Perils of getting Identity wrong – The Indian Aadhaar System.

24th June 2020

By Neil Downing, VP of Products at TMT Analysis.

Recently there has been a lot of talk around the ‘teething troubles’ with the implementation of the Indian Aadhaar Identity system.

For anyone not familiar, this is a national identity scheme for all Indians which gives a 12-digit number to all residents, backed up by officially stored biometric data. The combination of this Aadhaar number and, say a fingerprint scan will then be sufficient for that person to access all government services such as social or healthcare.

The aims of the project are very admirable, to reduce corruption and increase inclusivity, but in a country of the size and complexity of India, and with such important social support services involved, the risks were always going to be high.

It made me think a little deeper about the perils of getting identity wrong, and what happens when you try and make something truly all-encompassing as a single source of identity. For a while I’ve argued that it’s the governments who should perhaps be taking more of a role in the evolution of our digital identities; since in the physical World it is normally some kind of Government provided ID (Passport, Driving Licence) that is used in 99% of cases to prove who we are; but this perhaps goes to prove that this is not so straightforward, and that not all governments are created equal. Private companies and tech innovators, who have a financial interest in getting this right, are out there solving these kinds of problems every day, and perhaps the first thing that this tells us is that one-size-fits-all schemes are, for now at least going to be fraught with challenges.

That is what encourages me the most about what we do. We see mobile number intelligence as a useful piece of the identity puzzle, rather than the puzzle itself. For many applications, our mobile phone, and its capabilities to record location, recognise our face or other biometrics could provide adequate authentication, there are many good and improving commercial applications providing this correlation. When combined with our information that verifies that the mobile phone is still in the possession of the real owner it reduces both the fraud risk and friction and because it’s based on a mobile phone lowers that all-important barrier to entry that often holds people back.

It will not be the total solution for every scenario, but mobile telephones are a technology that has become more and more inclusive, even in countries where government-created identities lag behind.

I’m very excited about the potential of this industry we’re involved in, the two big things that the Indian Aadhaas rollout is trying to do is reduce fraud and increase inclusivity. The mobile telephone is already increasing the inclusivity, and our products will compliment that by reducing the fraud risk. Sounds like a win-win to me!

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