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Aadhaar: Define Your Identity



This ambitious project undertaken by the Government of India aims to provide every citizen with a unique identity number based on their biometric profile.




We have several documents that currently qualify as ID proof, such as ration cards and driving licenses, but these are superficial, as they don’t take into account fundamental aspects that set each individual apart. In a bid to provide a unique identity to each citizen, the Government of India has formed the Unique Identification Authority of India.


Headed by ex CEO of Infosys, Nandan Nilekani, the agency aims to provide a 12-digit unique identity number for all citizens. The project is ambitious to say the least, as by 2014, the Government wants half of India’s population to be allotted Aadhaar numbers. This translates into a staggering 600 million Indians, whose biometrics – photograph, fingertips and iris scan, will be recorded and compared. On 29th September, 2010, Ranjna Sonwane from a small tribal village in Maharashtra, became the first Indian to receive an Aadhaar number. Since then, the project has already crossed the million mark. We spoke with RS Sharma, director general and mission director of UIDAI to find out more about Aadhaar and its benefits.


What is Aadhaar?


Aadhaar is unique 12-digit number that will be issued to individuals by the UIDAI. The aim is to issue a unique ID number that can be verified and authenticated in an online, cost-effective manner. Most importantly, it should be robust enough to eliminate duplicate and fake identities.

However, getting an Aadhaar number is not mandatory. “The authority has a multi-registrar policy, whereby various Government agencies will enable residents to get enrolled. There is no deadline to get an Aadhaar number. Also, Aadhaar cannot be used as a replacement for existing ID proofs. It is also important to recognize that a ration card is not merely a proof of identity or address; it establishes eligibility to receive rations. Similarly, a driving license establishes eligibility to drive. Service providers may choose to embed Aadhaar into exiting forms of identification to make checks more robust,” says Sharma.


Features of Aadhaar


You may wonder why anyone would enroll for Aadhaar if it isn’t mandatory, but having an Aadhaar number may actually be beneficial. Firstly, the number will, over time, form the basic, universal identity infrastructure over which registrars and agencies across the country can build their identity-based applications for delivery of services in an effective and cost-efficient manner. Registrars may include state governments, state public sector units (PSUs), banks, telecom companies, etc. who may in turn partner with enrolling agencies to enroll citizens into Aadhaar. Once residents enroll for Aadhaar, service providers will no longer face the problem of performing repeated Know Your Customer (KYC) checks before providing services. They would no longer have to deny services to residents without identification documents.


Another feature of Aadhaar is that, over time, it will be recognized and accepted across the country and across all service providers. Also, authentication would not be a hindrance, owing to the centralized technology infrastructure of the UIDAI. It enables ‘anytime, anywhere, anyhow’ authentication, which can be done both online as well as offline. Offline authentication can be done via cell phone or land line. Aadhaar will thus give migrants mobility of identity, and it will provide flexibility to poor and rural residents. Aadhaar is also crucial for them as they lack identity documents and Aadhaar may be the first form of identification they will have access to. It will empower them to access services like banking, public distribution system, as well as government schemes like National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) etc.


Aadhaar will also pave the way for a more cleaner and robust data bank. Today, there are multiple databases in existence and so it’s possible for people to furnish different details to different agencies. But since Aadhaar will be centralized, the instances of duplication and fraud will be rare. Every new applicant’s data will be sent to the Central ID Data Repository (CIDR), where it will be checked and verified on key demographic fields and biometrics, against the existing data collected. This self-cleaning mechanism will ensure that there is no duplication of data.




How to get Aadhaar?


Information about the Aadhaar enrolment will be made available in the local media. You will then have to go to the enrolment camp nearest to you and register yourself for Aadhaar. At the time of enrollment, you will have to provide certain documents such as ration card, passport, voter ID, driving license, electricity bill etc. as proof of identity. After registering, you will go through biometric scanning of fingertips and iris. You will also be photographed and given an enrolment number. Your Aadhaar number will be issued to you within sixty to ninety days.


In the near future, the agency plans to further simplify this process by enabling online enrollment for Aadhaar. “Yes, in the near future, we may Web-enable only the demographic data entry piece to make the process more convenient for residents. However, as biometric attributes also have to be captured, the entire process cannot be ‘e-enabled’. Also, a significant challenge in densely populated regions is crowd control. We are trying to stagger enrolments in such areas. Our multi-registrar approach also ensures that there are enough enrolment centers in densely populated areas for residents’ convenience,” says Sharma.


Technology Used


Your biometric profiling will be done with the help of an iris scanner, a fingerprint scanner and a Web camera. The iris cameras conduct a mathematical analysis of the random patterns that are visible within the iris of an eye from some distance. Unlike fingerprints, which can become difficult to recognize over the years due to manual labor, the iris of an eye remains unchanged and is unique to every individual. The digital photo of the iris pattern is converted into an encrypted digital template, which cannot be re-engineered or reproduced in any sort of visual image. Iris recognition therefore affords the highest level of defense against identity theft, the most rapidly growing crime. Next up is face detection, which is used in biometrics, often as a part of (or together with) a facial recognition system. It is also used in video surveillance, human computer interfaces and image database management. The face detection system will measure and analyze the overall structure, shape and proportions of the face. These include the distance between the eyes, shape of the nose, jaw structure, forehead, mouth, etc. Finally, fingerprint scanning is done with the help of a scanner that captures a digital image of the fingerprint pattern. The scan is then digitally processed to create a biometric template, which is stored and used for matching.


Once the data has been captured, it is then encrypted and sent to the CIDR (Central ID Data Repository). Here, it will be cross-checked for duplication against the existing data, thus reducing the possibilities of fraud. The authentication is enabled in a manner that the identity verification queries will only receive a Yes and No responses. Thus, the architecture ensures complete data security and under no circumstance will the residents data be shared with third parties. Also, to ensure seamless functioning, an Analytics and Continuous Improvement team reviews operations on an ongoing basis and releases relevant, actionable reports for all stakeholders.


Categories: General Articles
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