From The Times July 15, 2009
It is surely the biggest Big Brother project yet
conceived. India is to issue each of its 1.2 billion citizens, millions
of whom live in remote villages and possess no documentary proof of
existence, with cyber-age biometric identity cards.
The Government in Delhi recently created the Unique Identification
Authority, a new state department charged with the task of assigning
every living Indian an exclusive number. It will also be responsible for
gathering and electronically storing their personal details, at a
predicted cost of at least £3 billion.
The task will be led by Nandan Nilekani, the outsourcing sage who coined
the phrase “the world is flat”, which became a mantra for supporters of
globalisation. “It is a humongous, mind-boggling challenge,” he told The
Times. “But we have the opportunity to give every Indian citizen, for
the first time, a unique identity. We can transform the country.”
If the cards were piled on top of each other they would be 150 times as
high as Mount Everest — 1,200 kilometres.
It is hoped that the ID scheme will close such bureaucratic black holes
while also fighting corruption. It may also be put to more controversial
ends, such as the identification of illegal immigrants and tackling
terrorism. A computer chip in each card will contain personal data and
proof of identity, such as fingerprint or iris scans. Criminal records
and credit histories may also be included.
Mr Nilekani, who left Infosys, the outsourcing giant that he co-founded,
to take up his new job, wants the cards to be linked to a “ubiquitous
online database” accessible from anywhere.
The danger, experts say, is that as one of the world’s largest stores of
personal information, it will prove an irresistible target for identity
thieves. “The database will be one of the largest that ever gets built,”
Guru Malladi, a partner at Ernst & Young who was involved in an earlier
pilot scheme, said. “It will have to be impregnable.”
Mr Nilekani will also have to mastermind a way of collecting trustworthy
data. Only about 75 million people — or less than 7 per cent of the
population — are registered to pay income tax. The Electoral
Commission’s voter lists are thought to be largely inaccurate, not least
because of manipulation by corrupt politicians.
He will also have to persuade as many as 60 government departments to
co-operate. The Government has said that the first cards will be issued
within 18 months. Analysts feel that it will take at least four years
for the project to reach “critical mass”.
Such is the scale of the project that analysts believe India will have
to develop a new electronics manufacturing base to supply
information-storing servers, computer chips and card readers.
For the time being Mr Nilekani has more mundane matters on his mind.
“I’ve only just left my previous job,” he said. “First I have to find a
Keeping tabs around the world
• Compulsory national identity cards are used in about 100 countries
including Germany, France, Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg, Portugal and
• ID cards are not used in the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, the
Irish Republic or Nordic countries
• German police can detain people who are not carrying their ID card for
up to 24 hours
• The Bush Administration resisted calls for an identity card in the US
after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001
• In Australia street protests in the 1980s forced the Government to
abandon its plans for a card
• Plastic cards are favoured over paper documents because they are
harder to forge
• Most identity cards contain the name, sex, date of birth and a unique
number for the holder
• South Korean, Brazilian, Italian and Malaysian ID cards contain
fingerprints. Cards in some countries contain information on any
distinguishing marks of the holder
• Objections to card schemes have focused on the cost and invasion of
• Supporters say that they prevent illegal immigration and fraud
• In the European Union some cards can be used instead of a passport for
A further step in the march to depreciate
individual privacy and freedoms, and thus increase control over
the masses. Sound familiar? Bible prophecy? Mark of the beast?
666? Do it my way or no way?
No of course not. It's a good thing. Great. Progress. Bring it
on. It will make things much more streamlined and efficient. It
will help fight corruption.
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