The Government in Delhi recently created the Unique Identification Authority, a new state department charged with the task of assigning every living Indian an exclusive number. It will also be responsible for gathering and electronically storing their personal details, at a predicted cost of at least £3 billion.
It may also be put to more controversial ends, such as the identification of illegal immigrants and tackling terrorism. A computer chip in each card will contain personal data and proof of identity, such as fingerprint or iris scans. Criminal records and credit histories may also be included.
Mr Nilekani, who left Infosys, the outsourcing giant that he co-founded, to take up his new job, wants the cards to be linked to a “ubiquitous online database” accessible from anywhere.
Keeping tabs around the world
• Compulsory national identity cards are used in about 100 countries including Germany, France, Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain
• German police can detain people who are not carrying their ID card for up to 24 hours
• The Bush Administration resisted calls for an identity card in the US after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001
• Plastic cards are favoured over paper documents because they are harder to forge
• Most identity cards contain the name, sex, date of birth and a unique number for the holder
• South Korean, Brazilian, Italian and Malaysian ID cards contain fingerprints. Cards in some countries contain information on any distinguishing marks of the holder
• In the European Union some cards can be used instead of a passport for European travel