Subhashish Panigrahi has published a field diary that details the impact of COVID-19 on India’s Aadhaar program. Panigrahi is one of Yoti’s three Digital Identity Fellows, and is currently examining the effects of Aadhaar on India’s marginalized population.
In that regard, he argues that COVID-19 has exacerbated issues that were present before the pandemic. Aadhaar already excluded many of the country’s most vulnerable communities, and COVID-19 has further disrupted the Public Distribution System (PDS) that India uses to allocate food and other resources to its citizens. The PDS relies on Aadhaar fingerprint recognition to verify the identities of benefit recipients, but many people have been denied both food and money due to authentication errors and other flaws with the Aadhaar system.
COVID-19 lockdowns have further isolated many of those people and made essential resources even more inaccessible. Contact-based fingerprint scanners also carry a higher risk of viral transmission, making them less appealing (and more dangerous) in the midst of a pandemic.
Those public health concerns motivated the state of Kerala to suspend its use of biometric authentication in the early stages of the crisis. However, COVID-19 has not slowed other, potentially more invasive biometric identity programs. Panigrahi notes that the Indian government has shared the personal information of thousands of citizens in its efforts to track the spread of the disease, and is still moving forward with plans to create a comprehensive biometric database that could be deployed as part of a broader surveillance scheme.
The coronavirus struck shortly after the passage of a controversial amendment to a 1955 law that is being used to deny citizenship to Muslims and other minorities. Sixty-five people died during the subsequent protests, which lasted for more than 100 days. At the time of writing, there were 22,454 confirmed cases and 2,293 COVID-19 deaths in India.
Yoti recently postponed the 2020 edition of the Fellowship Programme.
May 12, 2020 – by Eric Weiss