Adhaar Project for Social Security or Privacy Infringement

What is Aadhar Project for Social Security Benefits?

The Unique Identification project (also known as the Aadhar project) implemented in India completed the demographic and biometric data collection of more than 500 million people earlier this week. It is also the largest in the world today, a biometrics project.


The Aadhar plan has been implemented for many years and has been accompanied by criticism from privacy and security protection groups. This project's progress this week has made the outside world full of concerns about the methods of capturing, storing and managing data, and the participation of the American company MongoDB.


MongoDB is a NoSQL database-based startup that last year received an investment from In-Q-Tel, which is inextricably linked to the CIA. In-Q-Tel is an independent non-profit venture capital organization supported by the CIA and other US intelligence agencies.


Aadhaar Data Leakage

In the past few days, multiple Indian media have quoted their own political parties and activists as questioning whether sensitive data in the Aadhar project has been leaked. This project is currently sponsored by Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani ) leadership. Some reports also linked this controversy to MongoDB.


PRISM Plan of US National Security Agency (NSA)

Governments around the world have raised concerns about the "Prism" plan implemented by the US National Security Agency (NSA). Anything that is incompatible with US government intelligence agencies is enough to cause uproar.

In addition, as India will hold general elections next year, political-related arguments have reached an unprecedented level in history.


The timing of the above accusations may not be worse, at least for the ambitious identification project Aadhar:

A bill related to the project is currently being approved by the Indian Parliament. Once passed, it will become a complete Constitutional institutions.

A journalist visited the Aadhar office in Bangalore, India sometime ago. According to an official interviewed by me, the truth of the whole thing also surfaced:

Although some people accused the contract of including clauses for sharing data with MongoDB.

In fact Aadhar only used MongoDB's open source code does not involve sensitive data. This trip to Bangalore also gave journalist the opportunity to learn about the operating mechanism of the larger biometric database on the planet and how to deal with security and privacy concerns.


In addition, the Unique Identification Authority of India (hereinafter referred to as UIDAI) also refuted the Aadhar project's allegation of sharing Indian citizen data with US intelligence agencies.

What does Aadhar mean for India?

If you want to understand the reasons for the implementation of the Aadhar plan and what this project means for a country like India, let’s first understand the relevant background.

More than 500 million people in India do not have an official identification (ID), which has caused a series of problems, such as their inability to obtain government assistance, open bank accounts, apply for loans, obtain driver's licenses, and so on.

The Aadhar project is currently entering the data of Indian citizens at a rate of 1 million people per day. It is expected that approximately 1.2 billion people will be entered by the end of next year, thus becoming the largest biometric database on Earth.


The greater advantage of having a 12-digit Aadhar number is that the government can link bank accounts to the poor and directly transfer cash proceeds and other subsidies to their bank accounts. Currently, India has nearly 40 million bank accounts connected to Aadhar data.


Social Security Adhaar

Statistics from the market research agency CLSA show that the Indian government has specially arranged subsidies and other benefits amounting to US $ 250 billion for its poor people, of which more than 40% will be embezzled by relevant personnel in the next few years.

The Aadhar project will eliminate the intermediate link in the process of subsidizing the poor, and will directly hit cash into the bank accounts of people who need government subsidies, thereby curbing corruption.


However, some think tanks and activists have always expressed concerns about the privacy issues of the Aadhar project and even questioned the effectiveness of the entire project, including the Centre for Internet & Society in Bangalore.

Enter the world's largest biometric database

Journalists have tried many times to meet with Aadhar project officials to understand the project’s security issues, progress, and their reactions to MongoDB data sharing disputes.


On Friday, they finally agreed to meet a journalist at the Aadhar project headquarters in the southern suburbs of Bangalore. Intel and Cisco India headquarters are also located in the area.

From the outside, the Aadhar Technology Center, which stores the data of all citizens in India (currently totaling 5PB), does not look like a government building at all, but it misleads people into thinking that it is a nearby Intel or Cisco office building.

In the Aadhar project headquarters, when the journalist walked into a room with more than a dozen TV screens in a central location, he saw several young engineers in their early twenties sitting in excitement. They were continually tapping on the computer keyboard numbers or letters, the activity of querying data packets that store information, the entire scene looked like an advanced control center.


These data packets (each with a capacity of about 5MB) are displayed on the TV screen. This process starts from their loading in 30,000 entry centers across India and undergoes at least three verifications of information.

The verification process includes double verification of each personal file to ensure that the same person will not have more than two Aadhar numbers.


Therefore, every time a new personal file is created, a "de-duplication" check must be performed on all existing files. This number has now exceeded 500 million.


Former Intel engineer Srikanth Nadhamuni (Srikanth Nadhamuni) helped develop the Aadhar technology platform in September 2010 and he is currently the head of Khosla Lab in Bangalore.

Nadhamny told me that these data packets have been processed through 2048-bit encrypted storage. Once someone tries to access the data without authorization, they can all destroy themselves.

How to deal with MongoDB dispute

Why did Aadhar cooperate with MongoDB from the beginning? Will this cooperation continue? Sudhir Narayana, assistant director general of the Aadhar Technology Center, told me that MongoDB is just one of the many products initially selected by the Aadhar project to handle database searches.

Others include MySQL, Hadoop and HBase. Unlike MySQL, which can only store demographic data, MongoDB can also store image data.


However, after realizing that MongoDB could not process millions of data packets, Aadhar gradually transferred most of the related database work to the MySQL platform. At present, they are already using "database sharding" (database sharing) technology:

Store data packets on different machines to ensure that the system will not suddenly crash when the amount of data increases.


This approach helped the Aadhar project reduce its dependence on MongoDB, while switching to the MySQL platform to store most of the data. Ashok Dalwai, deputy director general of Aadhar Technology Center, told me that MongoDB cannot access any biometric data.

"We believe that the use of open source technology can avoid the situation of completely relying on a certain manufacturer, but this does not mean that we will make a slight compromise in security," Darvay said.


After journalists got in touch with MongoDB, the company spokesperson gave this statement link to let us understand its relationship with In-Q-Tel.


More importantly, Indian UIDAI started using the company ’s open source software long before MongoDB received funding from In-Q-Tel. As Crunchbase data shows, MongoDB received a total of $ 7.7 million in venture capital from three companies including Red Hat, Intel Ventures, and In-Q-Tel in 2012.

What is the future prospect of the Aadhar project?

The officials said that despite the controversy surrounding this project, Aadhar is still moving towards the goal of entering data for more than 1.2 billion Indian citizens in 2014. This effort will eventually create a database of 15PB.



Currently, the Aadhar project is entering personal identification information at a rate of 1 million people per day. Narayana told me that he believes that the entry speed will increase to about 2 million people per day starting next year, thus achieving the goal of entering the remaining 700 million people into the database more quickly.

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