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India struggles with digital health ID issuance and biometric vaccine management system

smartphone biometric identity and document verification

The CoWIN biometric vaccination management system being used in India is glitching, raising fears that it could hamper the country’s efforts to establish digital ID for health and its ambition of vaccinating 300 million people by August, MIT Technology Review writes.

Individuals authenticate their identity to CoWIN with biometrics to prevent fraudulent registrations, with or without Aadhaar. The app is used to register individuals for vaccination, schedule the shots, and inform people of their appointments via SMS, as well as produce a certificate for issuance with the second dose.

It has messaging individuals to alert them about other people’s appointments, however.

India’s government runs a program to vaccinate 55 million a year against polio and measles, and the logistics were supposed to be easier for the COVID-19 vaccine with the help of the CoWIN app, but experts are suggesting its legacy methods may be more effective.

An epidemiologist with India’s COVID-19 Technical Task Force, Giridhar Babu notes that the healthcare and frontline workers currently being vaccinated are the easiest group to organize, and that there is no master list of vulnerable people to draw on for the next phase. He is advocating for the daunting task of creating such a list with door-to-door visits.

The national digital health ID is intended to help ease the process, but tech researcher Srikanth Lakshmanan says the many people are not even aware of the system.

This could explain why only a little over 805,000 health IDs have been created in the 6 Union Territories where the system has been launched, according to the New Indian Express.

Individuals can register for the health-focused digital ID by providing basic biographic information along with either a mobile number or an Aadhaar number, and the app then allows consent-based sharing of health data with biometric verification.

Another concern is the CoWIN does not have an appropriate privacy policy, and there is no domestic data protection law to ensure the safety of people’s health and digital ID data.

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