Show Politics September 5, 2011
India's Trying to Collect Fingerprints, Eye Scans of Every Citizen

Poverty is widespread in India. Last year, 37% of the country's 1.2 billion people lived below the poverty line. And because of a massive and inefficient bureaucracy, government spending to help the poor doesn't tend to reach the people who need it most. Now, India's government is trying to solve that problem in a new way: using modern technology to create a comprehensive identity database containing every one of the country's citizens.

The system involves scanning the fingerprints and eyes of every Indian citizen, and then assigning each person a 12-digit number. If the project succeeds, then each person will be able to identify him or herself anywhere in the country using their number and a thumbprint. The project's team says this will allow citizens to migrate more easily to areas where there are job opportunities. They also believe it will help stop the rampant corruption that has been taking place in India, which led to activist Anna Hazare's recent hunger strike.

But what about the right to privacy? Various thinkers have raised questions about what the database will mean for people's privacy and civil liberties, with concerns that the technology could lead to invasive surveillance and investigations by police and security forces. At the moment, India lacks robust laws to protect privacy, which may leave the door open for misuse of the information.

For now, the project is pushing ahead. And they've got their work cut out: so far they've issued 30 million identity numbers. If they were collecting Canadian identities, they'd be in the home stretch. But in a country of 1.2 billion people, they've barely begun.

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