Citizens’ National Identity
Maxwell Pereira

maxpk@vsnl.com

I saw it in Japan in 1990. At their central driver licensing facility in Tokyo an individual placed his palm on the ‘scanner flat’ in front of a computer monitor, and hey presto – his total profile with every identifying feature and attribute appeared on the screen. His photo-image, name and address, height and other attributes, also coordinates and what have you. They said it was part of a national database accessible throughout the length and breadth of the land – be it in Hokkaido in the north or Osaka in the south. Preventing a person from assuming multiple identities, I was told, was just one among the many uses of the database.

Since then it has been my dream for India to have a similar national database, to manage its one billion plus population and help overcome the plethora of maladies the country is plagued with. To start with, I had then asked for a National Driver License Register, to be linked with a National Motor Vehicle Identity Register – both of which still remain a pipe dream. So how indeed could one progress in terms of the colossal database for a National Identity Register covering every citizen! Our priorities being so warped, to this day we have not succeeded in this crucial area.

The nearest we have come to achieve a national database, is in our drive started during Election Commissioner TN Seshan’s time to provide those eligible, with a voter identity card – even though only state-wise. And we have other compartmentalised and fragmented data for a multiple array of smart cards – be it for the driving license, credit cards or for access control in the limited domain of the corporate sector. This, in an era when sitting in Delhi multinational entities can access global networks for conducting business, or an airline company can check flights availability for reservation. Why a nation considered the IT giant of the world couldn’t pool its talent bank and resources to create this database for a national citizens’ identity card, is beyond comprehension.

A national identification number is used by the governments of countries across the world as a means of tracking their citizens, permanent residents, and temporary residents for the purposes of work, taxation, government benefits, health care, and other governmentally-related functions. This number sometimes appears also on the identity card issued by a country.

Modern hi-tech identity cards are often smartcards to be read by computer. And where issued by a state, the card asserts a unique single civil identity for a person, defining that person's identity purely in relation to the state. New technologies allow such identity cards to contain biometric information, like photographs, face, hand or iris measurements, or fingerprints. Other information typically present on the cards — or on the supporting database — includes full name, parents' names, address, profession, nationality in multinational states, and blood type.

“No identity card” can be beneficial for people who wish to avoid detection. It may help in some illegal dealings; like avoiding or delaying deportation for illegal immigrants. We are a country plagued with incursions by immigrans from Bangladesh, Nepal and elsewhere. The requirement for people to possess a national identity number or card would make it difficult for such to continue their illegal status and stay on.

Identity cards are a useful administrative tool that will increase efficiency in dealings with both the goverment and private companies. They would help to cut down on crime. All banks require ID cards when dealing with them, which increases security.

Registration of births and deaths is now compulsory in our country. For a national identity number, we need to make a beginning right from the birth and evolve a system by which data on the individual gets added/ appropriately changed as he grows and time moves on. The student card, driving licence or passport information can all be incorporated, while the same card continues to be used to prove one's identity.

In addition to basic biometric information (a digitized fingerprint record, a printed digital photograph and a scanned signature) the card should include the family name, first names, date and place of birth, even personal medical information – in addition to various anti-fraud systems embedded within its plastic-covered compactness. As also the national identity number managed by a national registry, which could eventually be used as the national service registration number, as the Social Security account number for health and retirement benefits, for access to court files and for tax purposes etc, if and when these become common norm in our country. Law enforcement (police) can accept this data while performing identity checks, and elsewhere in finacial transactions too, as proof of identity.

A national scheme to verify a person accurately is paramount. The ability to properly identify a person to their true identity is central to the operation of the foreign ministry’s latest proposal to do away with police verification of passport aspirants and to all other proposals of the country concerning its citizens, with wider implications for operations against crime and terrorism.

The latest to demand a national identity card for citizens is the telecom sector. Unable to cope with the ‘harrassment’ at the hands of security agencies on the issue of customer verification, they want the government to isuue a nationl citizen’s identity card which can be used as a single unit to identify a person while issuing a subscriber identification module (SIM).

Had we a National Identity Number – seen as a gold standard in proving one’s identity, or a database in a National Identity Register, things would have been different. The crying need therefore, is for the government to work towards one. Urgently!

26.06.2006: 900 words: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com

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