Characteristics of the Aadhaar Identity Card Project in India

AdhaarThe Aadhaar Identity Card Project in India concerns access to government and private sector services related to the control of food rations, marriage certificates, entry examinations, concessions, train tickets, mobile phone cards and banking services. This Indian ID card contains a 12-digit Aadhaar number in relation to fingerprints and the iris scan of the holder that are stored in a centralized database. As of September 2016, this database already contained biometric data for more than 1,050 million people, more than 80% of the population of India and three times the population of the United States.

India’s Unique Identification project is the world’s largest biometrics-based identity programme. Initially, the project had a limited aim – to stop theft and pilferage from India’s social welfare programmes by correctly identifying the beneficiaries using their biometrics. But now, the use of Aadhaar is expanding into newer areas, including business applications.

Aadhaar authenticates a person by matching demographic and biometric data (fingerprints, images of the face and iris of both eyes) with the records stored in the database. The social security number was never designed for authentication on a national scale. Aadhaar is linked to the holder’s biometrics, which does not do the social security number.

As per section 8 of the Aadhaar Act, requesting agencies are required to obtain the consent of individuals before collecting their identity information and inform them of what information will be shared. But as per section 47, a person whose information is collected and shared without their consent cannot invoke the criminal penalty. The Act says such a complaint can only be made by Unique Identification Authority.

The Authority retains the authentication data for six months, and archives it for five years. It also requires the requesting entities – both public agencies and private companies – to maintain the logs, including the Aadhaar number, for two years, and then archive it for five years, and even longer in case of a court order.

The purpose and use of the two identification systems of Indian citizens – Aadhaar and the social security number – are fundamentally different. Please visit

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