End Times News Update
Sign: Mark of the Beast (biometric ID news)
Scripture: Rev 13:16-18
News Source: LA Times
India is building a biometric database for 1.3 billion people — and
enrollment is mandatory
by Shashank Bengali
May 11, 2017 | reporting from Mumbai, India
Inside the buzzing enrollment agency, young professionals wearing
slim-fitting jeans and lanyards around their necks tapped away at
keyboards and fiddled with fingerprint scanning devices as they helped
build the biggest and most ambitious biometric database ever
Into the office stepped Vimal Gawde, an impoverished 75-year-old widow
dressed in a floral print sari. She had come to secure her ticket to
India’s digital future — to enroll in the identity program, called
Aadhaar, or “foundation,” that aims to record the fingerprints and
irises of all 1.3 billion Indian residents.
Nearly 9 out of 10 Indians have registered, each assigned a unique
12-digit number that serves as a digital identity that can be verified
with the scan of a thumb or an eye. But Gawde came to the enrollment
office less out of excitement than desperation: If she didn’t get a
number, she worried that she wouldn’t be able to eat.
Designed as a showcase of India’s technological prowess — offering
identity proof to the poor and reducing waste in welfare programs —
Aadhaar’s grand promises have been muddied by controversy as the
government makes enrollment mandatory for a growing number of
Indians now need an Aadhaar number to pay taxes, collect pensions and
obtain certain welfare benefits. The rapid expansion of a program that
was originally described as voluntary has sparked criticism that India
is vacuuming up citizens’ personal information with few privacy
safeguards and creating hardship for the very people the initiative
was supposed to help.
Like many Indians living in poverty, Gawde uses a ration card to
purchase her monthly allotment of subsidized rice and cooking gas. But
the shopkeeper told her that starting next month, he would sell to her
only if she produced an Aadhaar number.
She had visited the enrollment agency three times but had yet to be
approved, for reasons she did not understand. (Enrollment agents would
not comment on individual cases.)
Reaching into her canvas bag, Gawde pulled out the familiar panoply of
documents — ration card, voter card, electricity bill, income tax ID —
that Indians use to navigate a dizzying bureaucracy. Aadhaar, she was
told, would supplant all these papers.
But she had to get the number first.
“I’m nervous,” Gawde said outside the enrollment office on a
sweltering morning. “I first applied three years ago and submitted all
my documents, but didn’t follow up. Now that it’s becoming compulsory,
I’m doing everything I can to get it.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had criticized Aadhaar as a
“political gimmick” before he took office, has embraced the futuristic
idea of an all-in-one digital identity. His party pushed through a law
last year that paved the way for a dramatic expansion of Aadhaar,
allowing government entities and private businesses wide latitude to
access the database, which collects not just people’s names and birth
dates but also phone numbers, email addresses and other information.
Soon, as more private companies use the database, it could become
difficult to open a bank account, get a new cellphone number or buy
plane or train tickets without being enrolled.
Supporters say the program, which has cost about $1 billion to
implement, will save multiples of that by curbing tax evasion and
ensuring that welfare subsidies are not stolen by middlemen.
“Aadhaar was always meant to be an instrument of inclusion,” Nandan
Nilekani, a tech billionaire and the program’s first chairman, said in
an interview. “I’m really happy that the current government is
completely endorsing Aadhaar and using it for a wide variety of
services that will transform governance.”
Source: LA Times