Aadhaar: How countries collect mammoth personal data via biometric-based cards

File photo. Photograph:( Others )

WION Web Team Delhi, India Mar 08, 2018, 06.53 AM (IST)

Despite controversies and reports of data breaches, India's Aadhaar biometric-based identification system was rolled out nationwide. Today, Aadhaar is considered mandatory even for entering an airport or for applying for subsidised rations.  

The day was a historic one when India's ambitious Aadhaar biometric-based identification system was rolled out. Billed as a citizens welfare measure, its origins were rooted in the Kargil Review Committee report which recommended a uniform national identity card for people living in conflict zones.  It was subsequently extended to all citizens.
 
Some of the past years have seen the debate over Aadhaar intensify. 
 
-- There have been complaints of incorrect data
-- Complaints of cyber insecurity and identity theft
-- Reports of data breaches and misuse

Analysts and experts questioned whether the government is equipped to handle the Aadhaar database and perils associated with it. 

Nevertheless, Aadhaar is now required for those seeking to avail of government benefits; it's mandatory to cite your Aadhaar number while applying for some of the most vital and crucial personal instruments like PAN Card or a passport.  

But, the intricate interlinking and meshing of a person's sensitive information with Aadhaar has deepened security concerns, simply because so much of data is held onto the servers based in the US.

Compared to the Aadhaar, the US social security number is over eight decades old and began as a government device to track the earnings of American workers for administering benefits under the social security programme. The nine-digit number provides information about geographic location, post office details of a US citizen. Here also, there were looming concerns over duplicate social security numbers, while some people thought the more social security cards they had the better it was. 

In Russia, all citizens ageing 14 years and above are issued an internal passport which provides identification and facilitates travel within the country. It also details location or residence, conscription, marriage among other information of a citizen. Plans of introducing a biometric-based identity system were scrapped last year.
 
What other countries do

-- China has a resident identity card issued by the police to all those ageing 16 years and above which provides name, sex, ethnicity and residence details
-- Pakistan issues a national identity card to all its citizens ageing 18 years and above which must be shown while applying for a driver's licence, opening a bank account or getting a passport
-- Saudi Arabia has a national e-identity card scheme for citizens; the card has biometric details, photograph and a digital signature.
 
The main aim of establishing a national identity card system varies from country to country. Dictatorships see such cards as a national security measure, they can track their citizens, figure out what they are up to and where they go. Democracies, on the other hand, see it as a mode to empower their citizens, giving them their rights.  
 
However, in both cases, a large amount of personal data is compiled where people disclose personal information including bank accounts and family details. In the West, where personal privacy is taken seriously, the public is aware and vigilant about how the government uses their information. Countries like India have a large population that identifies government's involvement in their private space as a symbol of security.