R S Sharma, director general of UIDAI in an interview with Governance Now
Samir Sachdeva | February 6, 2012
The unique identification (UI D) number will be instrumental in mobile banking, mobile delivery of services and mobile authentication. To know more about how UID will facilitate m-governance, Samir Sachdeva and Shubham Batra spoke with RS Sharma, director general of the unique identification authority of India (UIDAI). Here are the excerpts from the interview:
How do you see the concept of delivering public services through mobile phones?
If there is one instrument which is available with nearly all Indians today, it is the mobile phone. The mobile phone, a wireless communication device, has a deep reach and is an optimal medium for delivery of information and services to the people. UIDAI is creating online IDs which are verifiable and authenticable online. Now, that being the case, the mobile device is the most optimal method to deploy these technologies because that will require minimum infrastructural investments. The mobile phone serves as a very simple device at the front end and the complexities are taken care at the back end. It is a simple device which can be owned and operated by anyone.
What will be the role of UID in m-governance?
Let’s understand what the applications of UID are. One of the trivial or the obvious aspects of UID is uniqueness, removing the duplicates and fakes from the database. Suppose you have a NREGA database, you can ensure that there are no duplicates and no fakes.
The other role, service delivery, is more important and has a prime role for authentication. How does it really connect with various applications? Suppose you want to draw money from your account in a remote village. The ATMs are not available in all the villages. If you want to take the application to the village doorstep then you need a device for authentication of identity which is the first step in any service. Like you authenticate your identity through the smart card remembering the PIN, similarly authenticating your identity on the mobile phone will enable you to access your bank account and make transactions. So UID, in some sense, will facilitate remote verification of the identity which can be done through a simple phone having a fingerprint reader.
Will there be a biometric-enabled mobile device for authentication?
We call it a micro automated teller machine (MicroATM). It is essentially a mobile device which can communicate through the general packet radio service (GPRS) technology and it has an attached single fingerprint reader. The device is not so costly. We have defined standards and anybody can make those devices so long as they meet the standards. We are not getting into any vendor lock-in kind of situation. We are not prescribing any model of the device but just the design principle which this device must have.
Why not consider the mobile itself an identification proof, as Estonia has done?
When you authenticate, there are three broad principles. Principle one is what you know, principle two is what you have and principle three is what you are. So what you know is essentially like personal identification number (PIN), what you have is like the smartcards or the mobile phones and what you are is essentially your biometrics. People talk of two-factor authentication. The mobile phone you are speaking from becomes your authentication number one. But to ensure that it is you who is operating that mobile phone, there has to be another factor.
If you want to draw cash from your account, you will need to approach a business correspondent or some representative of the bank. There you will have to operate the mobile device and the person has to be satisfied that you are the one who is actually doing the transactions. In such a case biometric verification is important.
How will you integrate UID with the mobile service delivery gateway (MSDG)?
This is similar to the Intel Inside concept. There are many front end things but the authentication may take place with a module fitted with every application. So in MSDG, Aadhaar–based authentication will be one of the modes of authentication. Suppose in MSDG an application wants a very strong biometric authentication before it can deliver services, we can use an Aadhaar–based authentication. This module of authentication will become common to every service domain whosoever wants to use it. We are looking forward to linking Aadhar authentication with MSDG.
UID is implementing a pilot initiative with the National Payment Corporation of India (NPCI) in Jharkhand. What is the status of that?
The pilot project is progressing quite well. We are working with the state’s rural development department and we are attempting to pay the wages under the NREGA to the people using the micro ATM and the business correspondent. We have been in the field for the last 10 days and have done some transactions also. Currently these are real transactions which are happening after the pilot test. The device, a micro ATM, might not be exactly like a mobile phone, as it will also do a biometric authentication. The device is a little advanced but essentially it uses mobile telephony.
What are the challenges before this pilot project?
One of the issues is that when people enrolled for Aadhaar they were not really clear about the importance of the biometrics. They thought that it was just a process of enrolment. So at times the quality of the biometric was not the best or there were some biometric exceptions like some people may not have fingers of ‘good quality’ or they may not have fingers at all. But statistics say that the bad quality biometrics is less than one percent. However even this one percent cannot be denied public services on the pretext that their authentication is not going through. We have to provide methods of dealing with these exceptions.
That is one challenge because we don’t want somebody to be denied service due to the failure of the biometrics match. UIDAI is only the trusted third-party authenticator. The NREGA wages are being delivered by their department people. They are the application people. When you use our authentication one of the things that you should expect is make arrangements for handling the exceptions.
So the exception management is part of the overall strategy?
Yes, it is. How do you ensure that those people who are not biometrically authenticable avail the service? We do not want to deny services to those people.
It is said that in future UID, mobile and bank account will become a person’s identity…
It is the roti, kapda aur makaan situation. In future, there will be three key numbers for a resident—UID number, mobile number and the bank account number. And these three are very important because if you have access to a bank account you will be able to do transactions. UID will be able to authenticate your identity and the mobile number is there for communication.
Which services you think should become part of mobile governance?
I think one is the self-service banking transactions, what we call mobile banking. Delivery of information of all types will be another very important application. So these are the two major things which I see as part of mobile governance. Then you should also be able to do other transactions like purchasing railway tickets, which may or may not have a financial component. In nutshell, whatever one does on a website all of those services should become mobile enabled.
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