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Published by:
Harvard Kennedy School (2018)
August 20, 2018
Revision date:
16 pages
Data source:
Field research


This is part of a case series. Many people take identity for granted, confident that they can prove they are who they say they are by using a driver's license or other ID card. For many millions of people, this is not the case. They possess not only no driver's license, but also no birth certificate which could be used to gain a driver's license and prove they are who they claim to be. As a result, they can sometimes appear invisible to the state, unable to receive aid or participate in critical programs. Indeed, as Nandan Nilekani argues, 'unless a person can identify himself or herself and have some sort of proof of existence, you can't even talk about him owning property. This case explores the development and implementation of Aadhaar, an ambitious biometric identity system implemented in India. The system requires every Indian citizen to undergo a fingerprint and retinal scan to create a massive central database that can uniquely identify every person in the country. Supporters say such an identity management system has enormous potential to facilitate government services, reduce corruption, and enable hundreds of millions of Indians to enter the formal economy. To its critics, Aadhaar represents either an estate project that consumes enormous resources that will never reach its potential, or worse, the core infrastructure for a surveillance state that can better monitor and track many things its citizens do.


Technology; Platforms; Bioinformatics

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