Sunday, 3 July 2016

How can biometric smart cards help prevent corruption?

Do you recall the old driver’s licenses most of our parents had years ago? It looked like a little booklet of sorts. Nowadays though, most states have adopted smart card driving licenses – a concept that is more secure and user-friendly too.
What is the difference?
In the old days, you had to submit a huge pile of paperwork to apply for your license. This was then collected and all the paper was stored. While you still need to provide a lot of paperwork today, all your details are now safely saved on a computerised system. This enables easier data management and allows the license holder to be identified quicker, which not only reduces the level of corruption but may even prevent it.
How can this prevent corruption?
Let’s break it down.
We have all heard of the Aadhaar card system and we have all seen the new smart card driving licenses.
When it comes to corruption, there are two broad areas that this system targets. One is by ensuring that government services are delivered to the right people, and that no one receives more than their fair share. The other is by reducing the number of fake identities or duplicated identities. As many, particularly in rural regions in India, have never had accurate identity papers, it’s been an open invitation for corruption. Corrupt people have been able to mimic identities and obtain access to government benefits, schemes and even rations.
How does biometrics work?
As the Aadhaar system securely saves every citizen’s details on a computerised system, each individual’s digital identity can be assured. When you apply for an Aadhaar card, you not only fill in a form, but you also have to personally go to the nearest authorised centre to scan your retina and fingerprints. Once every citizen’s details have been saved securely, it will lead to better data and overall management of government services.
Biometrics is basically the use of biological characteristics (like the fingerprint and eye scan) for identification purposes. It is not easy to duplicate someone else’s fingerprint or their eyeball. So when you can’t mimic another’s identity, you can’t gain access to benefits or schemes that are not meant for you.
If someone were to drive around using another citizen’s identity with a fake picture, biometrics will be a faster way to identify the culprit. This can not only reduce corruption, but at a higher level, it could even foil a terror attack or other serious crimes.
As early as 2008, the Andhra Pradesh Government decided to launch a smart card scheme in 17 districts for those below the poverty line (BPL). The intention was to improve access to and distribution of government schemes, old-age benefits and monthly allowances. The state government wanted to prevent leakages and ensure that the right beneficiaries received what they were entitled to. This was part of the National Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) initiative, which managed to reduce wastage and corruption.
Another interesting example is in South Africa where the Government decided to introduce smart card ID’s in 2013. The objective was to enhance security and prevent the forgery of documents (and in turn identities). By January 2015, the Government had successfully distributed over a million smart cards.
Biometric smart cards have the potential to curb large scale corruption in India as well. In order to achieve this, it’s imperative that  the system is used correctly and data is managed securely. It will also be essential for the system to be implemented across the board, so every citizen is captured digitally. While we’ve still got a long way to go, the opportunity is there for the taking.

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