The National ID Card Challenge for Nandan Nilekani.. Part I
[This is part I of the series.
Part II is available here]
It was a pleasant surprise to know that the Government
of India thought it fit to pick a professional like Mr Nandan Nilekani and
appoint him for one of the important projects such as the National ID Card
(NIDC) Project. Our good wishes to Mr Nandan for a successful stint in this
It may be recalled that the idea of National ID Card has
been floating for some time and already pilot projects had been initiated
in at least two states at enormous costs. The issue became a talking point
during the elections when BJP announced in its manifesto the implementation
of the "Multi Purpose National Identity (MNIC) cards". Now Congress
has grabbed the opportunity as the ruling party and one should appreciate
the alacrity with which the Government has acted immediately on
So far, this project of National ID has been a project
which was driven by the Smart Card manufacturers who saw a golden
opportunity of crores of smart cards being used in the project. Now this
lobby will again be active and bringing pressure on Mr Nandan to ensure
that their commercial interests are protected.
The undersigned has been repeatedly suggesting that the
Citizen ID card project does not necessarily require a "Smart Card" with a
large memory in the Chip. Naavi's suggestions have also been examined
closely by the Central Government (Ministry of Human Resources). Even the
NeGP also seems to hold views similar to what Naavi had expressed earlier.
While Mr Nandan as an experienced IT professional can be
expected to lead the project team to the most optimal solutions, we
will be failing in our duty if we donot bring to the discussion board some
of the suggestions which had been placed before the Government earlier even
if they had not been considered for implementation earlier. It is our
desire that the new project team under Mr Nandan should again evaluate
these suggestions and reject it if not found suitable. I am therefore
reproducing the salient parts of these suggestions.
Naavi's suggestion of the use of a ZeMo card or what is
called Zero Memory Card instead of the traditional smart card is built on
the following key principles.
1. The essence of the NIDC project is the "Trusted
Data Base". Card is only an instrument of identity for the access. The
success of the project therefore lies in building and maintaining a
reliable data base.
2. In many applications it is not necessary for the
"Data" to be "Embedded with the ID". "Data" can be stored elsewhere and
the ID can provide a pointer to the Data.
3. In many applications, unsatisfactory "Data
Synchronization" between the memory based ID device (such as the Smart
Card) can make the system dysfunctional.
4. Stored memory on ID cards which are in the hands of
the public are amenable for manipulations which are more difficult to
prevent and diagnose than manipulations of data in the hands of the
Government in a data base.
5. Memory based Cards for a massive project such as
NIDC can be a crippling burden on the economy.
6. A massive project of national interest has to be
technology and vendor neutral
7. A security sensitive project such as NIDC need open
source hardware and software solutions to ensure data integrity and
Let's now discuss each of these points in a little more
detail to open up issues for discussion. The undersigned presents one point
of view in the following paragraphs which are not necessarily correct or
complete and readers are open to add their suggestions so that there would
be a set of information available to the Nandan Committee to take decisions
[Continued in Part II]
June 27, 2009
Cards and their limitations: 16th September 2003
Cards for Citizen ID..Let's Not Build Castles in the Air 24th