29 Mar

So, what is so unique about Aadhaar?

When we have less number of people, we can remember people from their names and faces. We still do, like inside our home. We may know the names and faces of a few more, outside our homes. But then humans have a way of increasing their numbers, and we have too many of them now. Today (2017), the estimated population of India is around 134 crores (1340 million).

And how big are the India states? Well, Economist has done a wonderful study, and the results are instructive (click the population tab in the visual below).

Simply put, India is larger than many, many countries put together.

So, how do you provide unique identities to so many people together? Have we not tried to do such things earlier? What do we mean by unique?

What is unique about the Unique ID?

Let’s deal with the unique bit first. Unique means¬†“being the only one of its kind; unlike anything else”. If I have some identity artifact (number, card or anything else), it means two things:

  1. I and only I have that artifact, and no one else – no two person has the same artifact (an artifact can be anything to identify me – a name, number, visual/barcode, etc).
  2. The artifact belongs to me and I have no other artifact – no person has more than one artifact.

In other words, the uniqueness rides both ways. Let’s take real world examples to examine both cases:

  1. Let’s same my name is ‘Arjun Singh’. I can take a Driving License from ‘A’ RTO. So can another person named ‘Arjun Singh’. Thus, just the name does not give uniqueness. It is other pieces of information on the Driving License that provide uniqueness, like the DL number which would be unique to the ‘A’ RTO. In this case, Aadhaar is truly unique. Being a 12 digit number, there are 999,999,999,999 (999 trillion) possible combinations – there is no need to provide one number to two persons to accommodate in the database. In fact, Aadhaar number is issued not just for life, but even beyond life – your Aadhaar number is or will not be re-allotted to anyone else after you die. The number will just lie in some suspended account after your death is registered with UIDAI or some other Aadhaar connected database at some point of time (UIDAI won’t know when someone has died unless it is reported to them. Probably, the Birth and Death Registration System would be compulsorily seeded with Aadhaar soon to make that happen).
  2. Aadhaar ensures that I cannot have two Aadhaar numbers. Since Aadhaar is issued against my biometrics (ten finger prints and two iris prints) that are unique to me, and since only one Aadhaar number will ever be generated against those biometrics (that uniquely identifies me), Aadhaar is built up to be unique. Even if I want, I cannot get two Aadhaar numbers. A case in point is where a man tried to register twice on Aadhaar, the second time with forged documents. Only one Aadhaar was issued, incidentally, against the enrolment with forget documents. While most of the details given in the newspaper report are incorrect, it does point out the scenario where one person tries to get two Aadhaar numbers. However, it is easy to get other identity documents, with or without forged documents. For instance, you can get an identity or other document against real papers where the various databases are not talking to each other. For instance, many people have two or more Driving Licenses (that they use when one is confiscated or cancelled), or two or more Ration Cards (wherein they draw benefits in as many locations as they have cards). Aadhaar makes this impossible. As soon as you marry Aadhaar with these databases (through a process called Aadhaar seeding), those databases can also ensure that no duplicate entries are there (a process called de-duplication).

This is the conceptual framework that provides uniqueness to Aadhaar.

How else is Aadhaar so unique?

There are other levels of uniqueness in the Aadhaar project.

  1. This is conceived as a project that seeks to provide a standard identity document to all residents (as distinguished from citizens – do remember, Aadhaar is a proof of residence, and not citizenship).
  2. All residents is a huge number – about 134 crores (as per 2017) to be precise. This makes it the largest centralised identity system. Further, it is also based on biometrics. Hence, it is also the largest biometrics based identity system.
  3. Without going into the details of it, this is the technologically most sophisticated identity system. But to be fair, since Aadhaar is the latest such notable system, we have been able to leverage the latest technology that would not have been available to earlier systems.

So next time you say Aadhaar is unique, you can really explain why it is really unique.