Examining the World's Largest Digital ID Program

Sponsor: Omidyar Network
Location: India
Sector: Digital identity and governance
Dates of service: 2015 – 2018
IDinsight service: Landscape and evidence review, data-analytics
IDinsight contacts: Ronald Abraham

IDinsight aims to catalyze data-informed discourse and decision-making in the Indian government’s digital identity (Aadhaar) ecosystem through the State of Aadhaar project. We conducted a landscape review, built an interactive website with a comprehensive data portal, and conducted policy-targeted research on Aadhaar, the world’s largest digital identity programme.

Aadhaar provides identification to more than 1.2 billion Indian residents. Its scale, ability to uniquely identify individuals and digital interface make it a compelling identification platform. These same features also raise questions about privacy, data security, and exclusion. The current debate on Aadhaar is binary in nature: either Aadhaar should be jettisoned or scaled aggressively. However, the evidence we found on the ground supported a more nuanced approach.

IDinsight initially spoke with a diverse range of leaders in government, the private sector, civil society, academia, and think tanks. Stakeholders agreed on the need for more research and data and provided concrete suggestions on particularly salient evidence gaps.

Interviewees consistently remarked on the need for a comprehensive, empirical, and structured review of the Aadhaar landscape — its architecture, governance, and various uses — to promote a more fact-based understanding of the Aadhaar ecosystem. Such an analysis could identify areas where more evidence is needed to understand whether and how Aadhaar can advance the welfare of India’s residents.

IDinsight designed and conducted a landscape review of Aadhaar, the State of Aadhaar Report 2016-17which presents an objective and comprehensive overview of the expansive Aadhaar landscape. The report covers Aadhaar’s technological and operational architecture, its legal and governance framework, and its applications in financial inclusion, social protection, and emerging uses in other sectors, such as health, education, and telecommunications.

The second edition of the State of Aadhaar Report 2017-18 took this initiative a step forward by providing new data insights to policymakers on the issue. Based on the largest independent survey conducted on Aadhaar to date, the report shed light on rural users’ interactions and experiences with Aadhaar across three states: Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, and West Bengal. In a space increasingly polarised on the issue, the report’s findings supported a more nuanced approach to the existing policy discourse and decision making.

IDinsight also maintains a website which serves as a tool for practitioners and researchers interested in digital identity. The website provides up-to-date information on Aadhaar, including data visualisations, databases on use-cases and literature, and libraries of datasets and official documents related to Aadhaar.

Further, we aim to publish targeted research papers on various aspects of Aadhaar. These papers further our goal of increasing data-informed and evidence-based discourse within the Aadhaar ecosystem.

The engagement is ongoing and continued stakeholder engagement with policymakers based on new evidence is expected to inform state and central government actions on how to use Aadhaar to improve development efforts. Engagement with researchers may also directly lead to new research efforts.



Two-Part Privacy Op-Ed:

Media Coverage:

Click here to go to the State of Aadhaar website and click here to download a copy of the State of Aadhaar Report 2016-17, and click here to download a copy of the State of Aadhaar Report 2017-18.

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