Case #2121.0

Aadhaar: India’s Big Experiment with Unique Identification (B)

Publication Date: August 20, 2018
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Many people take identity for granted, confident that they can prove they are who they say they are by using a driver’s license or other ID card. For many millions of people, this is not the case. They possess not only no driver’s license, but also no birth certificate which could be used to gain a driver’s license and prove they are who they claim to be. As a result, they can sometimes appear invisible to the state, unable to receive aid or participate in critical programs. Indeed, as Nandan Nilekani argues, "unless a person can identify himself or herself and have some sort of proof of existence, you can’t even talk about him owning property.”

This case explores the development and implementation of Aadhaar, an ambitious biometric identity system implemented in India. The system requires every Indian citizen to undergo a fingerprint and retinal scan to create a massive central database that can uniquely identify every person in the country.

Supporters say such an identity management system has enormous potential to facilitate government services, reduce corruption, and enable hundreds of millions of Indians to enter the formal economy. To its critics, Aadhaar represents either an estate project that consumes enormous resources that will never reach its potential, or worse, the core infrastructure for a surveillance state that can better monitor and track many things its citizens do.

Learning Objective:

This case has several learning objectives. Among them include exploring:

· how governments in emerging markets can pursue large and ambitious technology projects
· what might become core infrastructure for a digital economy
· the government’s role in creating such digital infrastructure
· the tradeoffs around economic opportunity and privacy and surveillance
· the governance to ensure such systems have political legitimacy in both their creation and ongoing oversight.

Other Details

Teaching Plan:
Available with Educator Access
Case Author:
Daniel Goldberg
Faculty Lead:
David Eaves
Pages (incl. exhibits):
Funding Source:
Joseph B. Tompkins, Jr. Fund for Case Study and Research