The Government of India has embarked upon an ambitious exercise to provide a "unique identification" (or UID) number to every resident of the country. Each number is to be connected with three types of biometric data: iris scans, fingerprints (all ten fingers) and a picture of the face.
UID, it is claimed, will act as a useful identification facility and help the government to root out corruption from social programmes. The project was flagged off with lightening speed in September 2010, when the first residents were "enrolled" under UID in Tembhali village, Maharashtra. Since then, no effort has been spared to attract people to enrolment centres.
This urgency in enrolling people has led to a series of misinformed assumptions. Misconceptions range from iris scans being taken for an \\\’eye test\\\’ to fear of ration cards being taken away from those who didn\\\’t participate in this \\\’photography\\\’.1 Ranjana, the woman who made headlines in September 2010 for being the first person to get a UID number, was in the news again recently after complaining that the number was useless – she had tried to get a travel concession with it on the bus! The conductor bluntly told her to "dump the card in a dustbin".2 The authorities are not able to clarify these misconceptions because their attention is focused on meeting the enrolment targets.
Meanwhile, the UID project has raised many questions related for instance to privacy, civil liberties, financial costs, and even technical feasibility. Even the Planning Commission is concerned that disquieting "test results" of the UID project have been ignored.3 Tall claims that UID will enable better management of welfare schemes like NREGA and the PDS have also begun to be questioned. Behind all this, there is a larger question – is there more to UID
than meets the eye?
Despite these major concerns, there has been scarce public discussion about key aspects of the UID project. Viewing some of the media coverage that UID has got, it gives a sense of disproportion in the nature of reportage – a bit congratulatory, little depth and few questions asked. This inadequate probing and questioning has led to a lack of understanding within the general population about UID. With that thought, this primer seeks to shed some light on various aspects of this project and answer some frequently asked questions.
The primer relies on official documents (such as the UIDAI\\\’s “Strategic Overview”, “Handbook for Registrars”, “UID and Public Health” paper, etc) as far as the official side of the picture is concerned. This is complemented with other publicly available material, e.g. newspaper articles, reports, interviews, public lectures, websites, etc. As you read on, you will see that on many key aspects of UID, accurate information is not easy to find – we done our best with the material available.
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