Thursday, May 28

Big-B or Whiz-B?

It seems that the multi-purpose national identity card (MNIC) for Indian citizens will be available by 2011. It is to be a smart card with an unique identification number that will store information about the citizens. This seems like a good project, and should eliminate the need for multiple address/identity proof documents for educational or business purposes. It could also be a useful tool in the electoral process which is still struggling with the voter identification cards. And maybe help its intended purposes of countering terrorism on Indian soil.

However, considering the scope of the project I think it will face the same fate as the voter identification cards. There are way too many people and far less infrastructure in place to create a comprehensive list and distribute cards. But the babus are on it.

The more serious concern however is that of privacy. Would having this smart card mean that the government will know what I do, buy, sell, learn, read...? Will I be required to carry it at all times and produce when requested? That is something one would associate with travelling to a foreign country. Will the government be policing our lives, instead of simply maintaining law and order? How will it ensure that the information is not abused by any government agency? I can definitely imagine a scenario where someone with influence uses it to bribe and tweak information in the database to make life difficult for someone. Can we be sure of the integrity of those with access to such crucial information? What about misuse by political parties like the MNS to determine the number of "outsiders"?

If the government can satisfactorily answer these and numerous other similar questions maybe the MNIC will be a good project. Till then I can think of nothing better than this episode of Yes Minister.

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