India’s national ID program raises privacy concerns

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Over the past seven years, across India, almost every citizen has stood in line to get a new national ID. It’s a 12-digit number backed by biometric security. A head shot plus fingerprints plus an iris scan. It is the most exhaustive headcount by a country in history. Ajay Bushan Pandey heads “Aadhaar,” the agency running the identification program.

AJAY BUSHAN PANDEY: We have now reached the figure of 1.15 billion people. Among the adults, more than 99 percent of the adults have Aadhaar now.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Pandey says the Aadhaar Project, which has so far cost 90 billion rupees — about a billion-and-half dollars — improves national security by making it easier to monitor border crossings with India’s neighbors, like Pakistan and Bangladesh. He says the biometric IDs verify identity and weed out corruption by replacing paper records — if they even exist– with electronic ones. Aadhaar is bringing vast sections of the country that barely entered the Industrial Age into the Digital Age.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Many people in India don’t have birth certificates or formal IDs, and the government says that the Aadhaar program will correct this problem by issuing everyone a unique biometric identification. “A tool of inclusion” is what the government calls it.

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: A-third of India’s population survives on less than two dollars a day. They and many low-to-middle income people receive government benefits including temporary employment in public works, farm subsidies, and food commodities distributed through ration shops. The system is rife with fraud: fake paper IDs, fake beneficiaries, and theft by middlemen preying on vulnerable, often illiterate people. The new harder to fake IDs are designed to alleviate these problems says a spokesman for India’s ruling party, the BJP, in the Capital ofDelhi.

SUDHANSHU TRIVEDI: 30 years back, when late Mr. Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister of India, he has used a…

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