Many of India’s poorest citizens do not have the luxury of birth or marriage certificates to prove their identities. Some don’t even know their exact age.
India’s efforts to digitize the identities of its 1.2 billion people, one of the largest data collection exercises in the world, is crucial if the country hopes to deter illegal immigration, curb welfare fraud and provide equal access to government and private services to the most marginalized individuals, according to Tarun Wadhwa, a senior research associate for the Think India Foundation.
Wadhwa joined Benn Konsynski, George S. Craft Distinguished University Professor of Information Systems & Operations Management, for a panel on “Technology, Identity, and Privacy: The Promise and Perils of India’s National Identity System” as part of the third annual India Summit at Goizueta.
Held from March 2-3, the student-organized conference, formerly known as the Emerging India Summit, brought together 360 foreign policy experts, government officials, faculty, students and scholars representing arts and medicine to discuss topics related to public health, innovative technologies and international business opportunities. Hosted by the Halle Institute with the help of Emory and Goizueta faculty, this year’s summit featured internationally-acclaimed author and University Distinguished Professor Salman Rushdie, pioneering heart surgeon Devi Shetty and a keynote address by Indian Ambassador Nirupama Rao. One of the summit’s aims is to help facilitate deeper bonds between Emory and India as an emerging world superpower.
Wadhwa outlined the challenges involved in establishing a reliable biometrics identity system through the use of photographs, fingerprinting and iris scans. Among the risks: Protecting personal information in decentralized state databases.
The program’s goal is to enroll 600 million people over the next four years through a public-private partnership headed by Nadan Nilekani, the former CEO of outsource giant Infosys, known as the “Bill Gates of Bangalore.”
“It’s certainly a daunting task and a daunting scale that few would readily jump into,” noted Konsynski.
The identification effort, estimated to cost between $1 and $3 per person, enjoys widespread public support, noted Wadhwa. Issuing residents a unique 12-digit identification number allows them to open bank accounts, sign up for cell phone service and apply for government benefits.
“By the end of this decade, 75 percent of the world will have these systems in place,” Wadhwa said.
– Margie Fishman