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A growing number of developing countries are using biometric technologies to create national identification programs or for more specific needs, including cash transfers, voter registration, and disaster relief. CGD’s research shows how biometric ID can help improve public service delivery, advance progress on many of the Sustainable Development Goals, and helps shape global best practice in applications that use the technology. Our work on India’s pioneering Aadhaar system aims to understand how it has impacted a billion Indian lives, and how the technology could be useful to other developing countries.
Aadhaar, the world’s largest biometric ID program, is at a crossroads. After a remarkable effort to enroll almost the entire Indian population of 1.25 billion in just over half a decade, its impact on privacy and distribution public benefits are being called into question.
Can biometric IDs encourage women’s financial inclusion and economic and social empowerment? In principle, the answer should be yes. But the potential impact is limited by a range of other impediments that limit women’s participation.
Policies put in place to counter financial crimes have unfortunately had a chilling effect on banks’ willingness to do business in markets perceived to be risky—due in part to the high price of compliance. Even as changes are being made to address this problem, financial institutions are developing solutions in the form of new cutting-edge technologies to help them comply better and faster with anti-money laundering regulations.
Even while policy solutions to address de-risking are being implemented, new technologies have emerged to address de-risking by increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of AML/CFT compliance by financial institutions.
For the policymaker looking to improve services and the delivery of benefits, or for the financial institution trying to expand its customer base, the gap between technical solutions and the situation of the average technology user represents fertile ground for the many new opportunities that the digital economy provides.
Recent advances in the scope and sophistication of identification systems could have far-reaching consequences for development. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, there are common features that ID systems should share if they are to support development.