Aadhar project in India: 2018 facts and trends

​​​​​​​​​​​Aadhaar last updated 01 July 2018

Aadhaar– the word on everyone's lips in India

Launched by the Indian authorities nearly a decade ago, Aadhaar is now established as the world's largest biometric identification program.

However, in terms of its impact in both the public and private sectors, 2017 represented something of a landmark year. A raft of new initiatives was announced, making headlines right across the sub-continent.

Moreover, in 2018, the momentum behind this ground-breaking scheme is only likely to gather pace.

The impact and implications of these recent changes to Aadhaar are the main focus of this web dossier.

But first, let's have a quick review of how and when the program came about…

Where the Aadhaar project all began

Aadhaar was first unveiled back in 2009, and the basic concept is simple.

Biographic and biometric data is captured from all Indian residents aged over 18. This means name, date of birth, gender, address, a photograph, and ten fingerprint and two iris scans.

Each resident is then issued with their own, unique 12-digit Aadhaar number. It's a residential and not a citizenship card and not compulsory so far.

The unique number and biographic information are printed on a paper document known as the Aadhaar card.

e-Aadhaar (or e Aadhaar) is the electronic version of the Aadhaar card downloaded from the UIDAI website. And there is no Aadhaar smart card a such.

What is Aadhaar uid number then? 

It's a single, universal, digital identity number that any registered entity can use to "authenticate" an Indian resident.

Anyone who has lived in India for 182 days can enrol in Aadhar for proof of identity.

The ID is the number, not the card

But the ID is not the card, it's the number and it's purely digital and hence verifiable online.

You're there.

In India, it's about you being the identity not the card.

Responsibility for managing the entire process falls to the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), working under the auspices of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.

1.2 billion people have an Aadhaar number

On paper, it all seems fairly straightforward.

But the numbers involved are staggering.

UIAI web site

Over 1,2B people registered according to UIAI web site, end of February 2018. Aadhaar download can be obtained from the online services.

Today, some 1.2 billion people have an Aadhaar number, accounting for more than 99% of India's total adult population. That's a seriously impressive achievement in a country where many citizens still live in remote rural locations.

There's more.

Blue Aadhaar for Kids under 5​​​

With the ever growing importance of Aadhaar the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) just launched in February 2018 a new blue colored Aadhaar card or 'Baal Aadhaar' card for newborns and children below 5.
According to UIDAI, the child’s birth certificate and the Aadhaar card number of one of the parents are required for enrollment. The card does not include biometrics information. 

Initial goals

Initially, Aadhaar was designed primarily to aid the efficient management of public subsidies and unemployment benefit schemes. And there's little doubt that it quickly proved successful in enhancing accessibility to vital services, strengthening protection against fraud, and reducing the cost of service delivery.

So far, so good.

However, by 2017 Indian authorities clearly recognized that there was much more that could be done with Aadhaar.

What Aadhaar ​changed in 2017

During the course of last year, the Indian government made a determined effort to extend the use cases – and effectiveness – of the Aadhaar scheme.

Essentially, this initiative sought to secure a better return on the investment that the country had made in the biometric enrolment of over one billion people.

By providing these citizens with the means to provide irrefutable proof of their identity with biometric authentication, Aadhaar offered vast potential to extend social inclusion, whilst simultaneously strengthening the country's defenses against modern threats such as:

  • corruption,
  • cyber-crime
  • and identity theft.

There's more.

Following the lead of the government, an increasing number of private enterprises also started to leverage the scheme, to build convenience and confidence within their own identification, authentication and registration processes.

Virtual ID and facial biometrics for Aadhaar

Before introducing a flurry of new Aadhaar-based applications, the Indian authorities took measures to further improve the security of the scheme.

Specifically, this included the use of facial recognition and so-called Virtual ID. This 16-digit  number is derived from the 12-digit Aadhaar number. It is designed to allow users to protect the integrity of their original Aadhaar number by deploying a virtual equivalent, in the form of a secure digital 'token'.

Facial biometrics, meanwhile, is an add-on to the biometric data which is required of all residents applying for an Aadhaar number. Furthermore, this supplementary information will also be captured from existing users, as and when they update their accounts. UIDAI announced that facial authentication will be launched by July 1, 2018. It will be available as an add-on service in fusion mode along with one more authentication factor like fingerprint, Iris or OTP.​

With these extra building blocks in place, attention turned to an array of services where the government believed Aadhaar could help meet wider strategic objectives.

2017-2018 nationwide changes initiated by Aadhaar

Aadhaar brings a digital revolution in the life of every Indian. It brings trust and is the enabler of huge transformation.

For 2017-2018, we spotted 7 major domains where the program could initiate major changes.

  1. Driving licenses
  2. Bank and savings accounts, PANs and mobile phones
  3. Social security and welfare schemes    
  4. Payment services
  5. Flights and trains
  6. Private sector apps
  7. The word of the year is Aadhaar

Let's dig in.

#1 Driving licenses

Aadhaar Indian driving license

The Indian driving license represented just one such initiative. It's particularly significant because road safety – or the lack of it – is a huge issue for the country. In 2016 alone, over 150,000 deaths in India were attributed to road traffic accidents – that's more than 400 for every single day of the year.

Of course, the causes of road traffic accidents are manifold. But last year, the government began the process of cracking down on the specific problem of drivers using fake licenses.

This was done by taking steps to link genuine licenses to the holder's Aadhaar number.

Combined with new software to check the validity of driving credentials in real-time, this approach aims to ultimately rid the country's roads of the menace of unqualified drivers.

A new nationwide database is expected to be effective from October 2018.

#2 Bank and savings accounts, PANs and mobile phones

In 2017 the government also announced that, in future, Indian citizens would need to link Aadhaar to PAN (Permanent Account Numbers – issued by the Central Board of Direct Taxes), bank accounts. 

The same obligation applies to a diverse range of savings and investment schemes.

Residents would also need to link Aadhaar with mobile number (all pre- and post-paid mobile accounts). The Supreme court however made it clear in May 2018 that Aadhaar is not mandatory for getting SIM cards until it takes a final view. 

In June, The authorities announced that PAN-Aadhaar linking deadline has been extended till March 2019.
Until then, telecom companies have to accept alternative documents such as driving licence, passport and voter ID card for the moment.

​In all cases, the primary target is fraud.

Link Aadhaar to PAN (Permanent Account Numbers – issued by the Central Board of Direct Taxes)

Given that the Aadhaar number is inextricably linked to the holder's unique biometric data, marrying it to key financial accounts provides a powerful means of meeting KYC (Know Your Customer) obligations, as well as tackling modern menaces such as money laundering and tax evasion.

#3 Social security and welfare schemes     

Despite dramatic economic growth over recent years, poverty and financial exclusion remain major challenges for the Indian government.

Social security and welfare programs have a key part to play in addressing them.

To help ensure that these important benefits reach their intended recipients, and to protect them from corruption and abuse, 2017 also saw a decision to link numerous such schemes to Aadhaar numbers.

These cover everything from educational scholarships and LPG cylinder subscriptions to subsidised meal programs and the targeted Public Distribution System (PDS).

Aadhaar Enabled Payment System (AEPS)
#4 Payment services

Continuing the theme of financial inclusion, it was also announced last year that Aadhaar would provide the platform for a new payment service: the Aadhaar Enabled Payment System (AEPS). This is designed to allow members to make secure cashless transactions, by providing their Aadhaar number and/or biometric authentication.

#5 Aadhaar for flights and trains

Aadhaar-enabled entry to airports is also being promoted. By linking the Aadhaar database to an airport's system, via a fingerprint scan for check-in and security verification, for example, border protection can be improved. Furthermore, with the subsequent reduction in queues, the passenger experience is enhanced. For those looking to travel overseas, it's already compulsory to provide an Aadhaar number for passport applications.

In addition, the legendary Indian railway network is encouraging the use of biometric proof of identity; passengers that provide their Aadhaar number can access concessions in the event of problems during their journey. 

#6 Now the private sector has started to sign up too

The need for seamless and secure identification and authentication is clearly not confined to the public sector. Reflecting this, an increasing number of enterprises in India are following the lead of the government in leveraging both the scale and integrity of the Aadhaar scheme.

Here are just a couple of examples:

A good call by Skype
In recent months, Skype has offered callers the option of using Aadhaar to request identity verification from other participants. This is done by simply entering the unique 12-digit number and then authenticating with a One Time Password (OTP), sent via SMS. Once validated, callers have the option of sharing further Aadhaar-based information. It's a process that aims to improve the level of trust and confidence in Skype calls, and minimize the potential for fraud. Skype insists it will not store any of the Aadhaar information shared by users.

Aadhaar-based information  

Facebook is a friend too
Another online technology giant, Facebook, is also exploring the potential for using Aadhaar as a means of authentication.

In late 2017, it was reported that the owner of the world's biggest social media community was giving some users the option of utilizing their Aadhaar identity to open an account. Whilst the company has played down the significance of linking accounts to national government IDs, it is a clear indication of the future direction of travel for many private enterprises that rely on robust identity and authentication.

​ #7 Aadhaar – the word of the year

 'Aadhaar' could hardly be a more appropriate word. In English, the modern Hindi term translates to 'base' or 'foundation'.

Essentially, that's a near-perfect description of the role that the scheme is likely to play in the years ahead - enabling and protecting a growing number of services and applications across both the public and private sectors.

And no surprise that in 2017 'aadhaar' was officially declared the Oxford Dictionaries' Hindi Word of the Year.

In cultural terms, a tipping point has been reached.

2018: the clock is ticking

In terms of the impact on over one billion members, 2018 is likely to be even more profound.

Partly that's down to the fact that, at the time of writing, the deadlines for many of these bold new initiatives have still to be reached.

In many cases, that's because the government has pushed them further down the road.

 Aadhaar Act  

A step too far?

Of course, for some citizens, the implications of Aadhaar go deeper still. In the world's biggest democracy, it is perhaps inevitable – indeed healthy - that concerns have been raised.

For some citizens, the rapid expansion of Aadhaar is seen as a threat to the privacy and security of unique biometric and personal information.

A recent landmark ruling by India's Supreme Court (24 August 2017 - Puttaswamy judgment), which established privacy as a fundamental right, may go some way to calming down such fears. 

So should recent additional measures to help protect Aadhaar-related data in the digital domain – read on for more details.

Biometric enrolment solutions 

So where does Gemalto fit into this story?

Gemalto is proud to bring its contribution in the project in two domains.

Biometric enrolment solutions

The roots of Gemalto's involvement in the Aadhaar project stretch right back to the very beginning. In the search for biometric enrolment solutions capable of capturing fingerprint and iris scans from over one billion people, the Indian authorities turned in particular to 3M Cogent– now a Gemalto company.

Tools supplied included the CS 500e lightweight ten-print scanner.

As well as being certified by the UIDAI, this proven fingerprint scanner is compliant with NIST and FBI standards. In addition, the Aadhaar program utilizes the CIS 202 Dual Iris Capture Scanner.

As the name suggests, this is capable of simultaneously capturing dual irises. It is unaffected by ambient lighting, and other key features include liveness detection.

For authentication, Gemalto is supplying its highly portable CSD200​i. It is a single-digit (one finger) optical fingerprint scanner with a durable compact casing. Powered by USB 2.0, the connection allows for easy integration with applications. It eliminates excess cables and the need for an image capture board. This fingerprint scanner is ideal for network biometric authentication.​

Securing Aadhaar data in the digital age

Another 2017 initiative by the UIDAI is set to promote even wider use of Gemalto technology within the Aadhaar scheme.

Specifically, because the Unique Identification Numbers (UIDs) issued by  the UIDAI contain Personally Identifiable Information (PII), the authority mandated that the private cryptographic keys used to digitally sign and authenticate UIDs must be stored on a Hardware Security Module (HSM).

Furthermore, to prevent data falling into the wrong hands, their use was also made subject to strict conditions. This included the use of 'tokenization' – the process of replacing data with a digital token that can be safely stored, processed and transmitted without compromising the original information.

Gemalto is recognized as a world leader in this field, and the company's SafeNet Tokenization and Luna HSM technologies both meet the UIDAI's exacting mandates and were selected.

As a result, stakeholders looking to digitalize their identity verification and authentication processes can rely on comprehensive, fully integrated solutions.

Overral, 2017-2018 changes in authentication, registered devices, virtual identity number, tokenization, limited eKYC and face-matching are seriously tackling the security and privacy concerns.​

More on security: read why Aadhaar is the most trusted identity in the country.

To know more about data privacy read our web report on biometric data protection

Why Aadhaar has no parallel

In the past, India has provided a vivid illustration of the profound challenges that can face citizens who struggle with the task of simply proving that they are who they claim to be. But over recent years, Aadhaar has embraced hundreds of millions of the country's poorest citizens, enabling more effective and efficient delivery of vital support and services.

The figures speak for themselves:

  • 200 million of India's poor now have bank accounts, home to $4.8 billion in combined savings.
  • 93 million have health insurance.
  • An estimated $2 billion has been saved on the mishandling of subsidies for cooking gas alone.
  • According to Ram Vilas Paswan,Union Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, in  a May 2018 interview  linking ration cards with Aadhaar number has helped the government unearth 26 millions fake (duplicated) ration cards across the country.


The time needed for this kind of project has to be taken into account. One must not under-estimate the scale of political, cultural and legal changes involved.

The Aadhaar Act 2016 for example is providing stronger legal backing to the Aadhaar unique identification number project and opening the door to a large scope of applications.

Building on these foundations, Aadhaar is now set to further transform many aspects of everyday life - ensuring that vital benefits reach their rightful recipients, whilst reducing the so-called leakage that undermines the hard work of authorities and citizens alike.

Aadhaar card download 

What's more, as it migrates from public to private sector, Aadhaar is likely to provide an equally dynamic springboard for a host of different enterprises, helping to power and protect economic growth in the years ahead.