Global Ethics Corner: IDs, Personal Privacy, and India

Feb 11, 2011

The Indian government plans to give all 1.2 billion Indians a fingerprint ID. Are you in favor of a national biometric ID to prevent identity theft and facilitate commerce? Or are you concerned about the privacy implications? In any case, are universal IDs only a matter of time? 

Do governments have too much information about and potential control over your life?

Would national IDs make your identity more secure, financial affairs more efficient, and practices more transparent, less corrupt?

India is walking the line between privacy and effectiveness. "The Indian government is trying to give all 1.2 billion Indians something like an American Social Security number, but more secure." Their ID includes photo and biometric data, initially fingerprints.

India believes this will have remarkable economic and social impacts: decreasing theft of food subsidies, curbing voting fraud, smoothing financial transactions, matching medical records, rationalizing and speeding all types of transactions.

Also, "Even with strict controls for privacy, the UID scheme will help companies understand more about the population they serve."

For many Americans, a national ID is frightening and raises fundamental privacy issues. American IDs are generally based on state driver's licenses, and most Americans opt to take off their Social Security numbers. Similarly, people are widely skeptical of cookies on computers and data mining by businesses.

An ID can also be difficult to manage and expensive. "Britain has put off plans for biometric identity cards partly because of worries about soaring costs and technical snafus."

Are you in favor of a national biometric ID to prevent identity theft and facilitate commerce? Are you deeply concerned about the privacy implications? Does the inexorable pressure from technology's capabilities and threats mean a universal ID is a only a matter of time?

By William Vocke

For quotes, see: "Identifying a billion Indians," The Economist, January29-February 4, 2011, pp.61-62.

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Slumdog Thousandaire
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Sveeta
Gordon Joly
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Herald Post
Martin Tod
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Alan Cleaver

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