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Identity Theft – Will it be the downside of Unique ID Project?

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There are so many articles surrounding the advantages of National UID system in India. Here are some of the advantages I see going forward.

  1. Increased efficiency in public spending
  2. To control corruption at Govt offices
  3. More transparent and efficient voting system
  4. Better Tax payments (long way to go ,though.)

But like every other initiative there is a distinct drawback here. It is that of having a central identification system, which Mr. Nilekani might have noticed – It is identity fraud.

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I assume the biometric card will contain information like digital fingerprints, iris scan or other easily scanned biometric features. Putting all this critical information in one central database could be a sitting duck for terrorists and other criminals.

We all know that the price we pay for using debit cards and ATM’s is an increase in the abuse of these convenient systems by criminals. If identification starts to rely on one major system, the information that is compromised will be much greater than with the more diversified systems that are in place.

Needless to tell that if the same card is used for business transactions it will lead to aggregation of private databases that can easily be cross-referenced with each other.

When UK government wanted to build a National ID card for their country 3 years back, one of Microsoft’s chief technologist warned them about identity theft and frauds.

"Fishenden, national technology officer at Microsoft UK, said that the plans for a central national identity register could lead to "huge potential breaches" and a leakage of personal information.”

"I have concerns with the current architecture and the way it looks at aggregating so much personal information and biometrics in a single place," he said

Ironically the same Microsoft seems to be interested in the project in india…Hmm Interesting!!

But like every one of you, I am also looking forward for a day the single ID would revolutionize our lives. Even before National ID initiative was made public, Mr. Nilekani had covered it in plenty in his book ‘Imagining India’. So we can trust that necessary thoughts and discussion has been done beforehand.

"But building these intelligent little stripes is the easy part. It is in making the back-end infrastructure secure and scalable, providing a single record keeper for the whole country and integrating the agents who issue these numbers that it gets tough. An IT-enabled, accessible national ID system would be nothing less than revolutionary in how we distribute state benefits and welfare handouts; I believe it would transform our politics." – Nandan Nilkeani, Imagining India

Image src: identityfraudnews

(This guest post has been submitted by Ganesan Vijay Srinivas)

  1. Shrikant says

    Partially agree with commenter #4 Vinny – nice story, BTW! :)

    There’s always the risk of losing everything if you keep all your eggs in one basket – which is what the Unique ID project purports to do – agreed.

    Now, I’m gonna play the devil’s advocate by saying: You can’t overlook the positives, either.

    A single collated database of medical records can ensure timely diagnosis and treatment. Fraudsters can be detected and tracked easily. A unique identity can ensure smoother(?) processing of various registrations from birth till death, and so on…

    Plus, the biometrics can’t be (easily) faked, right?

    Of course, even while I’m playing the devil’s advocate, I must grudgingly admit that Vinny’s story reminds me very much of an Orwellian 1984 scenario…

    *Sigh*

    So much to do, so little time… :)

  2. Vinny says

    Below conversation will give u a peep into future with Fully integrated ID card system!!!!

    Operator : “Thank you for calling Pizza Hut . May I have your…”

    Customer: “Heloo, can I order..”

    Operator : “Can I have your multi purpose ID card number first, Sir?”

    Customer: “It’s he…,
    hold……….on…….889861356102049998-45-54610”

    Operator : “OK… You’re… Mr Singh and you’re calling from 17 Jal
    Vayu. Your home number is 22678893, your office 25076666 and your mobile
    is 09869798888. Which number are you calling
    from now Sir?”

    Customer: “Home! How did you get all my phone numbers?

    Operator : “We are connected to the system Sir”

    Customer: “May I order your Seafood Pizza…”

    Operator : “That’s not a good idea Sir”

    Customer: “How come?”

    Operator : “According to your medical records, you have high blood
    pressure and even higher cholesterol level Sir”

    Customer: “What?… What do you recommend then?”

    Operator : “Try our Low Fat Pizza. You’ll like it”

    Customer: “How do you know for sure?”

    Operator : “You borrowed a book entitled “Popular Dishes” from the
    National Library last week Sir”

    Customer: “OK I give up… Give me three family size ones then, how
    much will that cost?”

    Operator : “That should be enough for your family of 05, Sir. The
    total is Rs 500.00”

    Customer: “Can I pay by! Credit card?”

    Operator : “I’m afraid you have to pay us cash, Sir. Your credit card
    is over the limit and you owe your bank Rs 23,000.75 since October
    last year. That’s not including the late payment charges on your
    housing loan, Sir..”

    Customer: “I guess I have to run to the neighbourhood ATM and withdraw
    some cash before your guy arrives”

    Operator : “You can’t Sir. Based on the records, you’ve reached your
    daily limit on machine withdrawal today”

    Customer: “Never mind just send the pizzas, I’ll have the cash ready.
    How long is it gonna take anyway?”

    Operator : “About 45 minutes Sir, but if you can’t wait you can always
    come and collect it on your Nano Car…..”

    Customer: ” What!”

    Operator : “According to the details in system ,you own a Nano car,…
    registration number GZ-05-AB-1107..”

    Customer: ” ????”

    Operator : “Is there anything else Sir?”

    Customer: “Nothing… By the way… Aren’t you giving me that 3 free
    bottles of cola as advertised?”

    Operator : “We normally would Sir, but based on your records you’re
    also diabetic……. ”

    Customer: #$$^%&[email protected]$% ^

    Operator : “Better watch your language Sir.. Remember on 15th July 2010
    you were convicted of using abusive language on a policeman…?”

    Customer: [Faints]

    1. Arun Prabhudesai says

      hahahahhaa, Viny that story sums up everything very nicely :) thanks for sharing it with out readers …

    2. Dhananjay Nene says

      Why post a full comment when only a hyperlink can work (and give credit to the original poster) eg.

      http://neerajbhushan.com/2009/07/24/when-all-indians-have-unique-identification-cards/

      Or even better

      http://www.google.co.in/search?q=%2Bdiabetic+%2B“popular+dishes”+%2Blibrary+%2Bcholesterol

      1. Arun Prabhudesai says

        Dhanajay, I fully agree…credit HAS to be given and thanks for sharing the link…But I really did not understand the second link to google search that you mentioned, why was that?

  3. boomerang says

    Identity theft has always been an issue, it all depends on what someone can do with stealing my identity. Lets say my name/address, even fingerprints is compromised, can someone get a loan on my name?credit card?
    By restricting what one can do with the id card itself, id theft doesnt seem to be that bad. If its sole purpose is just to act as an identity verification, I dont think the govt will not use in conjunction with verifying the person physically with photo. So I dont think its all that bad

  4. boomerang says

    Yeah, identity theft is definitely a problem when all info is stored in a central place. From a consumer point of view, it has one main convienient advantage though atleast in US. Since its easy to identify a person with an id, govt organisations easily exchange data, so you dont have to provide details every time(although most states its still very inefficient) and of course its also easier for the govt to track the activity everywhere and get a wholistic view. Because of this, say for eg, anything you do with tax dept will affect your license or any violations as minor as parking violation will be known by all govt entities. The big brother knows everything about you :)

  5. Kedar says

    Certainly, better privileges and better functions require better security.
    The concept of unique id seems fascinating as described in news (it indeed is)…, but a database with information about every Indian seems a golden apple for terrorists and other bad actors.
    Although, we trust Nandan Nilekani. The man would have thought of every possible disadvantage of the system.

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