March 13, 2007 , New Delhi

By Sameer Sachdeva

The Government of India is going ahead with an ambitious program for citizens of India by providing national id to all its citizens as part of the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP). Many developed countries like the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland etc do not have a national id. In Australia it is the Medicare Card and in the United States the social security number which can be said closest to the national id. However there are many countries like Germany, France, Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg, Portugal etc which have the national id.

The purpose and need for a national id can range from country to country. Some countries have suggested the national id to fight terrorism and control illegal immigration. Some countries have suggested the same to control tax evasion. There are other countries which have proposed the scheme for citizen identification in order to distribute the various Government schemes. The national id is also proposed in order to eliminate multiple ids in various Government departments.

But it is rare that the various advantages as listed can be achieved. The terrorist / illegal migrants can always procure a national id based on forged documents. And then they become bigger threat to the system for they are legalized and recognized in the system. A card not linked to biometrics / DNA database will not help even the police authorities to fight crime. A constant monitoring will diminish the freedom of law abiding citizens which will be under constant scanner of the security agencies. The information can be used for harassment of citizens and if the same lands in wrong hands may lead to havoc. The incidents of identity thefts will increase and a loss of national id card will make a person lose his identity within his country. There will also be an increasing need for watching the watchdogs. The national id may also report various errors at times and will become very difficult for citizens to get those errors rectified. There will be problems in updating the data. In nutshell, it will mean that the citizens will always have to carry a document like passport for internal travel.

The cost benefit analysis of issuing national id cards also needs to be studied. The costs will include the cost of cards as well as the training costs, cost of new staff, administrative costs, compliance costs, cost of issuing overseas cards and cost of up-gradation and maintenance.

Government of India must lay full emphasis on all the above aspects before going ahead with the proposal for national id which may cost the country over 10,000 crores. Government also needs to take lessons from the experiences of Government of Australia which has to abandon the initiative of issuing national ids.

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