‘Big Brother’ in India Requires Fingerprint Scans for Food, Phones and Finances

from NYTs

Seeking to build an identification system of unprecedented scope, India is scanning the fingerprints, eyes and faces of its 1.3 billion residents and connecting the data to everything from welfare benefits to mobile phones.

Civil libertarians are horrified, viewing the program, called Aadhaar, as Orwell’s Big Brother brought to life. To the government, it’s more like “big brother,” a term of endearment used by many Indians to address a stranger when asking for help.

For other countries, the technology could provide a model for how to track their residents. And for India’s top court, the ID system presents unique legal issues that will define what the constitutional right to privacy means in the digital age.

To Adita Jha, Aadhaar was simply a hassle. The 30-year-old environmental consultant in Delhi waited in line three times to sit in front of a computer that photographed her face, captured her fingerprints and snapped images of her irises. Three times, the data failed to upload. The fourth attempt finally worked, and she has now been added to the 1.1 billion Indians already included in the program.

More here.

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11 Responses to ‘Big Brother’ in India Requires Fingerprint Scans for Food, Phones and Finances

  1. zhijie Yang April 13, 2018 at 8:48 am #

    Scanning the biometric data of 1.3 billion people and storing it in the same national identity system will be an amazing amount of data! The news was shocking to me, but it was also worrying. On the one hand, if India can complete this work, their scale and ambition will lead the world. Aadhaar has been acquiring biometric data for newborn babies since last year. I feel that India is in great need of this huge workload. This is really looking forward to. But on the other hand, if such a huge amount of data is stolen, how much terror should it be? Is their defense technology strong enough? There have been violations of government information that have been leaked by government agencies. This has once again returned to the issue of privacy.

    In the era of rapid development of high technology, we did not hear much less about “biological ID” and other words. It seems that the way people later prove themselves is fingerprints, retinas, and facials. But this is worrying. Today, the most contacted in our lives is fingerprint recognition. In 2013, fingerprint recognition first appeared in the iPhone 5s, which many people called “useless design”, but now it has become the security line of most mobile phones. According to the data provided by Fingerprints, in 2016, a total of 1.6 billion mobile phones were sold globally, and 60% had fingerprint identification technology.

    Now, FPC (Fingerprint Cards), a Swedish biometrics technology company, is working on a technology called fingerprint recognition under the screen. It puts the fingerprint identification module under the screen of the mobile phone and detects and compares the signal reflected by ultrasonic or active infrared light. Fingerprint lines, and then complete identification steps, unlock the phone and other steps.
    With this kind of technology, mobile phones can recognize fingerprints anywhere on the entire screen of a mobile phone. In addition, there is no rigid requirement for the material of the screen. Both LCD and OLED screens are available. If this technology is mass-produced, it is an improvement in convenience and manufacturing cost.

    In addition to the latest recognition technology, the UK has become the first country in the world to implement finger vein payment, that is, you don’t need to bring a mobile phone and don’t need to bring a bank card. If you bring your own hand, you can buy it freely. According to reports, the finger vein payment technology FingoPay has been introduced in the Costcutter store at Brunel University in London, UK. Finger vein recognition technology is a safer method of recognition after fingerprints and face recognition. According to Staller, a provider of this technology in London, vein identification technology is currently the most secure biometric technology because it cannot be copied or stolen.

    However, in the field of biometrics technology, the current safety supervision mechanism is still not perfect, and the risk of leakage of user privacy information is still relatively high. In particular, the products on the market are currently mixed and there is no guarantee of technical quality. Criminals can easily use “black technology” to steal private information from others.
    Therefore, the security risk of personal privacy information brought about by the widespread use of biometric identification technology has become a barrier that cannot be bypassed. With the rapid development of science and technology, biometrics are destined to become the norm in the daily life of the public. In view of this, it is necessary to accelerate the speed of action on matters such as safety supervision.

  2. Daniel Colasanto April 13, 2018 at 11:06 am #

    While I understand that there is value in keeping a bio metric database for many reasons. I do not believe a government should be allowed access to this information and know about any individual of this depth. India is currently making this registration mandatory to receive food and healthcare and have registered over 1.1 billion people living in India.
    Regardless of however great a bio metric system may be I will not allow someone to take this information about me and store it in a database to add to my “big brother profile”. 50 years ago if you were to mention this to any U.S citizen they would have immediately laughed at you. If you tried to enforce it, there would have been a movement. More and more people are allowing governments access to very personal information about themselves because they are so used to putting their personal information on social media websites and mobile applications anyway. Without reading the terms and conditions of anything, I feel that there are a lot pf people believe that people in government are good and are always looking out for their best interest. That in today’s world people won’t misuse their information. This is not true at all. The majority of India is poor and provides little to no education. They have no idea the dangers of this technology because they don’t know what it is. And even for citizens in India that do understand the technology, they are being forced to register anyway or else they’ll lose access to resources vital to survive. In the U.S this sort of registration will never happen by force because in America we have rights given to us by the constitution that we can protect.
    It is possible I’m being a little bit too apprehensive about the negative uses of this technology but I just don’t agree with it being mandatory. If you committed a crime or something that’s a different context and in which case you would have to be under surveillance. Everyday people should be under surveillance because next thing you know the government will be recording us from government installed security systems and listening to our conversations at home….oh wait they already do.

  3. Damian Mioduszewski April 13, 2018 at 6:08 pm #

    The main point of an identification system is to identify someone correctly and to ensure it is truly them. Obviously there are massive concerns about privacy concerns such as government tracking and possible abuse of this information. We must instead focus on embracing this technology and regulating it instead of actively trying to suppress it. The reason I state this is instead of wasting our resources on complaining about the obvious issues of privacy and trying to suppress we should focus our efforts on trying to regulate it. My perfect outcome for this technology would be this to be introduced with everyone in the system but not taken at the most simple of encounters. Now let me explain my reasoning for this, my reasoning for this is I have heard countless stories of identification issues in India ranging from corruption to fake deaths. There was a very popular story on a brother losing his land and assets because his brother claimed he has died claiming his assets. The man struggled for years trying to prove to authorities that he is simply alive. Aside from this issue there are issues with corruption such as “ghost employees” or other possible issues related to identification. With this technology many of these issues would be resolved but along with it, it is open to abuse by possible hackers seeking information. This is why I say we should focus on regulation for the fact that this can be abused and we should attempt to limit this information. I personally would say that this technology to only be used for important government encounters such as with the police or very important government matters and not such this as receiving a meal or having a background check at your job. This information should only be limited to the government and have no relation with the private world such as employers. Nevertheless this is still a great technology to be introduced on a widespread basis in a response to corruption and countless other issues but this technology should be regulated. I personally afraid of this technology to be introduced on a widespread bases for the private world as it can be exploited for gain.

  4. Lauren Woodward April 13, 2018 at 6:23 pm #

    A new system, Aadhaar, in India has now implemented scanning of fingerprints, eyes, and faces to strengthen services such as use of welfare benefits by connecting the information to mobile phones and ultimately setting up a “Big Brother” system in the country. Issues concerning privacy, obviously, are at hand when dealing with a situation such as this. However, there are also extreme benefits that come from this new method of identification as the article points out.
    To first explain the system of bio-metric data, Aadhaar collects the personal information of each citizen (at this point 1.3 billion) and then uses this information to determine how to distribute welfare services, who is a “ghost” beneficiary, and other matters to the society. This technology is being heavily pushed on its citizens, where restrictions are placed on basic activities unless they agree to give their information and scans. While this might seem intense, the new system has saved about $9.4 billion dollars for India by not giving out benefits to “ghost” citizens. The system has also helped the government determine how resources are being used and whether or not they’re being used efficiently.
    We have seen a similar system recently in China, where faces have been captured of jaywalkers in order to clean up the crime in the country. While it has helped and is seemingly efficient, it as well as India’s new system completely disrupts the privacy that citizens have held for years. However, as we move into a new age of technology, that also means our privacy will most likely be compromised, regardless of the type of technology used. As a reoccurring theme in my blog posts, I am not a advocate of AI technology or any other form of technology that can clearly compromise your privacy. Some might argue that a cell phone falls underneath the category of devices that compromise privacy, and I’m not saying they don’t. What I’m saying is that I can easily deactivate my phone any day I want. If these devices are required in our society through the government, then we’d have a huge issue. Unfortunately, if these systems end up working well in China and India and any other country outside of the US, we will eventually adapt a similar system, where I believe a giant uproar will come from American systems.

  5. Adam Facella April 13, 2018 at 7:15 pm #

    I think that it is very interesting to see how different countries react to “big brother” watching. The Indian citizens do not seem to mind having the government watching all of their steps and having their data being accessed whenever they want. China is similar in the way that they are not fighting the system at all. In other articles found on ShannonWeb I have seen the implication of using similar technology to send tickets to jaywalkers in the cities of China. Now other well developed countries are going to use this similar technology to watch over their citizens. However, in America we seem to value our independence and freedom much more than other countries. If the American Government was to implement this kind of technology on their citizens, there would be an out-roar and much fighting to go behind it. I think the only way that people would be accepting of new technology such as this would to ensure them that it was for safety more than anything else and it may be able to work out. But, there are already starts of having government having access to watching us with the GPS on our phones. This is something that makes me uncomfortable knowing that my every move can be watched by both the phone company along with whoever they decide my data to without me knowing.
    The one thing that I think was very interesting from the article is the financial benefits from using this new system. The article talks about how they saved $9.4 billion weeding out ghosts. This is something that I think can be beneficial to other societies to keep privacy at the highest level possible. If the American society talked about the financial benefit of using this technology along with the privacy benefits I think that we will eventually have this same system.

  6. Don R April 13, 2018 at 8:10 pm #

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  7. Sebastien Jose Fortes April 13, 2018 at 9:17 pm #

    I think this kind of system is far too “bureaucratic” for my tastes. The novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy says it best—bureaucrats wouldn’t help others “without orders signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public inquiry, lost again…”
    As such, keeping fingerprints, facial recognition, and eye recognition in a database for every single person on welfare is largely ridiculous. While it’s true that technological advances do make life more convenient, this is about as helpful as inventing a projector screen that can come down at the press of a button. Just pull the damn string.
    This is also easily considered an irresponsible way to keep track of the poor. It’s generally known that the poor need help, and not control.
    The technology is, however, very important, as it will provide extra layers of security to ensure that no one takes advantage of the system. The world has a problem with identity theft that can only be solved with tighter security.
    The right answer to this is to not use all the layers of security for everyone and instead use them discriminately. If there is reasonable cause for suspicion of anyone, then it makes sense to add on another layer.
    If, however, all the data gathering must take place, it should not be kept in a vulnerable place. It should be kept on tightly-secured servers that require more security to access. iCloud and Equifax have been hacked before, for example.
    One possible root of the problem is overpopulation. India has almost as many residents as China, and as such, it is difficult to maintain so many individual identities. While it’s true that population control has caused problems in China, it may be necessary in order to make a world without this kind of security. I’m not an advocate for either “solution”, but we have to choose one or the other to make sure no one commits a serious crime.
    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—even if societies head in the direction of 1984, there is very little reason to actually get to that point. There is no point in keeping massive amounts of data on everyone, but citizens should actively question their government.
    “How nice—to feel nothing, and still get full credit for being alive.” – Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five.

  8. Andrew Kuttin April 14, 2018 at 7:49 pm #

    About a week ago, I decided to re-read George Orwell’s 1984. As a result I have been on sharper lookout than usual for Government activity violating privacy rights. In the United States we have the National Security Agency that should really be re-dubbed as the National Surveillance Agency. Thanks to the actions of Edward Snowden (https://tinyurl.com/ycshjhce) we have some understanding as to the degree of surveillance that the NSA holds over Americans and rightfully many of us were outraged. Private conversations being recorded and monitored without a warrant. How could such blatant privacy violation be kept a secret from us for so long?!?! After reading this article from the New York Times, it appears that the Indian is making a strong attempt to one up us in privacy violations. This time, blatantly in the public eye.
    India’s Aadhaar program horrifies me. There are legitimate concerns as to the lack of reliable identification systems in the nation of over one billion people, but Aadhaar is not the answer. As time goes on and technology improves we are all as a collective species giving away our rights to privacy. Some of this is voluntary like personal information shared publicly on social media seems natural, but a mandatory government identification system to this degree is overstepping.
    In every nation, there is a stigma against the poor held by those in power. Unsurprisingly the primary purpose of Aadhaar is to regulate those who receive government benefits. In most of the country, registering with the program is required in order to collect these benefits.
    The man in charge of building Aadhaar is Nandan Nilekani, the Co-Founder of Infosys (https://tinyurl.com/pw9v6j7) an Indian IT company. He likened the project to building a digital interstate highway system, as well as a platform that innovation can be based upon. It is not surprising that the leader of the project has a positive perspective on it, and with good intentions, there are plenty of feasible positive consequences of this program.
    However, the pros are far outweighed by the cons in this instance. A mandatory identification system that knows the fingerprints and irises of every citizen is undeniably Orwellian. In the contemporary context, it sounds a lot like an episode of Black Mirror. If a government controls all of this information, the evil possibilities are endless. Even if the current leaders of India are trustworthy, there is still always a looming threat of “turnkey tyranny” as explained by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden here (https://tinyurl.com/gn4jq5m). Aadhaar is a tool that can be used to do irreversible damage to the people of India if it falls into the wrong hands, and this is something that needs to be vocally and consistently discussed.

  9. Tanner Purcel April 15, 2018 at 5:17 pm #

    India is using this kind of ID system to make it easier for them to connect data and track their citizens. Now fingerprint and facial recognition are already available here in the U.S, but the main thing is that they are not mandatory. Personally, I do not use any type of ID system like this. In India, it will be mandatory and it will connect everyone’s data. If this happened here in the US, there would be an uproar; however, it seems the citizens of India are not as upset as Americans would be. Just like India will be watching their citizens, China began doing something very similiar with jaywalkers. With privacy being a main concern in America right now, we can see that other countries have it much worse. The only frightening thing is that the article says that the system saved $9.4 billion. If this system is economically beneficial, then I have a feeling America will eventually use the same system.

  10. Zachary Corby April 16, 2018 at 2:10 pm #

    The technology used here by India to try and collect a whole database on its people is very interesting, because of the issues it raises. The biggest one of course has to be the privacy issue, because this technology violates the privacy of citizens on so many levels. Forcing people to be put into a biometric system which takes their finger prints, scans of their iris, and collecting other personal data is unnecessary and not warranted. People should not have to give up and obey these government laws because they have right to privacy and they have done nothing wrong to need to sacrifice their privacy. Criminals should have to get their fingerprints taken and eyes scanned, but doing that to ordinary citizens is not right.
    There are also plenty of other issues that arise from Aadahaar. First has to be how accurate it actually is. The article cites two specific examples of it not working. The first is that in the rural parts of India the technology is not accessible and as a result the people are not put into the database. The second is that a lot of older people who have worked in manual labor for plenty of years do not have distinguishable fingerprints anymore. Even though the iris scanner can solve that problem for now it poses a lot of questions about how accurate the system can really be. What happens if neither works for someone? Are we going to have to keep implementing more scans so that people can be identified? The article also says how in those rural parts of India since they are not in the system they generally are considered non existent because they are not accounted for in the database. This is really problematic because the technology is not available and it ends up hurting innocent civilians in the end.
    Obviously one of the more pressing issues is going to be hacking. Having so much information on a person leads to a lot of susceptibility into being hacked. Imagine what someone can do if they are able to get someone’s finger print or iris scan. The article already cites that there have already been instances where information has been stolen from the database. Consider the facts that this database is also being implemented into tons of other daily activities like bank accounts. People also get their food rations, welfare, and pensions by using this technology. That is a lot of money that can be stolen if you can successfully take information from the government database.
    The big question is why the government even wants to do this. The article cites that they saved billions of dollars from people not collecting their pensions or rations. Yet with all the identification problems already stated above that number is really inflated. Yes this technology could help save extra money, but is it really that much? They also get to have a state of surveillance which would help reduce some crime for sure, but is that really worth all the time, money, and effort spent on implementing the technology? How would they get around legal issues surrounding how to even use the technology in court cases? There are also over 30 supreme court cases that challenge the legality of this system, and if ruled against how much money was wasted by the government to put this is that they now can not even use?
    The implications in this case are huge however. The article already cited all the countries that were monitoring this situation closely, or testing out something similar of their own. If this were to pass through all or most of the Supreme Court cases that surround it other countries could put in a similar system relatively quickly after. If this were to fail it might be years before we see someone try and pull of another system like this. However, seeing that India has already tried it I believe the government will eventually find a system that will get around the issues and concerns the court and people have, and we will eventually see a state like Big Brother. If there is a will there is a way.

  11. Jacob Abel April 20, 2018 at 5:28 pm #

    The development of the bio metric ID system in India offers many broad implications for the world as a whole. Seeing as similar systems seem to be gaining traction in countries like China this system may be the way of the future in the developing world. Rights don’t have as much traction in nations like China and India as compared to the United States. I was surprised to see that the highest court in India just recently ruled that all Indians have a right to complete privacy. The vastness of this program is also something that came as a shock to me. Having over one billion people on this program is something that has to be very difficult to manage. The article also addresses some of the difficulties that the technology is having regarding actually identifying people. While this may be a bit of a set back for the program I don’t think this should be to big of an issue. With any new technology there will be setbacks in development and implementation.
    The much larger debate regarding the legality of this program is something that we should all pay attention to. This program is something that would seem to be a massive violation of personal privacy in the West. Especially in America where we use plastic ID cards, this system seems like a bug overstep. The ability of the government to track very personal data such as medical information and other aspects of peoples lives presents a very slippery slope. China seems to be doing something similar with AI and facial recognition to identify its citizens.
    With India being the worlds largest democracy this seemingly big violation of personal privacy is something that India as a society will have to debate and the rest of the world should watch this debate very closely.

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