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Biometric identification is spreading rapidly across the developing world, where it is helping to close the “identification gap” that separates poor countries from rich ones.
India’s Unique Identification (UID) project offers important lessons for other countries. UID’s performance data show that large countries can implement biometric ID programs with low levels of exclusion and high accuracy, but this requires the combined use of multiple biometrics.
Data on authentication provides strong indications that iris technology is both more inclusive and more precise than fingerprints. However, even well-designed systems will need to allow for failures to enroll and for errors by providing other options to identify and authenticate individuals.
UID’s modest cost levels owe much to its standards-based approach, which encourages competition among suppliers and avoids lock-in to proprietary technology. UID also sets standards for the disclosure of performance data which other programs should emulate, and which can be used to help calibrate technology to needs.
These lessons are also useful for the foreign donors that support many identification systems in poor countries and are concerned that they be both inclusive and effective.