India has many social welfare programs designed to assist poor residents.  Fraud among these programs is rampant and a great concern to Indian authorities.  The Unique Identification Authority (UIDAI) was created to tackle this problem and collect biometric data on all 1.2 billion citizens.

Each citizen will receive an individual identification number which will be linked to the biometric information collected.  Citizens will provide retinal scans, face scans, and prints of all ten fingers to authorities.

The UIDAI will begin this lengthy process in February, 2012 and anticipates having 600 million citizens registered within the next four years.  However, long before the project is complete, agencies other than social welfare agencies will apparently have access to this information. Indian authorities already report that the state will monitor bank transactions, and cell phone purchases.  They also state that the movement of groups and individuals suspected of terror involvement will also be tracked via this identification number.

With the volatile nature of Indian politics, one wonders what could be construed as inciting terror in trying to justify obtaining confidential data about members of the opposing party. How would the information be used then?  Would press be tipped off to the movements of the opposition around the country or their bank transaction information?

All of this monitoring is an idea that Americans instinctively rebel against.  One hopes that this could never be implemented in the United States due to Terry v. Ohio and other privacy case law.  Remember, this data is not being collected on someone who has become involved in the criminal justice system.  The biometric data is being collected for every Indian citizen, even those who have obeyed the law for their entire lives.

Is this measure a prudent idea to ensure that India’s scarce resources go to Mother Theresa’s “poorest of the poor?”  Or is dangling welfare benefits the “spoonful of sugar” to make the medicine go down for fundamental Indian civil rights
violations being implemented, starting with those least educated and able to resist?

Some commentators believe creation and implementation of the UIDAI registry is a clever use of advanced technology to protect the Indian government from fraud.  Others see this program as the beginning of a nightmare scenario of Indian law enforcement obtaining privileged information without probable cause to control and monitor citizens.

Those who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, see biometric data collection from citizens as a precursor to the end of the age:

It (the beast) also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. Revelation 13:16-17

I am not sure what I think.  I’d value a response from LET readers.

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