Wired magazine’s article “Identified” (SEP 2011, pp. 144-149, 154) tells the winding story of the project underway in India to digitally identify all of its 1.2 billion people. In the US where a Social Security Number is a virtual given, it’s hard to appreciate the extreme ambition of this project. The enormity of the scope alone is staggering. An estimated 400 million Indians (mostly impoverished) have no form of identification at all, not even a birth certificate.
Why is identifying the millions important? Although the vast majority unidentified are poor, without identification they cannot collect on government benefits and they cannot hold a bank account. An American perspective might consider this notional importance and play down the significance of having a bank account for people who’s income can dip as low as a dollar per day. However, the sheer impact of the number of people again is commanding. Should those currently outside the system deposit a mere $10, the collective deposits shoot into the millions easily. This means the ability of even the poorest to save just a little creates a monumental consequence. Individuals earn the interest and the collective savings enable banking institutions to earn on deposits … and interest on loans. The loans are for persons and businesses, which pushes the economic momentum wheel into motion.
Because of the absence of documentation, the data base seeks to capture biometric identity by utilizing both irises and all fingers. Fingerprints alone are insufficient because the group such as the elderly often have fingerprints worn off from manual labor. The system also needs more than one metric to deter fraud as well.
The database potential is huge. To understand the scale, the largest biometrics database in the world currently is the US Department of Homeland Defense which houses 129 million records, far short of 400 million undocumented Indians nonetheless the 1.6 billion Indians.
The Herculean task is compounded by the obligation to check records for duplication. How to verify a new record against 1.2 billion (or even 129 million)? The founder and project manager is IT icon Nandan Nilekani, who turned a 7 person start-up into $6.4 billion behemoth Infosys .
He admits they are not sure how they will store and sort the database for identification and deception; however, he comments, “we are building these engines as we go along.”
MDA Case Study
This mega-identification project is a perfect case study for Maritime Domain Awareness and the identification of small and “dark” vessels. Small vessels are likened to the millions of unidentified platforms on the littoral and open ocean. Dark vessels are those that seek to defraud the system in place.
Simple and pervasive data collection in order to make “$10 deposits” into the global maritime awareness is critical now and not later when a fictional perfect plan can be drafted. A global solution is necessary, born of inspiration and innovation among interested players. The International Seapower Symposium is the perfect forum to cull and collect ideas from around the world to start the global ID picture.