“There was a lack of basic identity documentation, and the databases we had were extremely dirty, as we call it, because there were so many duplicates,” says Anit Mukherjee, an IDRC fellow at the Center for Global Development, who was part of the team that developed India’s biometric identity program, the world’s largest, known as Aadhaar.
Starting in 2011, the team travelled to small villages and remote areas of the country, scanning fingerprints and irises and linking this information to demographic data such as date of birth and parents’ names. With a decentralised enrolment process and a centralised database, participants can sign up in their villages and then travel anywhere in the country, since their 12-digit identity number can be accessed online. To date, 950 million of the country’s 1.2 billion citizens have enrolled, says Mr Mukherjee.
On the other hand, the strength of these systems could make it more difficult for individuals to challenge errors, as presumptions might be biased toward the computer, note Alan Gelb and Julia Clark in a CGD Working Paper, Identification for Development: The Biometrics Revolution. They also point out that facial recognition software can capture individuals’ images without their consent, raising privacy concerns. There is also an issue of exclusion, as obtaining fingerprints is not always possible for manual laborers and the elderly."
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