This post might sound a bit alarmist, but the future is almost here and very little is being talked about it. A crude avatar of the slick iris based authentication system from the sci-fi movie Minority Report set in 2054 is taking shape in India- circa 2012.
The Unique Identification Authority of India, a government agency charged with giving nearly 1.2 crore Indians a unique online identification number has been testing Iris based authentication system and has concluded that the mechanism to identify millions of people using iris scans is highly accurate.
On Monday, results of a proof of concept study established that Iris authentication done over mobile networks, and over offline authentication cameras were 99.2 % accurate. The study, conducted in Mysore between May – July this year, tested 17,990 online authentications by 5,747 residents. In the offline mode, over five thousand residents went through 40,148 capture sessions on 8 authentication cameras.
The present system, works over mobile networks and offline cameras that appear crude compared to what you see in Minority Report and may not be as functional as it sounds. So whats the big deal? Apparently, the technology, as seen in the Spielberg movie, is already here. Austin Carr writes in Fast company:
We’ve all seen and obsessively referenced Minority Report, Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s dystopian future, where the public is tracked everywhere they go, from shopping malls to work to mass transit to the privacy of their own homes. The technology is here. I’ve seen it myself. It’s seen me, too, and scanned my irises.
Two years ago, Global Rainmakers Inc, a biometrics research and development firm rolled out its iris scanning technology in the city of Leon, one of the largest in Mexico. GRI had plans to put up eye cameras all over the city to make it the most secure cities in the world. Leon has a database containing iris scans of criminals and people with clean records could opt into the database.
“For such a Big Brother-esque system, why would any law-abiding resident ever volunteer to scan their irises into a public database, and sacrifice their privacy,” Carr questions. But in India, we are past the questioning stage.
The country now has a biometric database which contains fingerprint and iris scans of nearly 200 million residents. The database, already the largest in the world, will soon have a majority of the country’s population on it.
The 12 digit Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) was created to provide a unique identity, verifiable online, to all residents of India. As of August 2012, nearly 200 million residents have been enrolled and over 195 million identification numbers have been issued.
The Aadhar card has been gaining ground as valid proof of address or identity too. Recently, market regulator securities and exchange board of India (SEBI) also authorized Aadhaar card as a valid proof of address to operate accounts with brokerage firms, mutual funds, portfolio managers and capital market entities. The three state owned oil marketing companies which supply cooking gas to millions of Indians, are also experimenting with UID based delivery of domestic LPG cylinders in Mysore, Karnataka.