Thursday, June 28, 2012
Contrary to the claims of the UIDAI, fingerprints will be a highly inappropriate tool to uniquely identify individuals. Given multiple errors during enrolment and the potentially high error rates at authentication, the use of fingerprint authentication is likely to foster a regime of misidentification and exclusion. Worse still, exclusion will be most acute among poor manual labourers. The poor record of fingerprint readers in U.K. airports and frequent fingerprint mismatches in the U.S. were also a result of fallibilities in the fingerprint technology.

The elderly is another group that would be massively excluded. As the PoC reports admit, those above 60 years had the “highest rejection rates” at authentication. Yet, the Mid-Term Review of the Eleventh Plan by the Planning Commission has recommended the use of Aadhaar fingerprints to pay pension to the elderly through the National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP). The recommendation is to use “banking correspondents”, who would carry handheld fingerprint devices, to make “payments at the doorstep”. A sure recipe for exclusion, it would appear.

In fact, the only group that appears certain to gain from the Aadhaar project is the global biometric industry. As Nandan Nilekani suggested in an interview, “the Unique Identification Project is creating new opportunities for biometric technology…. Our success can, therefore, determine the course the industry will take, since these technologies will be tested in India on an unprecedented scale.” On the other hand, the losses are likely to be felt mostly by the poor. It would be an irony that a project that is marketed in the name of “including the poor” would end up excluding them massively from whatever meager provisions they obtain from the state today...