India’s Biometric Database is a Massive Achievement and a Dystopian Nightmare

David Gilbert reports for VICE News how invasive a government-crated central identity database can become:

Launched in 2009, Aadhaar is a unique 12-digit number issued to each Indian citizen. Its creator, Nandan Nilekani, an Indian billionaire and former CEO of IT services giant Infosys, describes it as a “turbocharged version of the Social Security number.” The number is linked to a citizen’s most personal information: name, address, date of birth, gender, as well as biometric information like fingerprints and iris scans. When signing up for a new bank account, for example, citizens typically now scan their fingerprint in order to verify their identity rather than showing an ID card or passport. The government continues to claim that enrolling in the system is not mandatory, but increasingly, if you want do anything in India, you need to be registered with Aadhaar.

The latest new development has been the government’s willingness to grant private companies greater access to the system. Microsoft, for example, already taps into the database to confirm the identity of people using a version of Skype designed specifically for the Indian market. And Airbnb confirmed to VICE News that it is looking into Aadhaar as a potential option for verifying hosts. For now the company said it is testing the system with “a limited universe of hosts.” Uber also has been linked to the system, though when reached for comment, the company declined to provide any insights one way or the other.

Imagine this central identity database connected to countless “security” cameras, and enabled with predictive facial recognition software. It could document every aspect of your life. Verified by your identity, it could possess a high probability of successfully predicting your mood, intentions, and capabilities.

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