Biometrics benefits push Aadhaar to 92 percent satisfaction rate but exclusion problems remain

Biometrics benefits push Aadhaar to 92 percent satisfaction rate but exclusion problems remain

Ten years after its launch, Aadhaar identification is held by 95 percent of people in India, and 92 percent of them are satisfied with the national biometric ID scheme, according to a 2019 State of Aadhaar Survey reported by CNBC TV18.

The survey, conducted by Omidyar Network India and Dalberg, also found that 90 percent of Aadhaar holders trust the system’s security, and roughly 80 percent feel biometrics have improved the reliability of public distributions of rations, government employment schemes, and pensions.

People use Aadhaar about once a month on average, according to the survey, with SIM card registration, LPG (cooking gas) subsidies and public distribution system (PDS) rations the most common uses.

The survey also held some puzzling results. Aadhaar is believed by 90 percent to be legally necessary for opening bank accounts, which was blocked as a requirement by the Supreme Court’s decision on the systems constitutionality, and 67 percent of those who have been excluded from a service by Aadhaar processes say they are satisfied with it.

Biometric authentication issues caused 1.5 percent of PDS users to not receive rations, and another 3.2 percent received rations despite failures. The most common problem reported is an error in the phone number linked to their Aadhaar number.

Most people (72 percent) appreciate the convenience of Aadhaar, but roughly half of them worry about the risk of it being used for too many services.

The article notes that some numbers vary significantly between different Indian states.

Thomson Reuters Foundation reports that the survey also estimates that 102 million people do not have Aadhaar, with only 30 percent of homeless people and even less transgender or non-binary gender people holding the official state ID.

“The most marginalised populations are less likely to have Aadhaar and more likely to have errors in their Aadhaar information,” said the report, warning that errors could lead to a denial of services and increase exclusion.

It also found that mistaken impressions like the bank account confusion above mean that Aadhaar is a de facto requirement for bank accounts, SIM cards, and school enrollment.

“There is a big gap between intent and implementation, and it is used as a way to avoid delivering services,” Osama Manzar, director of non-profit Digital Empowerment Foundation, told Thompson Reuters Foundation.

The first field diary entry from Subhashish Panigrahi, one of three people granted a Yoti Digital Identity Fellowship earlier this year, also explores exclusion in Aadhaar, focussing on indigenous and linguistic rights, access by the disabled, and technical problems.

In a post to Yoti’s website and a video published to YouTube, Panigrahi presents a case that India’s linguistic and cultural diversity, with some 419 indigenous languages spoken and 780 overall. India’s constitution recognizes 22 of those languages as official, but the Unique Identification Authority of India’s (UIDAI’s) website is only partially translated into 12 of them.

Key findings from Panigrahi’s interviews include that the system for public information access further excludes a range of people, including the elderly, people with certain illnesses or disabilities, and those who do not speak the most common official languages. Outreach efforts have been made to educate users on the use of private data, and the importance of simple and reliable KYC checks. Most of the features added to the original authentication layer of Aadhaar can only be used by those with substantial computer skills, according to Panigrahi, and the majority of people have a low level of literacy in the languages public information is available in.

India’s Supreme Court, meanwhile, has ruled that the government and the UIDAI must respond to a petition alleging that recent amendments to the Aadhaar Act raise the possibility of private companies to gain access to Aadhaar data, as reported by The Hindu.

Petitioners say the Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 2019 and Aadhaar (Pricing of Aadhaar Authentication Services) Regulations, 2019, amount to “a backdoor to permit private parties to access the Aadhaar eco-system,” according to the complaint. The complaint also alleges that the information held in the Aadhaar database in unverified, and therefore a threat to national security if linked with other databases and services.

Expanding Aadhaar to apply to the Consolidated Fund of the States violates India’s federal structure, the UIDAI is expressly attempting to commercialize the large-scale collection of citizen data, and the Pricing of Authentication Services Regulation’s enrollment targets and enforcement mechanisms demonstrate state coercion, according to the complaint.

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