Current affairs

A New Identity

Few months back, I had to make number of rounds(six to be precise)  to a Hospital in Singapore. When I went there for the first time, even before taking up making my case paper, the first thing the receptionist in the hospital asked me was my Identification number. Once this was furnished, the case paper was made in a jiffy. For all of my subsequent rounds to the hospital, this magic number was enough for my entry. No further details or documents were asked again. This was just a little trial view for me of   all pervading, all-inclusive power of a mere number, called Identification number. You wish to use your debit or credit card, issue a check, open a bank account, want to make new spectacles or have work in a Government office, this number is your key. Once this is produced, no further identification is required. If you have this number, you could do much business with authorities on your computer through internet, saving many unnecessary trips outside.

Government in India has now taken up a very ambitious project to provide a unique identification number to all the citizens of India. When people in India came to know about this project, the initial reaction was that of frustration as one more number would have to be remembered and furnished. Even now, people in India have to keep record of many such numbers and keep in safe custody, cards bearing these numbers. There are Voter’s registration card, Income tax pan card, ration card, local municipal property card, passport and driving license card, which everyone needs to have. To prove your correct identity, minimum two cards need to be furnished in most of the places. Possession of these cards is still not considered as hundred percent foolproof identity of a person and many times affidavits are required to be made. The cheats therefore always manage to get and produce a false identity.

The Government appears to have begun well. They have appointed chief executive officer of a top notch Information Technology Company like ‘Infosys’, Mr. Nandan Nilekani, in charge of this project. Mr Nilekani recently gave an interview, in which he described the features of this Unique Identification number and the all-pervading power, it would certainly have.

The main outstanding feature of this UIN (Unique Identification Number) would be the way in which it would be connected to the Biometry of the person bearing that number. This would make its duplication impossible. Fingerprint of a person is one such Biometric parameter. Once this UIN is linked to the fingerprint of a person through computer and Internet, the identification of that person could be established anywhere and at any time where a computer and internet connection are available. Another such Biometric parameter is the colour of the pupil of eye of that person.


There would be no need to issue new cards or documents with this UIN. Each and every other card we have, would have this number printed on it. It would be just a matter of checking our fingerprint with help of a computer, to truly establish that the person is true bearer of any such card, which he has in, is possession.

The basic principle underlying this UIN happens to be so simple. Most of the components of this system (For example the electronic fingerprint checker) are already well proven and in use. Since last few years every visitor to USA has to give his fingerprint at the immigration point, which is then stored in the computer. The real challenge before Mr. Nilekani and his associates would be the super giant size of the system. A database, which would store the fingerprints of more than one billion people and a system, which can analyze such huge data, needs to be developed. This system should have the capability to produce relevant data on the screen of any authorized computer anywhere and anytime, which asks for it. This is the real test.


Some of the critics of this project have said that India can ill afford the expenditure of billions of rupees necessary for a project of this scale. Mr Nilekani says that the Government spends billions every year to give subsidy to the poor in the country. However, not even 40 % reaches the target. UIN can ensure that the subsidy reaches the person in need. This itself justifies the expenditure on this project.

In a sense, UIN is a new identity for every citizen. These days we need to give every time, photocopies of Photo Identity card and address proof for every small thing such as opening of a bank account, applying for a mobile phone etc. I am looking forward to the day when all I need to do is to put my finger on the fingerprint checker, connected to a computer, and forget carrying photocopies and originals.

19 September 2009


About chandrashekhara

I am a retired electronics engineer. I am interested in writing, reading books. Other hobbies include Paper models, wooden fret work and social networking.


One thought on “A New Identity

  1. UID is probably the basic building block of governance. It is at the foundation of citizen services.

    This realization has come some almost two decades ago on a global scale.

    TV Anchors who have not done any real project work in their lifetime can quote some obscure paper from london school of economics. He may have created soundbytes that helps him to keep his job. To question everything and argue and dismiss every idea is a typical indian trait.

    In malaysia, all citizen services are integrated into this unique number, which is delivered through a card, the colour of these cards is differnt for citizens and for permanent residents.

    The whole of europe has these cards, where everything is linked to it. Turkey probably has the most organized use of these cards. The question of capture and storage of biometry is not a challenge. It is the online authentication which is challenging, where nandan is talking about unchartered territories. And this feature is not necessarily the show stopper. Our engineers have solved these scaling-up and performance problems for 1000s of companies. This too will be cracked hopefully, in the process creating new technologies.

    Posted by SP | September 20, 2009, 11:25 pm

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