Date
21 October 2017
Indians use fingerprint scanning to withdraw money from their bank accounts at a promotion of the personal-identification technology last month. Photo:  WSJ
Indians use fingerprint scanning to withdraw money from their bank accounts at a promotion of the personal-identification technology last month. Photo: WSJ

India begins building on its citizens’ biometrics

India is leapfrogging into the digital future by offering the world’s largest biometric-identity database for use by tech firms, health-care providers and novice app developers, the World Street Journal reports.

The Indian government has gathered digital-identification records, including fingerprint impressions and eye scans, of nearly all of its 1.2 billion citizens.

Now a government-backed initiative known as “India Stack” aims to standardize ways to exchange the data digitally to facilitate the transfer of signatures and official documents that citizens need to get jobs, make financial transactions or access government services.

By allowing developers to incorporate use of government identification records in their commercial websites and apps, the initiative envisions Indians—with mobile phones in hand—using iris and fingerprint scans to sign up for insurance, invest in mutual funds, receive health-care subsidies and verify their identity for school examinations.

India’s decision not only to form a digital identification pool but also to promote its integration with private commerce and services could help create the world’s “most digitized economy,” Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates said at a New Delhi conference in November.

He called it “something that had never been done by any government before, not even in a rich country.”

The government gave cashless commerce a push late last year by withdrawing large-denomination bank notes from circulation. The temporary measure, aimed in part at tax dodgers, prompted a sharp rise in the use of mobile payments apps.

Credit Suisse analysts predict India’s financial technology sector alone could grow from a US$2 billion to a US$600 billion industry by 2026, fueled by India Stack.

Many Indians back the effort, hoping it will reduce petty corruption and the frustration of dealing with public agencies and state-run companies. Some fear, however, that the government’s ambition will lead to overreach.

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