If you are one of the paranoids that believe our democratically elected government is of the monsters, by the elites, and for mass control, this blogpost is not for you. I suggest you, if one of those, read 1984 by George Orwell before going to bed every night to strengthen your confirmation bias and dream up new conspiracy theories. The very few rest of you who require information before concluding, I make a humble attempt at stating facts coupled with my observations about the fabled Aadhar card.
What Beast is Biometrics?
Biometrics is defined as: “automated recognition of individuals based on their biological and behavioural characteristics” – ISO/IEC. Put simply, any feature or habit of a person – be it fingerprint, DNA, body odour, queer gait, that is unique to the person can be used by a computer to identify the person.
Did you know that living organisms were the first biometrics systems created by Bruce Almighty? That’s right, since you can recognize your pesky relatives on street by their face, or know who has called from an unknown number because of the chalkboard noise that they pass for voice, you have used that person’s biological feature to identify the person. All animals have evolved… pardon me, were created by that Bearded Man in the Skies, with some system for biometrics – for instance dogs sniffing butts to ascertain whom among Tom, <Censored by Pahlaj Nihlani> and Harry are they meeting.
Facebook, Instagram et al employ biometrics to recognize faces in pictures you post. If you have seen “Tag suggestions”, it is because those in the photo were tagged in some other picture and the software recognized their faces. Yes, Facebook knows what you look like, what are your political views, your sex, age and your hangout places and whether you are a cat-person or a dog-person… or worse still, whether you belong to the furries.
The modern database systems perform the function that filing cabinets used to once upon a time, when Indians (the browns not the reds) used to be prolific snake charmers. Wait, but don’t the police keep a record of FIRs this way? True that, but some Indians continue to charm snakes to this day.
The thing with any proper record or document is that it can be cross-referenced. In the past, when cow-worship was all the rage, one could pull out your medical record from a vaidya, hop on a bullock-cart, search for Lagaan records filed under your name to verify whether you have defeated the British at cricket sufficient number of times to afford the expensive treatment for tennis elbow. These days, when cow-worship continues to be a source / cause of rage, the speed and amount of information one can collate is mind-boggling; before you can say “holy cow!” ESPNCricinfo would have found the run-rate of the 500th over of every match played between England and Australia in Australia on a bouncy track when the air temperature was between 25 to 30 C and humidity was below 50%. The point being, even if information is not on a single database, information from different databases can be fetched, cross-referenced, processed and all kinds of information can be got.
Somewhere in the annals of the World Wide Web, there exists a record of every website you have ever visited and can be traced back to you, not just by an oppressive regime, but anyone with requisite tech arsenal and nothing better to do.
What about my privacy and security?
One of the major arguments against Aadhar scheme propagated by the Left and the uneducated is that by having all of one’s information in one place, the government can and will use the information against you in the court of kangaroos. Let me clue you in on something: the government already has all the data about you spread across databases, and as noted earlier, data from different databases can be pulled and cross-referenced. Let me tell you what data the government already has about you:
Passport: your name, what you look like, where you live, your age, gender etc.
PAN card: your name, information about your bank accounts, your IT returns etc.
Driver’s license: your name, what you look like, where you live, your age, gender etc.
Vehicle Registration card: your name, your current place of residence, what vehicle you own etc.
Ration card: your name, your thumb impression, your current place of residence etc.
Aadhar only has the above information with the added biometrics data such as your iris scan, hand print. However, as you can see any government issued identification card already has your biometric data – how you look like, if it is a photo id. The only difference is that usually facial recognition isn’t used for verification electronically (someone just peers at your photo on the card and then stares at you to see if they match; refer to the image) and that in effect makes it less secure than Aadhar verification.
Another misinformation floating around about biometrics is that if someone does mischief with your biometric data, you are done for life. Unlike human beings, who can’t un-see or un-touch or un-smell, computers can. Biometrics are stored as a number in computers. For instance, persons A, B, C have their thumbprints stored as “0101”, “1010”, “0110”. If some hacker gets access to those numbers, the system administrator can just modify how they store the thumbprints to something like: A – “1000”, B – “1100”, C – “0111”. The thumbprints didn’t change, just the value associated changed, which makes no difference to the computer; so long as there is one to one correspondence between thumbprint and associated number, system continues working just fine. A hacker though, will not be able to do further mischief without having to hack all over again.
Putting it all together
The aim of Aadhar is to provide an official ID to those who don’t have one and are therefore unable to access services and benefits provided by the government. Also, to make one common document for identification / verification for everyone so that they don’t need to have separate documents that serve the same purpose – identification, making them redundant and inconvenient; you have to remember what document is valid where. Should Aadhar be mandatory? Let’s see, if you drive, a driver’s license is mandatory; to get subsidised grains, ration card is mandatory; to get a Visa or to visit certain north-eastern states, passport is mandatory; so on and so forth. So why the fuss about Aadhar? Wouldn’t it be convenient to have one multi-purpose ID? It will just be like carrying one smartphone instead of a phone, a laptop, a camera, a pager, a torch, an mp3 player etc. etc.