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UID number: Challenges and security concerns

May 13, 2010 09:31 IST
Sunil Chandiramani, Partner and National Director-Advisory Business Leader-Government Services, Ernst & Young (E&Y), with a team of 15 people is busy with India's most ambitious programme of providing a unique identification (UID) number to residents of India.

E&Y has been selected as a consulting partner by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).

With just about three months left for UIDAI to have its systems operational, Chandiramani, in a chat with Shivani Shinde, speaks about the role of his firm besides the challenges and security concerns associated with the rollout of UID number. Edited excerpts:

What is the role of E&Y?

We are technology consultants. Our role is to help UIDAI select and procure technology including procuring the managed services provider. We also have to manage the implementation.

This is something we hope to do over the next three years. The work would involve setting up the core - technology and the processes - followed by the rollout. The core work has to be done right and we cannot afford to fail.

So, you have a contract for three years?

No, our contract is for one year and this is the first phase. But even if we don't get the second year contract, the technology would have been procured by that time, and the project implemented. The only piece that would remain would be the rollout. Of course, we would like to be the part of the rollout as well, as that is the most challenging part.

From a rollout perspective, banks, IT department, colleges, insurance firms, schools will be used as registrars. The rollout part is very critical. But before that we have to think of systems that would tackle all the scenarios. Like what happens if someone loses his or her UID number.

Do you think the systems will be ready by August 2010 for the rollout?

I would not yet be ready to comment on the August rollout as yet. We still have to get a few RFPs closed. The crucial among them is the biometric piece. But by the end of May, we need to close all the RFPs.

Which other tenders will come up for bidding?

Some of the request for proposals (RFPs) that have come up are in the application side and biometric segment. We will soon announce RFPs for the managed services provider.

The biggest chunk will be the managed services, as the provider will have to manage the entire repository of data. This will mean that the vendor will have to provide a system and be involved in the de-duplication process. That means every time someone sends a biometric print, the systems need to match them and get back to the person and that too in real-time.

What about security concerns surrounding data and access to it, especially since there are plans to have UIDs online too?

People tend to think that online means access to information on the fly. But that does not mean that any individual can access the data. To give an instance, when it comes to commercial use, any commercial vendor - bank, insurance firms etc - who needs to verify an individual's UID will need to take imprints of fingers and send it to UIDAI asking for authentication.

This is online and real-time. However, UIDAI will not send your finger prints or any other detail. It will just confirm the authenticity of the imprints. Hence, the repository is not accessible to anyone. Besides, adequate measures would be built into the tech systems to ensure that the data are being added to the repository according to the set standards.

A security breach can occur nevertheless...

Use of any technology brings challenges but what matters is, if the security is manageable. I think it is manageable. As an extra security measure, UIDAI has added four digits to the 12-digit number. This PIN-based four-digit identification will be masked. So, at anytime this four-digit number gets changed then everything changes.

Over a time there is a possibility that these kind of information when it is shared could be tracked. We also think there will be more than enough people who will try to get more than one UID or will at least try to get. We are setting rules that if someone intentionally attempts to defraud then there will be penalties and other measures built in.

What about privacy issues?

The concern that arises of this is, who can access this data and where the data will reside. India will also need to have data privacy policy. I think privacy forums need to be formed and this should happen as we roll out. In some cases, there might be a need for regulatory changes and in some cases, for an outreach programme.

Would UIDAI use the census data or the machinery for the rollout?

No, census data will not be used for the UID project as of now. This is because the census team collects name, address and other details by visiting every house. But for UID, we need to capture facial expressions, finger prints and take iris scans. You cannot move around and get this data.

You will have to go to a centre to do it. Over a period of time, the census data might be used. Besides, when the UID gets captured you have to get it right at the first time. The person who will take these details will send the data to UIDAI.

The UIDAI team will check the quality of the data sent and then reject or select it. If this is rejected, the individual will be called again at the centre; it's a long process. Add to this, the centres will need to verify the person and the details they are providing. The census team would not do this detailed work.

How big is the IT opportunity in this project?

I wouldn't know the value but from an opportunity perspective, it's huge. Especially, for the hardware segment. Imagine the number of biometric machine required to capture the data of a billion people, along with the PCs and servers to support this data. Solutions will form a smaller part.

Shivani Shinde in Mumbai
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