Given the poor reputation of mobile operators, I would never ever have opted for buying the Reliance JIO phone. It was only after my daughter insisted that I should buy the phone, which was available for just Rs4,000, that I was interested. She also told me that she was happy with her JIO phone and 4G connection.
The only document you need for JIO’s 4G connection is your Aadhaar number. When my husband tried to register for the services through his valid Aadhaar number, the devices simply failed to recognise his fingerprints registered at the time of obtaining the unique ID number. While we all were shocked to see this happen, an executive from JIO casually stated that this happens with many people and suggested my husband to re-submit his biometrics to the UIDAI. Till he does it, his Aadhaar number would remain invalid.
As it is, the Aadhaar number has been forcefully imposed on citizens violating Supreme Court order and now, the government seems totally unaccountable to such serious errors. Well, we will have to go through the round of re-submitting biometrics all over again but I just wanted to check whether my husband’s was a freak case. A friend said fingerprints go awry as you grow older.
Shailesh Gandhi, former Central Information Commissioner, too faced similar issues, a few months back. While completing his know-your-customer (KYC) procedure at HDFC bank, the system refused to validate his Aadhaar through thumbprints. After the incident, he wrote, “I could do my KYC with other documents, but the horror of this hit me. If the system cannot recognise people from its database with the thumb impression, what would happen to those whose foodgrains, pension or employment guarantee scheme (EGS) wages depend on it?” (Read: When Aadhaar was about to make me ‘Niradhaar’ )
Testing by the International Biometric Group (IBG) shows that performance can vary drastically within technologies — some fingerprint solutions, for example, had next to no errors during testing, while others rejected nearly 1/3rd of enrolled users. “Most interestingly, the testing shows that over time, many biometric systems are prone to incorrectly rejecting a substantial percentage of users. Verifying a user immediately after enrolment is not highly challenging to biometric systems. However, after six weeks, testing shows that some systems’ error rates increase ten-fold,” said the research, consulting and integration firm, which works closely with the biometric industry. The report is titled “Real-World Performance Testing”. (Read: Aadhaar de-duplication myth busted. Any answers, Mr Nilekani? )
Moneylife too has been highlighting the issue of ageing of biometrics like fingerprint, iris and voice over time. A paper from Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) titled ‘Role of Biometric Technology in Aadhaar Authentication’ based on studies carried out by UIDAI from January 2011 to January 2012 on Aadhaar biometric authentication reveals that the studies ‘focused on fingerprint biometric and its impact on authentication accuracy’ in the Indian context.
Such absolute faith in biometric technology is based on a misplaced assumption that are parts of human body that does not age, wither and decay with the passage of time. Basic research on whether or not unique biological characteristics of human beings is reliable under all circumstances of life is largely conspicuous by its absence in India and even elsewhere.
Another study titled “Experimental Evidence of a Template Aging Effect in Iris Biometrics” supported by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Biometrics Task Force and the Technical Support Working Group through Army contract has demolished the widely accepted fact that iris biometric systems are not subject to a template aging effect. The study provides evidence of a template aging effect. A “template aging effect” is defined as an increase in the false reject rate with increased elapsed time between the enrolment image and the verification image. The study infers, “We find that a template aging effect does exist. We also consider controlling for factors such as difference in pupil dilation between compared images and the presence of contact lenses, and how these affect template aging, and we use two different algorithms to test our data.” (Read: Aadhaar: Is the biometric data of human body immortal and ageless? )
I also checked if there are similar complaints about Aadhaar fingerprints not matching at the Complaint Board of National Consumer Complaint Forum website. The nature of complaints depict that not only older persons but even youngsters are facing a similar problem. In fact, it cuts across all ages and is causing agony to so many. Here are a few examples (I have reproduced them as it is, without editing it):
• August 21, 2016: Jayanthi, student: Plsz don’t link e-pass to aadhaar card. Many students fingerprints are showing error while taking because of it scholarships are stopping. That affect the studies to get MBA, degree scholarships.
• June 20, 2016: Sai Nirup, student: My fingerprints are not recognising at my college when they are taking for linking to EPASS for fee reimbursement. I completed my final year of B Tech but the certificates are not issued due to lack of aadhaar authentication. My latest fingerprints are updated twice recently still no effect in the college. Please help me through any other procedure 3rd and 4th year scholarship has been stopped
May 27, 2016: Vinod, student: My fingerprints are not recognizing at my college while linking my Aadhaar to E-PASS for fee reimbursement. So please help in solving this problem and please give solution for my problem please and my E-mail ID
April 9, 2016: RC Sharma: My aadhar card is not matching with my eyes and thumb impressions. As such I am not able to receive my pension. I am 66 years old. Kindly help me out of this problem. My aadhar card no is 4**********2.
I could not see any of these complaints being addressed on the website of the National Consumer Complaint Forum ( There are just a series of complaints from hapless citizens, giving you the impression that, “who’s bothered anyway?’’
I even checked if the official website has anything to tell the hapless citizen if his fingerprints do not match. No, nothing, not even in frequently asked questions (FAQs).
Then I searched and found a video clip of Nandan Nilekani, the former chief of UIDAI, who give vague answers when asked about fingerprints not matching with the biometrics database of Aadhaar. Roughly transcribed, the main point of he what he says is, “If people have, you know, fingers are worn, age… there could be a, it may not go through or whatever. So, iris authentication expands the coverage. So with iris and fingerprint, everyone will be able to authenticate…’’
But then why did the those who insisting on using Aadhaar everywhere are not using iris scans? Unfortunately, there is no answer forthcoming. One of the reasons could be higher costs of installing, calibrating and using iris scanner for Aadhaar verification or authentication. In addition, nobody is willing to spend money on this, including UIDAI, the Indian government, which are enforcing Aadhaar for everything or even the private players.
I stumbled upon a report from a Committee on UIDAI’s Design Standards for Biometrics Application in India. The Committee too had raised doubts about efficacy of fingerprints as biometrics when used for a large population like India. It has also stressed that operators who conduct the biometrics must do it meticulously. Here are the excerpts:
“After reviewing international standards and current national recommendations, the Committee concluded that the ISO 19794 series of biometrics standards for fingerprints, face and iris set by the International Standards Organization are the most suitable. These standards are widely accepted, and best embody previous experiences of the US and Europe with biometrics…The Committee notes that face is the most commonly captured biometric, and frequently used in manual checking. However, on standalone basis, automatic face recognition does not provide a high level of accuracy, and can only be used to supplement a primary biometric modality. Fingerprinting, the oldest biometric technology, has the largest market share of all biometrics modalities globally. The fingerprint industry also has a variety of suppliers and a base of experienced professionals necessary to implement the unique identity management solution at the scale that India requires.”
“Based on these factors, the Committee recognises that fingerprints-based biometric system shall be at the core of the UIDAI’s de-duplication efforts. The Committee however, is also conscious of the fact that de-duplication of the magnitude required by the UIDAI has never been implemented in the world…Two factors, however, raise uncertainty about the accuracy that can be achieved through fingerprints. First, retaining efficacy while scaling the database size from 50 million to a billion has not been adequately analysed. Second, fingerprint quality, the most important variable for determining de-duplication accuracy, has not been studied in depth in the Indian context.”
“The Committee therefore held extensive meetings and discussions with international experts and technology suppliers. A technical sub-group was also formed to collect Indian fingerprints and analyse quality. Over 2,50,000 fingerprint images from 25,000 persons were sourced from districts of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa. Nearly all the images were from rural regions, and were collected by different agencies using different capture devices, and through different operational processes. The analysis reported in Section 12.4 and the associated Annexure show that the UIDAI could obtain fingerprint quality as good as seen in developed countries, provided that proper operational procedures are followed and good quality devices are used. On the other hand, there is UID Biometrics Design Standards 5 of 57 data to suggest that quality and therefore the accuracy drops precipitously if attention is not given to operational processes…”
Recommendations by the Committee: 
  • In order to capture moderately good fingerprint images, a few simple but critical techniques during enrolment should be consistently followed, failing which material reduction in accuracy would occur. Manual and automated monitoring should be utilized to ensure consistent use of good enrolment practices.
  • In view of the above, the Committee feels that the UIDAI should collect photograph and ten fingerprints as per ISO standards described in Sections 8, 9 and 10.
  • Biometrics data are national assets and must be preserved in their original quality. In other words, quality must not be compromised through lousy image compression during storage or transmission.
  • While 10 finger biometric and photographs can ensure de-duplication accuracy higher than 95% depending upon quality of data collection, there may be a need to improve the accuracy and also create higher confidence level in the de-duplication process.
  • A scheme must be designed to reward enrolling agencies for the capture of good quality images. Specific best practices indicated in Section 12 should be observed in order to ensure interoperability, vendor independence, conformance to standards and improved performance.
However, the tests that the Committee talks about were not full proof. As Moneylife has pointed out, both the union government and UIDAI were in such a hurry that they neglected the basic principle of pilot testing and size of sample. For over 1.2 billion UID numbers, they have used data from just 20,000 people, in pairs, as the sample and on the basis of the results, gone ahead with the UID number through the ‘Aadhaar’ project. (Read: How UIDAI goofed up pilot test results to press forward with UID scheme )
Notwithstanding similar unforeseen consequences the successive Indian government’s faith in biometric remains unshaken. Is there a biological material in the human body that constitutes biometric data, which is immortal, ageless and permanent?  Besides working conditions, humidity, temperature and lighting conditions also impact the quality of biological material used for generating biometric data. Aadhaar is based on the unscientific and questionable assumption that there are parts of human body likes fingerprint, iris, voice etc” that does not age, wither and decay with the passage of time.
Pray, will the government hold our hands for such a grievous problem through information dissemination on its relevant websites? After all, this is issue of very large public interest since the government is hell-bound to insist on Aadhaar everywhere by ignoring the order from the Supreme Court for not making it mandatory and not depriving social benefits due to lack of the UID number.