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Communications of the ACM

Law and technology

Biometric Identity

Aadhaar-based entry system

An employee uses an Aadhaar-based entry system to verify identity at a building in New Delhi, India.

Credit: Vipin Kumar / Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Three years ago, the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill. The drafters of that bill pushed for a requirement that every employed person in the U.S.—whether citizen or noncitizen, native-born or immigrant—should have to get a federal government-issued ID card. The holder's biometric information, either fingerprints or a different technology, would be encrypted on the card. Every time a U.S. worker took a new job, the employer would take her fingerprints or other biometric, so as to check her physical characteristics against the information on the card. If the biometric information matched, it would establish the job applicant was the card's rightful bearer. The employer would then transmit the identity information on the card to a central database, to verify she was legally authorized to work. In the end, though, the drafters dropped the ID card proposal from the bill.

In India, the government is undertaking to assign to residents 1.2 billion unique "Aadhaar" ID numbers, linked to each person's biometrics—photograph, 10 fingerprints, and two iris scans. The government aims to make use and verification of one's Aadhaar number an inseparable part of daily life. The card is accepted as identification and proof of address for banking purposes; authorities are pushing forward with plans to use Aadhaar to scrub voting lists; and a host of government agencies are making it mandatory under their programs, all notwithstanding an interim order by India's Supreme Court forbidding such requirements.


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