Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Biometric Smart Card, a fool-proof ID for citizens

The Hindu Business Line, India.

Monday, Mar 19, 2007

eWorld - E-Governance
Info-Tech - Interview

The `BSC' of identity

Paromita Pain

A biometric smart card device can be a fool-proof ID for citizens, says this ICT consultant.

Talk of free and fair elections and likely the sceptical scoffing will be accompanied with jibes like `Maybe Krishh (the superhero Hrithik Roshan played) can help you get there.'

Well, folks, sceptics and all those ready to vote out there, we have news for you. Kris is here to help solve voting problems.

eWorld recently chatted up Kris Dev or Gopala Krishnan Devanathan, ICT (information and communication technology) and e-Governance Consultant, and NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) Implementation Activist on his Biometric Smart Card (BSC) device. The device won the 2006 Manthan award for creating India's Best e-Content in the category `e-inclusion & Livelihood' for Biometric Tracking of Payments under NREGA.

Over to Kris Dev:

"Today there is no unique and foolproof identification of citizens. A Biometric Smart Card is the answer to this. The process is simple. Every citizen could be uniquely registered by a Citizen ID and all their particulars — such as name, father's name, mother's name, date and time of birth, place of birth, blood group, identification marks, height, weight, address and their digital photo can be made available," says Dev.

All this information can be put into a database and stored in a Java 32kb contactless smart chip and issued as a Citizen ID card, he explains.

Whenever citizens go for voting, they need to carry the BSC. The authentication is done using any finger, by placing it on the finger print verifier and comparing with the finger print in the chip. The record of voting can be stored in the chip as well as the voting machine and downloaded to a computer and transferred to a central server.

Besides voting, the biometric card has other uses. It can be used by an individual literally from birth to death, to track all transactions including medical history, education, skill training, employment, income and expense tracking, insurance, compulsory savings, income tax, old age pension and PDS benefits, among others, says Dev.

"It can help to keep track of movement of people, particularly in sensitive areas, thereby avoiding cross border infiltration, and minimise terrorism," he says.

The card can also be used for G2C (government to citizens) transactions and to register citizens' grievances online using the proposed 600,000 Community Service Centres of the National Alliance for Mission 2007 - `Every Village a Knowledge Centre' project of the Government of India.

Such a device, says Dev, will minimise corruption, by eliminating personal contact with officials. All transactions can be seen live on the Internet and citizens can track, for themselves, the progress of various complaints, schemes and payments.

Easy to apply

Implementing the card process is seen as not too difficult since the peripherals required are minimal and cheap.

As the Manthan Web site says, "The product can be operated with a simple 12 volt car battery or rechargeable battery. The device can help to register up to 1,000 finger prints and then compare the actual beneficiary with the template, thereby ensuring the right person gets paid, for the services rendered. The device uniquely identifies the thumb impression of each beneficiary, linked to their ID."

Dev suggests, "Every citizen can be issued a biometric Smart card which can also act as a Bank Debit Card for about Rs 100-200 per person, depending on the volumes."

The spur

Surprisingly, the voting system in the country didn't give birth to this concept.

Dev was motivated to develop it by the crying need to track payments made to citizens under the Work for Food programme and National Rural Employment Guarantee Schemes. In a remote AP village, they found middlemen swindling the entire flood relief released by an NGO, using fraudulent muster roll.

Of course, they encountered stiff resistance when they sought to implement the card system in this context.

"Everyone said, `oh! It is not adopted anywhere in the world. It will work only for white-collar officials and not for workers and farm labourers," recalls Dev. "They said suddenly, after going to the field, that there is no power in the whole village to test the device. We sought a locally available 12 volt car battery and ran the device." The beneficiaries were, of course, totally captivated.

But is this completely tamper-proof?

Dev avers, ""It can be made 99.9 per cent tamper proof. Even if the biometric verification is not possible in a rare case, the Citizen ID retrieved from the Smart card with the photo can be good proof."

Biometric tracking using the iris has been done in AP for public distribution. "But the iris scanner is a costlier device" says Dev. "Hence we came up with a suggestion to use a low-cost device that would serve the needs of the common man."

Besides, it can be made better. "We have tested use of stand-alone devices in the field where the daily worker's attendance can be tracked and the data downloaded to the local computer. It can also be connected to a telephone line to send to the block/district server. The Smart card would help to store the entire attendance information. To eliminate any doubt in the mind of the worker, an Instant printout of the attendance slip can be given using a palm printer. The pay slip can be generated automatically and credited into the account for use through the BSC, says Dev.

Various State Government Departments, NGOs and Micro Credit organisations, among others, have shown interest in adopting the technology.

Mindsets and funding are tedious roadblocks. Also, says Dev, "The Indian Government must bring about an amendment in the NREGA and RTI Act, to include Biometric Tracking of Citizens."

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