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Indian government considers linking Aadhaar with voter records as biometrics use expands

Indian government considers linking Aadhaar with voter records as biometrics use expands

India’s government has increased funding to the Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI) by 17 percent to 9.85 billion rupees (US$137.6 million), Business Today reports, as its national biometric program Aadhaar continues to expand.

The amount allocated for the 2021 fiscal year, which begins April 1, has fluctuated between 8.37 billion and 12.27 billion rupees in previous budget planning documents.

As of December, Aadhaar is held by 1.25 billion residents of India, 30 million authentication requests are sent daily, and 300,000 to 400,000 Aadhaar information update requests are handled every day, according to UIDAI stats.

The budget also includes stipulations allowing Aadhaar-based verification for taxpayers, in order to help weed out “dummy” or fake entities, Inc42 writes.

“Deep data analytics and AI tools are being used for the crackdown on GST input tax credit, refund, and other frauds and to identify all those who are trying to game the system. Invoice and input tax credit matching is being done wherein returns having mismatch more than 10% or above a threshold are identified and pursued,” said Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in the budget speech.

The linkage follows the inclusion of Aadhaar with permanent account number (PAN) records used for financial services in 2018. Sitharaman proposed in the 2019 budget that the government make PAN and Aadhaar interchangeable for processes like filing tax returns. The government will also use Aadhaar verification to issue new PANs through a faster online process that eliminates the need for some steps currently necessary for applications.

The government is also preparing a new law to link Aadhaar numbers with the voters’ roll, granting a proposal made by the Electoral Commission, according to The Sentinal.

Unnamed sources told the publication that Union Law Ministry is working on an amendment to the Representation of the People Act, 1951, which it will submit to a Cabinet committee for consideration to be brought forward in parliament. Citizens would be required to link their 12-digit Aadhaar number with their Electoral Photo ID Card (EPIC) under the proposal, both for new and registered voters.

The unnamed official said the note could be presented to Cabinet during the upcoming session, which will begin January 31 and will likely wrap up in early April.

The Election Commission launched the National Electoral Roll Purification and Authentication Programme (NERPAP) in 2015, which includes linking Aadhaar with voter records. The Commission issued instructions to that effect in January of 2015, and by the time the Supreme Court halted the project pending legislative mandating the collection of Aadhaar numbers in August of that year, they had been collected from nearly 380 million voters, or half the eligible population.

The government renewed its efforts to make the changes necessary to link Aadhaar and voter rolls last year.

In trials of facial recognition at local polls in Telangana, held January 22, no individuals were denied a vote, and the system was 65 to 86 percent successful identifying voters, according to government statistics reported by Indian Express.

The Telangana State Technology Services (TSTS) says the pilot included roughly 4,200 of 7,200 people at 10 polling booths, and that failed matches were mostly due to dim lighting at polling stations and old or poor-quality ID images. All transmitted images were encrypted in transit and deleted after the match attempt, the state election commission says. The system was adapted from a pensioner-authentication system that is use in several states, and has an accuracy rate of 94 percent, according to an official.

“The SEC’s idea was that checking impersonation, proxy voting and duplicate voters should be done through a system. We believe that as a technology, we have established that it works. It needs to be fine-tuned, but there were no glitches in the technology,” a TSTS official told the Express.

Protecting all this information will require continued improvements to the country’s cybersecurity ecosystem, a fact acknowledged by Sitharaman with her proposal to set up a National Forensic Science University with a mandate to help fill the cybersecurity skills gap, as reported by LiveMint.

The publication notes that Sophos has found India the country third-most prone to cyberattacks, with 76 percent of businesses targeted in 2018. In addition to protecting businesses, the large database of biometric data, and the flow of data to verify people against it, must be protected.

Frost & Sullivan predicts the global shortage of cybersecurity professionals could reach 1.8 million by 2022.

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