Glitch in India's Biometric Welfare System

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Glitch in India's Biometric Welfare System
Short Title Biometric Data Glitches in Governmental System in India (?) in India
Location India
Date October 2019

Taxonomy Exclusion, Distortion, Aggregation
Information Identifying, Authenticating, Medical and Health, Physical Characteristics, Demographic
Threat Actors Indian government

Individuals
Affected Indian people claiming welfare support
High Risk Groups
Secondary Consequences Bodily Injury, Death

Glitch in biometric welfare system in India caused some people their lives.

Description

Each person in India claiming support is now required to have an Aadhaar, a unique 12-digit number that is linked to their biometric and demographic data. The system is now involved in access to anything from a pension to medical reimbursements or disaster emergency relief.

It covers more than 1.2 billion people and is the world’s largest biometric identification system. This is an example of Aggregation.

But activists say its design is flawed and it is riddled with technological glitches. Fingerprints don’t scan properly, officials fail to offer timely assistance and internet coverage is too poor for the system to function. In some cases, e.g. when fingerprints are not recognised by the algorithm, it can be seen as Distortion.

If there’s a fault in the system, access to an array of support can abruptly halt, which leads to decisions about people being are made by a centralised server, and the person doesn’t even know what has gone wrong, which is an example of Exclusion. People often don’t know why welfare support would have stopped and they don’t know who to go to to fix the problem.

In one case in May 2019, the problem of a person’s unrecognised thumbprint was left unresolved as he couldn’t take the time to make the trek to the centre. On 22 May he collapsed outside the family home. An ambulance took him to hospital but it was too late. He died aged 50. The family believe the cause of the death was starvation.

Activists have tracked 13 cases in Jharkhand where people who were refused support due to aadhaar glitches have allegedly died of starvation.

Risk Statistics

Laws and Regulations

Sources

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/oct/16/glitch-india-biometric-welfare-system-starvation