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The devil is in the detail

Zafar Anjum | Sept. 16, 2009
The Indian governments quest for a unique identification number programme for its billion-plus population is extremely challenging, and even wasteful

-    Caste and religion-based profiling of the population is another danger. People can indirectly misuse the database and target a group of people, using the data against them.

Nilekani, quite gentlemanly, agrees in the interview that most of the above-mentioned charges are correct. But he is also convinced that the project is required (and is feasible) as India needs one single non-duplicate way of identifying a person (through a combination of finger prints and pictures) and a mechanism to authenticate that identity online anywhere. According to him, the project will deliver a huge impact on Indias leaking public services. It will make delivery of social services and government grants more efficient and make the poor more inclusive in growth.

It all sounds noble and well-intentioned. But Nilekani agrees that with such a monster of a scheme, we are going into uncharted territory. According to him, the technology is there and we will have to scale up the existing technology. He understands that there are certain risks involved in this project but the benefits will be immense, countervailing the risks. As for the misuse of the data, he argues that a mechanism of citizen oversight and a combination of checks and balances could make it less prone to misuse.

As any right-thinking citizen will demand, the project must have a regulatory and independent risk assessment component. There must be checks and balances and it must not give the rogue the power to snoop around with peoples identities. That would be the greatest disservice anyone can do to a country. Im sure Nilekani would be cautious in devising the parameters and security aspects of the project.

Zafar Anjum is the online editor of MIS Asia portal.    


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