasia is to make the national ID biometric (so you can’t lose it) and to tie it to government services and benefits. For a long time (in Sri Lanka also) services are tied to property, to a physical address, limiting the mobility that’s necessary to improve life. Connecting identity to biometrics is a good step.
What’s interesting is that the founder of InfoSys is running the project
“What we are creating is as important as a road,” said Nandan M. Nilekani, the billionaire software mogul whom the government has tapped to create India’s identity database. “It is a road that in some sense connects every individual to the state.”
The inevitable objection, of course, is over privacy. Do you want to connect every person to the state? Does ever person want to be connected? I dunno. That definitely has its cons. But, with identity comes power, and hopefully people can use their eyes to peer into the state as much as the state peers into them.