Saturday, October 08, 2011

Biometrics are the latest craze in Delhi's crumbling corridors of power. The census department is capturing them. So is the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). As are a myriad others - banking correspondents, state governments, government programmes like the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana, the ministry of rural development for NREGA workers, the home ministry in India's coastal areas, etc.

Further, state government and central ministries are starting to integrate biometrics into their programmes. Madhya Pradesh, for instance, is integrating UIDbacked food coupons into its PDS programme. Bihar and Andhra Pradesh make NREGA payments after biometric authentication. In Delhi, the government is planning to link Aadhaar to LPG distribution. So is Punjab. It seems safe to say that, sooner or later, we will all share our fingerprints, iris scans, what have you, with one or more institutions.

Sadly, even as opinion has converged inside government about the desirability of using biometrics, there has been little discussion about the safeguards that need to accompany this transition to biometrics. Think about it. Till now, privacy asserted our rights over our thoughts and interactions with others. Biometrics, on the other hand, capture and share information about our bodies...