1. Shankkar Aiyar’s Aadhaar is definitive story of unique identity project; here is book review

Shankkar Aiyar’s Aadhaar is definitive story of unique identity project; here is book review

The definitive story of unique identity project Aadhaar, from when it was a mere idea to a day when it has 1.5 billion enrollments

By: | Published: September 10, 2017 4:01 AM
Aadhaar, Aadhaar book, Aadhaar book review, shankkar aiyar Aadhaar, shankkar aiyar book, shankkar aiyar new book, shankkar aiyar book review Shankkar Aiyar’s Aadhaar: The book comes at a time when India is riding on the technological highway created by Aadhaar to deliver governance and services to the remotest corners of the country. (Representational image: Reuters)

Sometime in mid-2015, I was assigned by my previous employer to cover Aadhaar for the newspaper. Though I was aware about the unique identity project and its processes—thanks to a presentation by Nandan Nilekani a few years ago in the newspaper’s office—I thought of first meeting Ram Sewak Sharma, then information technology secretary, who was one of the chief architects of the project during its inception.

Luckily, I got an appointment instantly—I am sure it was because of Sharma’s affinity with his pet project. However, my first question put him off. “I want to know everything about Aadhaar,” I had asked. He replied that there is enough literature available to understand Aadhaar and I should research the issue first and then come back to him to discuss the project.

I did so, and it involved a painstaking process of going through numerous papers and articles. A few days later, I met Sharma again, and this time we talked for at least an hour.

However, if today anyone is in the same situation I was in during my first meeting with Sharma, or even otherwise wants to know about the genesis and history of Aadhaar, Shankkar Aiyar’s Aadhaar: A Biometric History of India’s 12-Digit Revolution is the go-to book.

The 228-page read traces the origin of the idea—discussed over a dinner between Nilekani and KP Krishnan, then a joint secretary in the finance ministry—the ups and downs it witnessed, the political backlashes it withstood and the evolution process it underwent to finally emerge as what is the world’s largest pool of biometric and biographic data of a country’s citizens.

The book essentially talks about the politics, economics, technology and dichotomies faced by the unique identification project—topics which may not be of interest to many—but Aiyar has kept the format and pace of the book steady, resulting in a gripping and breezy read.

The author has spoken to every stakeholder right from the beginning of the project, including not only bigwigs such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Pranab Mukherjee, Rahul Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, apart from Nilekani and Sharma, but also the actual foot soldiers of the project who combined their skills to put together every piece of the project right from scratch. This meant that each and every minute detail of what, who, when, why and how has been answered in the book.

Nevertheless, though the author mentions the opposing camp’s view—mainly social activists and lawyers—of the project, their views are not reflected at length compared with people who are in favour of the project. However, the book does a critical analysis of the shortcomings of the project, and also enumerates instances wherein the Aadhaar process has been misused.

The book comes at a time when India is riding on the technological highway created by Aadhaar to deliver governance and services to the remotest corners of the country. The project’s technological richness was the main reason that despite stiff opposition from various corners, including the Opposition party and the ruling party at different points in time during its journey almost a decade ago, it survived and is thriving today with more than 1.5 billion enrollments. As the author puts it, “The quest of this book, and the reason it is being written now, is to push the envelope of debate from what is not to what it must not be and what it must.”

  1. R
    Reader
    Oct 7, 2017 at 3:56 am
    A centralized and inter-linked biometric database like Aadhaar will lead to profiling and self-censorship, endangering freedom. Personal data gathered under the Aadhaar program is prone to misuse and surveillance. Aadhaar project has created a vulnerability to identi-ty fraud, even identi-ty theft. Easy harvesting of biometrics traits and publicly-available Aadhaar numbers increase the risk of impersonation, especially online and banking fraud. Centralized databases can be hacked. Biometrics can be cloned, copied and reused. Thus, BIOMETRICS CAN BE FAKED. High-resolution cameras can capture your fingerprints and iris information from a distance. Every eye hospital will have iris images of its patients. So another person can clone your fingerprints and iris images without your knowledge, and the same can be used for authentication. If the Aadhaar scheme is not stopped by the Supreme Court, the biometric details of Indians will soon be available for s-ale.
    Reply
    1. R
      Reader
      Oct 3, 2017 at 3:28 pm
      A centralized and inter-linked biometric database like Aadhaar will lead to profiling and self-censorship, endangering freedom. Personal data gathered under the Aadhaar program is prone to misuse and surveillance. A centralized and interlinked database can lead to commercial abuse. Aadhaar project has created a vulnerability to identi-ty fraud, even identi-ty theft. Easy harvesting of biometrics traits and publicly-available Aadhaar numbers increase the risk of impersonation, especially online and banking fraud. Centralized databases can be hacked. Biometrics can be cloned, copied and reused. Thus, biometrics can be faked. High-resolution cameras can capture your fingerprints and iris information from a distance. Every eye hospital will have iris images of its patients. You can change your password if it is compromised. But if someone gets a copy of your biometric data, which can be used for authentication, what would you do?
      Reply
      1. #
        #AADHAARFAIL
        Sep 20, 2017 at 5:51 am
        When your bank account gets looted via aadhaar pay, you will call 1947, wait for 3 hours to get connected, the call center folks will simply ask you to visit aadhaar enrollment center, waiting list being 3 months, you will bribe 1000 INR and get an appointment with aadhaar enrollment center to resolve aadhaar misuse, they will ask you to email help at uidai dot gov dot in, you will send 10 emails in 10 days and then get a generic mail, asking you to specify all your details including preferred condom b , etc, you will respond with all details, you will follow up for 3 more days, then you will get a generic FINAL response, "Please lock your bio-metrics in UIDAI , Jai Hind!", after that even if you send 100 emails you will NOT get any response. You lock your bio-metrics, the criminal go to an aadhaar enrollment center, unlock your bio-metrics using stolen fingerprint and keep on looting your hard earned money.
        Reply
        1. R
          Reader
          Sep 12, 2017 at 1:02 pm
          On 10 September 2017, the UP police said they had busted a Lucknow-based gang, which stole the fingerprints of authorised Aadhaar enrolment operators. These fingerprints were cloned and used to access the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI)’s enrolment service to create “fake” Aadhaar numbers. The gang hijacked the fingerprints and login-ids of Aadhaar enrolment operators, and also bypassed UIDAI’s iris-scan based security. This incident points to the inherent vulnerability of Aadhaar’s architecture.
          Reply
          1. Korath Mathew
            Sep 18, 2017 at 3:18 pm
            No Aadhaar could be created by cloning or hacking the system which proves that the system is robust and secure. A mere attempt does not indicate the system has flaws.
            Reply
            1. #
              #AADHAARFAIL
              Sep 20, 2017 at 5:51 am
              STFU! Hackers created millions of real aadhaar cards using stolen fingerprints
              1. R
                Reader
                Oct 3, 2017 at 10:38 pm
                Biometrics can be cloned, copied and reused. Thus, biometrics can be faked. High-resolution cameras can capture your fingerprints and iris information from a distance. Every eye hospital will have iris images of its patients. So in order to fool the biometrics-based Aadhaar system, there is no need to hack it. If someone gets a copy of your biometric data, which can be used for authentication, what would you do?
            2. R
              Reader
              Sep 12, 2017 at 1:01 pm
              UK’s Biometric ID Database was dismantled. Why the United Kingdom's biometrics-linked National Identi-ty Card project to create a centralized register of sensitive information about residents similar to Aadhaar was scrapped in 2010?? The reasons were the massive threat posed to the privacy of people, the possibility of a surveillance state, the dangers of maintaining such a huge centralized repository of sensitive information, and the purposes it could be used for, and the dangers of such a centralized database being hacked. The other reasons were the unreliability of such a large-scale biometric verification processes, and the ethics of using biometric identification.
              Reply
              1. Korath Mathew
                Sep 18, 2017 at 3:24 pm
                If UK believes that biometrics is infringing on privacy then why are they collecting biometrics of people who are entering UK? Also collection of biometrics for many other purposes are happening in UK. Why so?
                Reply
                1. R
                  Reader
                  Oct 3, 2017 at 10:39 pm
                  Please understand the difference between citizens and non-citizens.
              2. R
                Reader
                Sep 12, 2017 at 1:00 pm
                The US Social Security Number (SSN) card has no biometric details, no photograph, no physical description and no birth date. All it does is confirm that a particular number has been issued to a particular name. Instead, a driving license or state ID card is used as an identification for adults. Social Security numbers are now prohibited by federal law from appearing on new driving licenses, due to iden y theft concerns. The US government does not collect the biometric details of its own citizens.
                Reply
                1. Korath Mathew
                  Sep 18, 2017 at 3:37 pm
                  Why is US collecting biometrics of people who are entering US? US has allowed Apple and Google to collect and use biometrics. So biometrics of all the Apple and Google users are readily available to them.
                  Reply
                  1. R
                    Reader
                    Oct 3, 2017 at 10:43 pm
                    Please understand the difference between citizens and non-citizens. The US government does not collect the biometric details of its own citizens for the purpose of issuing Social Security Number. The US collects the fingerprints of only those citizens who are involved in any criminal activity (it has nothing to do with SSN), and the citizens of other countries who come to the US.
                2. Load More Comments

                Go to Top