Bill Gates, World Bank embrace Aadhaar technology amidst doubts in India

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is funding a World Bank project to adopt India’s Aadhaar technology in other countries as it is worth emulating, a PTI report quoting Microsoft founder Bill Gates said on Thursday.

The 62-year-old multi-billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist said the Aadhaar technology does not pose any privacy issue and that its main architect Nandan Nilekani is also consulting and helping the World Bank on the project.
While more than a billion people in India have enrolled in Aadhaar, the world's largest biometric ID system, Gates said the technology is worth emulating by other countries as the benefits are huge.
"Yes, countries should adopt that approach because the quality of governance has a lot to do with how quickly countries are able to grow their economy and empower their people," Gates said in response to a question.
"We have funded the World Bank to take this Aadhaar approach to other countries," he said, adding that several countries, including some from India's neighbourhood, have approached New Delhi for assistance in this matter.
"Aadhaar in itself doesn't pose any privacy issue because it's just a bio ID verification scheme," Gates, the head of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is reported to have said when asked about the concerns about privacy issues raised by certain quarters in India.
"The individual applications that use Aadhaar, you have to look and see what's been stored and who has access to that information. And so, application by application, you have to make sure that's well managed. In the case of the financial bank account I think it's handled very well," he said.
"(It uses) Aadhar to set up the accounts so that you can both get your cell phone and get your bank account," he added.
Aadhaar, he pointed out, was started before Prime Minister Narendra Modi came into office, adding that it was very much to his credit that he was willing to embrace it.
"I'm both good friend and an admirer of Nandan Nilekani and some of the initiatives of digitisation efforts that can help with education that can help with governance," he said.
In his lecture on 'Technology for Transformation' organised by NITI Aayog on November 2016, Gates had said that Aadhaar is something that had never been done by any government before, not even in a rich country.
Aadhaar is a 12-digit unique identity number for Indians, based on their biometric and demographic data. The data is collected by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), a statutory authority established in January 2009 by the Government of India.
UIDAI chief Ajay Bhushan Pandey, in a recent Supreme Court hearing also defended the technology saying, “It would take more than the age of the universe to break one encryption.”
But there have been flaws in the method of data collection and the employment of private agencies by UIDAI.
Reports, meanwhile, cited a recent report by digital security company Gemalto, which predicts that 3.6 billion people around the world will carry some form of national electronic ID card by 2021.
In January this year, 20 countries, including Russia, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia indicated their initial interests in adopting Aadhaar technology in their own territories.
The Indian government is also reported to be promoting the UID model overseas with the facilitation support of the World Bank.
The Chinese government is planning to introduce Social Credit System, which will rate the trustworthiness of its 1.3 billion citizens on the basis of daily online activities, social media posts, and tax payments.
While everything else seems to be at the place, it is still difficult to explain the recent data breaches and the privacy concerns associated with the technology.