Sunday, June 22, 2008
ID cards get smarter
People like them
Geetanjali Krishna June 14, 2008
There's something about innovative ideas that gives me a huge buzz, and as a writer, I've seen my fair share. Some are the sorts whose time has come. Some come after their time has passed. But once in a while, I come across that rare idea whose time is bound to come. Kris Dev and his biometric smart cards fall in this category.
Think about it. We have pan cards and ration cards, driving licenses and voter ID cards. Lose one and you're in big trouble — to get one made may take months of battling bureaucratic red tape. Yet, even with all these cards, there is no foolproof identification of citizens. According to estimates, around 15 lakh of the four crore PAN cards issued are duplicated — by the simple expedient of providing different addresses, father's names and suchlike. Another case of identity theft came to light recently. After the 2005 floods in coastal Andhra Pradesh, an international NGO decided to give Rs 500 each to affected villagers. A local middleman put his thumbprints across 135 names of affected villagers before he was caught!
Kris Dev has come up with a solution to this — Biometric Smart Cards for all. An e-governance consultant and ex-SAIL official, Chennai-based Dev believes that these would herald the end of corruption and the beginning of e-governance in India. This card would contain a set of fingerprints (all 10 fingers), parent's names, date and time of birth, place of birth, blood group, identification marks, height, weight, address, and digital photo. Whenever the smart card is used, a computer would compare the fingerprints registered on it, with those of the user. "It will make the identification fool proof," says Dev.
Smart I-Cards could fulfil many purposes — they could be used as voter ID cards, track income, expenditure, insurance, and PDS benefits, among others. "Moreover, they could help to keep track of movement of people, particularly in sensitive areas, thereby avoiding cross border infiltration, and minimise terrorism," he says.
In addition, says Dev, they would reduce 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. It is no wonder, then, that Dev's biometric smart cards won the 2006 Manthan award for creating India's Best e-Content in the category 'E-Inclusion and Livelihoods'.
It all sounded very good, I thought, but what about implementation? Last week, when Delhi had yet another voter card registration drive, there were lines of people waiting just to be photographed. What would happen when all of India's billion-plus citizens have to be not just photographed, but finger printed too? Dev believes that issuing smart cards will not be substantially more difficult than issuing voter cards. All that's needed, he says, is a biometric device costing about Rs 20,000, a laptop computer, a webcam or digital camera — and personnel for operating these devices of course. Each card would cost between Rs 150 to 200, depending upon the amount of information it can contain on it, and can run on a simple 12-volt car battery or rechargeable battery.
Dev's smart cards have already been successfully tested on small village populations in Bihar and Andhra Pradesh. "People think that smart cards are too hi-tech for rural India, but I found that villagers were very receptive to them," says he.
While writing this column, I read that the finance minister has reiterated his pledge to issue only biometric pan cards to new applicants. Maybe Dev's smart cards are an idea whose time will come … and sooner than I'd thought.
ps. Geetanjali is a thinker and thought provoking writer on issues affecting the common man and woman.