India has started a national identification project in which it will assign a unique 12-digit number to each of its 1.2 billion people.
The Wall Street Journal reports the project will collect fingerprint and iris scans from all residents and store them in a massive central database of unique IDs.
It may be the most technologically and logistically complex national identification effort ever attempted, according to the Journal.
India has recruited technology experts of Indian origin from around the world, including the co-founder of online photo service Snapfish and employees from Google (News - Alert), Inc., Yahoo, Inc., and Intel Corp., the Journal reports.
The government said unique ID numbers will help ensure that government welfare spending reaches the right people, and will allow hundreds of millions of poor Indians to access services like banking for the first time, according to the Journal.
However, civil-liberties groups say the government is collecting too much personal information without sufficient safeguards, the Journal said.
The government plans to issue the first 100 million unique ID numbers by March 2011 and 600 million within four years, the Journal reports.
The Journal reports that the Indian government said it plans to spend as much as $250 billion over five years on programs aimed at the poor. But 40 percent of the benefits would go to the wrong people or to those with fake identification papers without the new identification procedures, the newspaper reports.
With the national identification project, India will become part of a club of about 56 countries around the world, which have some form of national identity cards. These include most of continental Europe (not the United Kingdom), China, Brazil, Japan, Iran, Israel and Indonesia, according to the Times of India.
The national identity card is designed to be a tamper-proof smart card, which can function in Indian climate conditions, the Times of India reports.
The cards may contain as many as 16 pieces of personal information, the newspaper adds.
This information will be stored in micro-chips embedded in the card and it will be accessible only to authorized users, like police officials, according to the newspaper.
Ed Silverstein is a contributing editor for TMCnet's InfoTech Spotlight. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Tammy Wolf