The Modi government launched Jeevan Praman, an Aadhaar-based digital life certificate for pensioners. But who will bear the cost of biometric reading device required to submit pensioner’s data?
Last week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched Jeevan Praman, a digital life certificate for pensioners, which could eventually benefit over a crore pensioners in the country. However, since this is based on Aadhaar number, several senior citizens may not find it useful because of issues related with registration of the unique identification number and their changing biometrics due to age. But more about it later.
According to the government release, the proposed digital certification will do away with the requirement of a pensioner having to submit a physical life certificate in November each year, in order to ensure continuity of pension being credited into his account. At present, all pensioners have to either personally present themselves before the pension disbursing agency, or submit a life certificate issued by authorities specified by the Central Pension Accounting Office (CPAO).
The Department of Electronics and IT has developed a software application, which will enable the recording of the pensioners' Aadhaar number and biometric details from their mobile device or computer, by plugging in a biometric reading device. Key details of the pensioner, including date, time, and biometric information will be uploaded to a central database on real-time basis, ultimately enabling the pension disbursing agency to access a digital life certificate. This will conclusively establish that the pensioner was alive at the time of authentication, says the release from the government.
Read some lines from the above statement again, especially, "...by plugging in a biometric reading device." This exactly is the issue with Jeevan Praman certificate. From where and how the pensioner would get this biometric device? And who will bear the cost?
The government release states that the software application system will be made available to pensioners and other stakeholders on a large scale at no extra cost and it can be operated on a personal computer or a smartphone, along with an inexpensive biometric reading device.
This exactly is the same issue for which Moneylife Foundation and several like-minded non-governmental organisations (NGOs) fought with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) for biometric-based ATMs . Luckily, some sense prevailed and the central bank allowed banks to adopt either Euro pay MasterCard Visa (EMV) chip and Pin technology or Aadhaar acceptance as additional factor of authentication for securing the card present payment infrastructure.
Imagine, if cash-rich banks found it difficult to install bio-metric enabled ATMs due to cost, then how would the pensioners get the 'inexpensive biometric reading device'? So far, UIDAI has made no mention of who will bear the cost of biometric POS readers (according to a senior banker, they will cost Rs8,000 each).
Moreover, biometric (fingerprint) identification is not fool proof. It is well known that fingerprints and irises can be faked, and one way to fix that problem could be to use fingerprint readers that detect live fingerprints, and iris readers that detect live irises.
According to JT D'Souza, who analysed the pilot study conducted by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), given the well-known lacunae in our infrastructure and massive demographics, biometrics as an ID will be a guaranteed failure and result in denial of service. He said, "The sum of false acceptance rate and false rejection rate (EER) reveals only part of the problem, which is rejection or acceptance within a short duration of enrolment. The bigger problem is ageing, including health and environment factors, which causes sufficient change to make biometrics completely unusable and requires very frequent re-enrolment."
They say when you give a hammer to a blacksmith he/she will only think in terms of nailing something. The only difference is that here it is the human body which is being nailed. If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail. If biometric technologies are at hand, some people under the influence of technology tend to see every problem as an identification problem.
A UIDAI paper states, “Of the 3 modes, fingerprint biometric happens to be the most mature biometric technology in terms of usage, extraction/matching algorithms, standardisation as well as availability of various types of fingerprint capture devices. Iris authentication is a fast emerging technology which can further improve Aadhaar Authentication accuracy and be more inclusive.”
Such absolute faith in biometric technology is based on a misplaced assumption that are parts of human body that does not age, wither and decay with the passage of time. Basic research on whether or not unique biological characteristics of human beings is reliable under all circumstances of life is largely conspicuous by its absence in India and even elsewhere.
Several senior citizens could not register themselves for the Aadhaar due to lack of clear fingerprints. Even, though they had registered, how will the biometric reader identify the person considering ageing may blur fingerprints further? In addition, there are risks like family members taking undue advantage of the situation and may manipulate the digital updating. Who and how these issues would be addressed are to be seen. However, for the time being, advice to pensioners is to go the bank or pension disbursing agency and submit the proof that you are alive without any further delay. Remember, it is November, when pensioners must submit the proof of life to continue receive pension for next one year.
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