The Indian Aadhaar Biometric Miracle

I belong to a generation that has forsaken the pen for a keyboard and hence the skills required to maintain a static signature is long gone. Personally I’ve never trusted identity verification by matching a squiggly line on a piece of paper, it just doesn’t feel accurate enough, Trying to visually match someone’s appearance to a tiny black and white photo on a government issued identification is even less accurate. Luckily biometric verification is slowly replacing such old none accurate methods, already many countries adopted them for border control however very few countries aren’t using biometric methods past the point of entry. In comes the Indian Aadhaar project, In few years the Indian government was able to accomplish nothing short of a miracle, collecting the biometric details (fingerprints and iris scans) of more than 1.1Billion citizen a feat that reportedly required a $1Billion investment to achieve. Then gradually introducing biometric verification for many of the daily functions to replace the existing less than accurate methods.

The relatively low price of the fingerprint scanner allowed it to become a ubiquitous and cheap identity verification tool, it is reported that around more than 20 Million checks are done everyday thats around 30000 request per minute (12 hours day), one can only wonder about the SLA requirements for that system or the architecture they are using to conduct that, the checks are all done in real time over public web services. In India such a system is paying for itself as the government was able to close the subsidy leakages that were being dispensed to ghost citizens whom existed only on paper. This has been applauded in an economist article stating that India has leapfrogged every country except Estonia. This is an inaccuracy as Saudi Arabia has already implemented such a system successfully, in Saudi Arabia phone lines can only be sold after an online fingerprint verification done at the shop selling the line, this is done through an online web-service in realtime.

However both the Indian and the Saudi programs are far from perfect, the finger print verification technology has certain challenges that both programs have inherited not all people have clear fingerprints and often people who engage in manual labour have finger prints that can’t be verified, More importantly online verification requires a prevalent internet access to work which isn’t always suitable for remote areas. The first problem can be resolved as iris scanners become cheaper and easier to use as iris imprints are much more accurate and stable than fingerprints. The internet access however is a challenge that can only be resolved by a huge infrastructure investment which in my opinion is the largest hidden cost for such a program.

I wonder if we are going to see this implemented in Egypt any time soon. The digitization of the identity verification.

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