Given how the biometrics of over 90% of the population are already registered under Aadhaar and the fact that the government is already distributing significant sums to Aadhaar-linked bank accounts, how soon the entire Rs 3 lakh crore spent annually on social security payments including food and fertiliser subsidies is linked to Aadhaar is the big question. This will depend on the speed at which beneficiaries under various schemes are identified, their names linked to Aadhaar numbers which, in turn, have to be either linked to bank accounts in case cash is being transferred or to Aadhaar-enabled Point of Sale (PoS) devices in the case of, for instance, physical rations—the government has a target of having PoS devices in all ration shops within 16-18 months to tackle the situation today where over 40% of rations do not reach the target audience.
This process got a big leg up on Wednesday with Samsung coming up with a tab that has a built-in iris scanner—using the tab’s camera—that dips into the Aadhaar database for instant authentication. Though the tab is reasonably priced at Rs 13,500 a piece, that is still a considerable cost, and puts it out of the reach of the bulk of users. But with the technology now proven, it is only a matter of time before more reasonably-priced fingerprint and iris-scan phones are available to be able to quickly authenticate users using Aadhaar’s database. Once this is done, it will truly be a leg up for Aadhaar usage since, apart from use in government schemes like PDS and MGNREGA, proof of identity is also sought in various other places such as airports or for opening accounts in banks. So, instead of carrying documentary proof—Aadhaar documents or passports and driving licenses—users will be able to simply do a fingerprint or an iris scan on their phones to prove identity. The benefit will perhaps be the greatest in the case of financial transactions where complicated passwords are required—sometimes, in addition, SMS verification codes are also used to prove identity. Since iris scans are considered the gold standard of security, a phone/tab that allows this can be used to move away with the current systems which offer lesser degrees of security. Samsung is already filing patents in Europe for iris scanners to be incorporated in phones, a sure sign of the commercial potential it feels the device has.