This article provides insight into the Identity Initiative, a unique collaboration between academic scholars, industry leaders and government officials interested in studying the impact of Unique Identification (UID) in the coming decade. In September 2010, Indian government embarked on an ambitious project to provide a biometric-based unique digital identity, Aadhaar, to each of its 1.2 billion citizens. This UID (Unique Identification) initiative is unprecedented in scale – collaboration of the public and private sectors in voluntary enrolment of citizens – and the openness of the technology platform towards facilitating its use by businesses as well as by government. While weak identity systems cause the individual to miss out on benefits and services, it also makes it difficult for the government to account for money and resource flows across a country. The need for establishing a strong nationally portable identity for its residents was succinctly captured by Nandan Nilekani, Chairman UIDAI, when he stated, “There are just 50 million Indians who have a passport, that’s 5 % of the population. People who participate in the stock markets must be 2% of the population, bank account holders must be 20% of the population (220 million). If you want to meet all the people's aspirations, you have to include them in the society. To do that, the basic foundation block is identity.” On the day of the official rollout of the UID by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Ms. Sonia Gandhi, we wrote in the Wall Street Journal India (the Mint) about how the true benefits of the initiative will be in reshaping India’s economic institutions. This led to the formation of the Identity Initiative (IDI), a unique collaboration between academic scholars, industry leaders and government officials interested in studying the impact of this nationwide effort in the coming decade. The IDI will conduct and sponsor academic research, facilitate industry events to seed public discourse, and provide an objective, rigorous view of the UID’s socio-economic impact.
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