Skip down to main content

Biometrics or bust? India’s Identity Crisis

Date & Time:
13:00:00 - 14:00:00,
Tuesday 2 July, 2013


Indiaís mammoth biometric ID project, which has registered around 270 million people and is yet to be fully realized, is already the worldís largest such endeavor. It is marketed as a potential game-changer both domestically (where it is touted as a silver bullet to solve most problems) and internationally (where countries wait and watch this experiment before importing it into their own jurisdictions). Alongside all the hype about the scale of the scheme, its potential for transforming the delivery of services and the scope for private participation in traditionally state-controlled functions, there are fears of function creep, of subversion to create new types of fraud and corruption, of increased profiling and targeting, and of a citizenry becoming transparent to its government in an unprecedented way, all in the name of ambiguous benefits and the rhetoric of inclusion.

The government praises the ease and efficiency of centralized databases, the promise of technology (including the myth of biometrics uniquely and unambiguously identifying people in a foolproof way) and the construction of the identified self. However, there is growing awareness of the dangers of joined-up databases resulting in exclusion rather than inclusion, and persecution rather than democratization.

The scheme is technically voluntary, but with the provision of benefits, goods and services being increasingly linked to the scheme, it will soon become impossible to function in India without a biometric ID. If every facet of everyday life is linked to this single number, it renders all claims of voluntariness meaningless. The lack of information self-determination in a biometrically mediated universe has important ramifications for anonymity, free speech and the maintenance of an essential private sphere.

In this talk, Malavika will provide an overview of the scheme as well as the debate around privacy and autonomy that it has triggered, framed against the backdrop of a larger civil liberties crisis. She will also describe Indiaís efforts to craft new privacy and data protection legislation.

Data Dump to delete


  • Name: Malavika Jayaram
  • Affiliation:
  • Role:
  • URL:
  • Bio: A dual-qualified lawyer, Malavika spent eight years in London – with global law firm Allen & Overy in the Communications, Media & Technology group, and then with Citigroup. She relocated to India in 2006, and wears 3 hats as a practising lawyer, a Fellow at the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) and a Ph.D. scholar. She is a partner at Jayaram & Jayaram, Bangalore, focusing on technology-intensive transactions and has a special interest in new media and the arts. At CIS, Malavika advises on projects that critique and respond to legislative and policy changes in the privacy and internet governance domain. A graduate of the National Law School of India, she has an LL.M. from Northwestern University, Chicago and is working on a Ph.D. in law, with a special focus on Indiaís new biometric ID project. She is on the advisory board of the Indian Journal of Law & Technology and is the author of the India chapter for the Data Protection & Privacy volume in the Getting the Deal Done series. She has been selected as one of 10 Indian lawyers to be featured in ìThe International Who’s Who of Internet e-Commerce & Data Protection Lawyers 2012î directory. During 2012-2013, she was a Visiting Scholar at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, within the Center for Global Communication Studies. She is currently working on projects relating to privacy, identity and free speech in India.