Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Burden of Biometrics


A few days ago, the Indian Prime Minister handed over the 210-million-th Unique Identification (UID aka Adhaar) card to Bali Devi of Purawar village in Rajasthan. He also promised that in two years' time, half of India will have such a card, and this, hopefully,  will enable each of them to have easier access government welfare schemes.

Most of the welfare schemes based on state subsidies to the "three Fs" (food-fuel-fertilizers), which now accounts for Rs. 2.16 trillion ($55 billion), or 2.5% of GDP. However, much of these subsidies 'leak' out of the system long before they reach the intendend benificiaries -- the poorest of poor in India, numbering about 400 million. The UID-Adhaar project aims to plug these leaks by directing cash-subsidies directly into registered bank accounts.

Results from pilot tests are quite mixed. In one town called Kotkasim the Fair Price Shops were selling their entire allotted stock of 84,000 litres of kerosene a month before the project started. They is now selling 22,000 litres — ample proof that subsidised kerosene was being diverted for other purposes, mainly to adulterate diesel. On the other hand, in Beelaheri, another village near Kotkasim, hundreds of bank accounts have been set up without referencing the UID database, as the government pushed ahead with the politically rewarding cash transfers before readying Aadhar to identify the correct beneficiaries.

This brings up the enormous complexities in the technical and administrative challanges of a project of this magnitude. Each individual record (iris-scans, fingerprints & face-scans) takes up about 5MB of space. Multiply that with 210 million and you already have UID servers in Bangalore/Delhi handling a million GB of data. In two years' this is expected to grow to 3 million GB, and, whenever the project is completed, it would hold a least 6 million GBs for 1.2 billion citizens of India.

Is there any other database of of this magnitude and complexity? With each additional 100 million enrollments, how does the system cross-check for duplications in a billion records within a few seconds?

Earlier this year, Mr. Nilakeni insisted that, "The UIDAI biometric system is processing over 100 trillion biometric person matches with a high degree of accuracy each day capable of issuing a million (10 Lakh) Aadhaars daily."

How do they achieve this? UIDAI does not venture to explain this in simple terms, except by stating that they would be using "mulit-modal ‘Fusion’ approach of biometrics" and that accuracy is maintained using "multi-ABIS  solution architecture".

This is where I lose the plot... :(

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* Unique identification Authority of India (UIDAI) Home Page - http://uidai.gov.in/

* Das, Krishna (2012): PDS GET SMART, Business Standard, 28Oct12, url - http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/pds-gets-smart/490869/

* http://uidai.gov.in/contracts-awarded-link.html

* http://www.whatsabyte.com/

* Mehta, Bhanu Pratap (2012): Laying a New Adhaar, Indian Express, 25Oct12, url - http://www.indianexpress.com/news/laying-a-new-aadhaar/1021583/

* Kumar, Manoj (2012): India Risks Backlash Hurrying Through Adhaar Project, Reuters, 25Oct12, url - http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/10/25/india-welfare-uid-aadhaar-system-idINDEE89O04Y20121025
- In 2010, a McKinsey report estimated such an electronic platform for government payments to households would save up to $18 billion annually - enough to wipe out one-sixth of a fiscal deficit that could hit 6 percent of GDP this fiscal year.
- The government is likely to spend over $55 billion this fiscal year ending in March on fuel, fertiliser and food subsidies, as well as a flagship scheme guaranteeing 100 days of work a year to rural labourers, and other welfare programmes.

* Half India will own Adhaar Card by 2014: PM Singh (NI Wire) - http://www.newstrackindia.com/newsdetails/2012/10/20/281-Half-India-will-own-Adhaar-Card-by-2014-PM-Singh.html

* Singh, Sushant (2012): PDS reform using Aadhaar, the Kotkasim way, Mid-Day, 10 April 2012, url - http://www.mid-day.com/columnists/2012/apr/100412-opinion-PDS-reform-using-Aadhaar-the-Kotkasim-way.htm
- At Kotkasim (Alwar, Rajasthan)20,000 ration card holders, who had to open zero-balance, no-frills bank accounts for getting the subsidy. Initial public resistance was overcome by the district administration by transferring three months of subsidy in advance to the bank accounts. Results of the project have shown that substantial economies in subsidy outgo can be achieved by use of Aadhaar platform. Kotkasim, which was was selling its entire allotted stock of 84,000 litres of kerosene a month before the project started, is now selling 22,000 litres — ample proof that subsidised kerosene was being diverted for other purposes, mainly to adulterate diesel.

* Malik, Aman (2012): Subsidy Bill Reduction Target 'Ambitious', WSJ-Mint, url - http://www.livemint.com/Politics/LAOMZ15cTJuuJ0wZDBQzRP/Subsidy-bill-reduction-target-8216ambitious8217.html

* UID and the PDS System - http://uidai.gov.in/images/FrontPageUpdates/uid_and_pds.pdf

* http://uidai.gov.in/contracts-awarded-link.html

* http://www.whatsabyte.com/

* UIDAI - Biometrics Soultion Provider Experience - http://www.biometrics.org/bc2012/presentations/UIDAI/UID%20BSP%20update%20Kris%20ver%202%201040.pdf
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