Columbia International Affairs Online: Policy Briefs

CIAO DATE: 11/2012

Building a Biometric National ID: Lessons for Developing Countries from India's Universal ID Program

Alan Gelb, Julia Clark

October 2012

Center for Global Development


India’s Universal ID program seeks to provide a unique identity to all 1.2 billion residents. With the challenge of covering a very large population, India is is a unique testing ground for biometric identification technology. Its successes and potential failures will have far-reaching implications for other developing countries looking to create national identity systems. Already, the Indian case offers some important lessons: Using multiple biometrics helps maximize accuracy, inclusion, and security Supporting public- and private-sector applications creates incentives for use Competitive, standards-based procurement lowers costs Cardless design increases security and cuts costs but can be problematic if mobile networks are incomplete Establishing clear jurisdiction is essential Open technology is good, but proprietary systems and foreign providers may still be necessary.