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Aadhaar as Proof of Identity: Could Tokenization Offer a Solution?

– Center for Global Development

  • Viewpoint
  • Posted by Good ID team (Good ID)
  • 18 November 2019

Exploring what India’s government could learn from other nations when determining the future scope of Aadhaar

In this piece, the Center for Global Development considers the potential for tokenizing India’s identity system, exploring parallels between Aadhaar and other similar ID systems.

The authors open by noting the ongoing debate in the United States over the extent to which the Social Security Number (SSN) should be expanded or restricted. While originally conceived of as a means of helping to administer the social security system, some are calling for the SSN to expand its scope and act as a national identity system.

The same debate is currently taking place in India, where Aadhaar has been confirmed legal by the Supreme Court, but constrained to supporting benefits and tax administration. Discussion is now focussed on the extent to which that role should be expanded into the identity field – could Aadhaar ultimately form the basis for India’s national identity system?

The authors note that privacy concerns and the risk of identity theft are key barriers to using SSN’s in this way in the United States. The SSN is an inherently weak form of identity – it’s printed physically and is fundamentally insecure. Conversely, Aadhaar relies on biometric data, adding an additional layer of protection for users.

The authors then consider the Austrian system, in which information from a user’s identity card is used to create cryptographically encoded Sector-Specific Pins (SS-Pins) that allow them to access specific services from various service providers.

The piece concludes that: “Tokenization thus paves the way for Aadhaar to be used as proof of identity without proliferating the number,” and offers a series of associated recommendations for the Indian government. These include considering whether such tokenization would be mandatory or voluntary, how to best communicate the concept of tokenization to the Inidian public, and how to ensure strong protections against reversing tokenization.

The recent Supreme Court judgement on Aadhaar closes one contentious chapter of its short existence and opens others at the same time. While Aadhaar is here to stay, the 1.25 billion dollar question remains: in what capacity?

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