India’s Aadhaar is the world’s most ambitious national ID program. It’s affiliated with a larger, ongoing initiative called Digital India, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched in 2015 to help push India towards a more digital economy; and it’s administrated by the Unique Identification Authority of India, or UIDAI, a government agency that predates the program. The Aadhaar program assigns a unique, 12-digit number to each registered citizen, with each number pertaining to a citizen’s unique biographic information as well as biometric data in the form of fingerprint and iris scans.
At its outset, the ID program was envisioned as a means of helping to ensure that citizens can get access to government services, and to reduce corruption by establishing a digital paper trail for the dispersal of subsidies like food rations and medicine. But the program has quickly expanded, extending its reach into a variety of facets of daily life in India.
It’s turning citizens’ phones into official identity documents:
It’s also now being used for mobile payments, letting citizens buy things without cash or even their own device:
In fact Aadhaar is being used in everything from airport screening to school credentialing to Skype:
But amid all the excitement, there are security and legal concerns: