Smart cards for a unique identity

Jun 04 2007, 00:15 IST
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Till now, a good number of Indian citizens had either of the four documents to prove their nationality—a passport, election ID, PAN card or the all too familiar family ration card. They can now gear up for more. A national identity card to uniquely identify a person. With smart card technology as its cornerstone, it will hold a number that’s unique to you, your photograph along with your fingerprint. All rolled into a single smart card to give you your identity wherever you are in the country.

Sounds amazing isn’t it but when the government recently presented the first few chip-based smart ID cards to a group of residents in North Delhi’s Narela area, kick-starting the completion of a pilot project in selected sub-districts of 12 states and one union territory, the scenario is closer to reality. The cards, christened multi-purpose national identity cards (MNIC), will have the name, date of birth, place of birth, parent’s name and the citizen’s photograph along with his/her educational qualifications. Digging deeper into the tech aspect, they have a micro processor chip with a memory of 16 KB that has been secured by using ‘asymmetric key cryptography’ and ‘symmetric key cryptography,’ making them secure against the risk of tempering and cloning.

A number of agencies were involved in the project: the National Institute of Design made the red-maroon patterned card, the National Informatics Centre helped collect data while IIT, Kanpur created the unique algorithm for the two check digits.

During the next year, the government intends to study issues relating to management of the cards including loss and damage of cards, the required infrastructure and the uses that the card can be put to. The project is part of a mammoth exercise being undertaken across several states to officially establish citizens’ identity.

The project on multi-purpose National ID cards, says SK Chakrabarti, deputy director-general at the Registrar-General of India, has followed the census approach for collection of particulars of each individual in the pilot areas. Along with the particulars of individuals, photographs and finger biometrics have also been collected of all those, who are 18 years of age and above. Subsequently, a network of card-reading machines across the country, including several at selected border-entry points, would be able to scan these cards to authenticate identity.

Besides meeting the security needs, the need for a multipurpose national identity card has been felt for purposes as diverse as applying for

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