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The battle for biometrics in India

Zafar Anjum | Jan. 26, 2012
The battle over biometrics between the Unique Identification Authority of India and India’s home ministry has ended in a compromise, according to a report.

The battle over biometrics between the Unique Identification Authority of India and India's home ministry has ended in a compromise, according to a report in NDTV, India (25 Jan).

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is an agency of the Government of India responsible for implementing the AADHAAR scheme, a unique identification project. Aadhaar is a 12 digit individual identification. This number will serve as a proof of identity and address, anywhere in India.

A part of the Planning Commission of India, UIDAI was established in February 2009, with the mandate to maintain a database of residents containing biometric and other data. The agency is headed by a chairman, Nandan Nilekani, former co-chairman of Infosys Technologies.

The battle over biometrics started as both the UIDAI and Home Ministry were mandated to collect biometrics data of Indian citizens. "Nilekani's department has so far enrolled 20 crore Indians with their biometrics including their fingerprints and iris," the report said. "The problem is that the Home Ministry is empowered to collect exactly the same data for the National Population Register or NPR".  

According to the NDTV report, at a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister and attended by senior ministers, Nilekani, and Home Minister P Chidambram, it was resolved that the fingerprints and iris scans of Indians will be collected by both teams, with as little duplication as possible.

At the meeting, it was decided that Nilekani would conduct his enrolment exercise in areas where his team has already collected information on more than 50 percent of the population. Remaining areas will be handled by the Home Ministry's officials. 

According to the report, Nilekani's department was initially meant to use the NPR's data for its work. But because the NPR's collection of data was moving slowly, the UIDAI asked for and received permission to collect the biometrics for 20 crore Indians. The logic was that the two databases of the NPR and the UIADI would eventually be married. But the Home Ministry then said that the UIDAI's data was not up to its standard. 

Concerns have been raised about the safety of the data collected by UIADI and its legal status.

 

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