Anit Mukherjee on why ID is so important for development, what needs to happen to keep people’s data safe, and what developing countries who are considering implementing new ID systems need to know.
CGD Policy Blogs
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.
How do you give over a billion people a digital ID within five years? How do you improve learning for 200 million children in India and countless millions worldwide within a decade? How do you improve health outcomes for billions of poor people and achieve the goals of Universal Health Coverage within a generation? How do you solve the world’s most pressing challenges, not incrementally, but with the urgency they demand?
Aadhaar has already demonstrated the potential of digital ID to transform systems of governance and increase efficiency of private transactions. By addressing the genuine concerns of individual privacy and data protection, it can lead by example as it has done on the technological side. The right to privacy judgement by India's Supreme Court is an opportunity to make Aadhaar a bigger success than it already is. India can learn from other countries to do just that.
The state of Rajasthan in north India has become the digital frontier, with a program that registers all family members under a single identity document known as the “Bhamashah Card,” but it still has to overcome significant challenges of poverty and inequality. In a state that is similar in size and population to Germany, it is no small achievement to take on the ambitious task of providing each family with a unique ID and deliver it within a short span of three years.
The biometrics revolution has allowed more countries to create strong ID systems for their citizens. These systems have mostly relied on fingerprinting, but with the advent of low-cost, highly effective iris readers this is about to change.
Enrollment in India’s biometric-based universal ID program Aadhaar is approaching the remarkable count of 790 million and nearing saturation levels — 90 percent or more — in some states.