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‘Learn from failed UK NIR project’

by Prasad Krishna last modified Apr 01, 2011 03:12 PM
The new government in the UK recently scrapped its decade-long work spending millions of pounds on establishing the National Identity Registration (NIR) number simply because it realised it wasn't workable. This article by Madhumita was published in the Deccan Chronicle on March 22, 2011.

There might just be a lesson in this for India that has begun the ambitious Unique Identification (UID) project. The fact, experts says, is that the technology to make this project work successfully in India, that is attempting to cover the largest biometric registry in the world so far, does not exist, at the moment.

According to Dr Ian Brown, senior research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, there was very little evidence that the NIR in UK met the objectives it laid for the initiative. Dr Brown, who has worked extensively on privacy with regard to biometrics, asserted that in the area of privacy and trust there was already a lot of distrust among citizens concerning identity registration. Additionally the UK government losing the CDs that contained information of 25 million people, led to the debate of data breach, a major issue for India concerning the UID. 

“The reasons behind the need for the card included politically popular goals that varied depending on the demands of that political moment. From anti-terrorism to reducing social security fraud, identification fraud, illegal immigration and creating a sense of community, the UK government's response was thin when it came to checking for evidence on the project successfully meeting these objectives. If it was for the largest argument of fitting into the wider perspective of criminal justice and security, then studies have shown that cost-effective measures such as streetlights managed to reduce crime by 30 per cent as against surveillance cameras that reduced crime a mere three per cent in the UK,” stated Dr Brown during a lecture at IISc. 

India too has argued the same reasons of terrorism and security along with literacy and eradicating poverty. But where is the evidence that one cannot breach this system? Asked advocate Malavika Jayaram. 

Prashant Iyengar of the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) reiterating this stated that there was no guarantee that an individual's information would be safeguarded. The general consensus was that nobody is opposed to the UID, just its current form.

UK’s NIR disaster

The introduction of the UK’s National Identity Register (NIR) scheme was much debated, and various degrees of concern about the scheme were expressed by human rights lawyers, activists, security professionals and IT experts, as well as politicians. 

Many of the concerns focused on the databases which underlie the identity cards rather than the cards themselves. 

Biometrics consists of methods for uniquely recognizing humans based upon one or more intrinsic physical or behavioral traits. In computer science, in particular, biometrics is used as a form of identity access management and access control. 

It is also used to identify individuals in groups that are under surveillance. India is undertaking an ambitious mega project (the Multipurpose National Identity Card) to provide a unique identification number to each of its 1.25 billion people. 

Read the original in the Deccan Chronicle here

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