India's Digital ID for All Citizens Benefits Entrepreneurs
A series of steps showing how to take the fingerprint biometrics for India's Unique ID program.
CREDIT: Unique Identification Authority of India
Take fingerprints, scan the eyes and snap a picture ? that's 170 million citizens down, 1 billion more to go. India's ambitious effort to give universal IDs to all its citizens has already begun transforming how Indian entrepreneurs do business in a world built around quick digital identification.
The huge project has already reached many Indians who never before held an official identity such as a driver's license or passport ? about 90 million of the first 170 million citizens were issued the biometrics-based unique ID (UID) by mid-Apri. That represents a mostly untapped market for entrepreneurs to launch new services in education, health care, banking and employment. Startups can even build directly upon the open platform chosen by the government for its UID system.
"The potential for this is much broader than any other government ID issued ? biometric or otherwise ? that I'm aware of," said Arun Sundararajan, associate professor of information, operations and management science at New York University.
Take cashless payments as an example ? India relies heavily upon cash in part because people have security concerns tied to debit cards or similar payment systems. But a government-issued ID tied to a person's fingerprints and iris scans could make businesses much more confident about launching mobile payment services or similar ideas. [Cellphone Taps to Challenge Credit-Card Swipes by 2020, Experts Say]
"There are going to be much more reliable ways of people keeping track of and demonstrating human capital in ways that I haven't seen in any other country," Sundararajan told InnovationNewsDaily. "A lot of the impact is going to come from India being able to do things that more industrialized countries can do now, but they'll be able to get there a lot faster and potentially do them more efficiently."
Sundararajan has worked with Ravi Bapna, professor of information and decision sciences at the University of Minnesota, on a huge survey of 514,000 Indian households that examines the impact of India's UID program since it launched in 2010. Their latest survey results showed how UID has already reached some of India's poorest people who previously had no official ID.
Such a project spells nothing short of a revolution for a country where fewer than 30 percent of households have even one person with any type of portable ID. The lack of ID leaves many people effectively invisible to both government and businesses ? shut off from even the most basic services such as banking.
"If you consider the people who don't have a bank account at all and are financially excluded, there are four times as many of them in the early UID adopters as in the population that already has IDs," Sundararajan said.
Growing numbers of registered citizens may lead to a self-sustaining momentum for the UID program, Sundararajan explained. More businesses will launch new services tied to UID as they see more potential customers lined up. Having more available services can in turn encourage more citizens to sign up for UID.
If the current pace holds up, India will have enrolled about 300 million people (25 percent of the population) by the end of 2012, researchers said.
"People have been quick to understand that this is opening up huge new markets," Sundararajan said. "So it's not just for the people who are newly included, but also for people who have a more reliable form of identity."