Vendors for iris scan technology-based Aadhaar-enabled phones, tablets to be empaneled soon

In a move to facilitate the government’s e-governance promise and move towards paperless transactions, the ministry of electronics and information technology (IT) has initiated a process to empanel vendors for providing iris-based Aadhaar authentication devices such as smartphones and tablets.

The National Democratic Alliance government wants to provide financial services to each citizen through biometric identification through JAM (short for Jan Dhan, Aadhaar and Mobile) trinity, with Aadhaar being the pivot.

Aadhaar data captures an individual’s personal information along with finger and iris imprints for real-time authentication.

A request for proposal for such devices was floated on 5 November for interested original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) or their authorised business partners or dealers for empanelment as per minimum specifications prescribed.

The ministry has had two rounds of discussions—one in July and another one in August—to develop and prescribe a unified application programming interface (API) for ease of application development on smartphones and tablets by removing the operating system level constraints and enabling easier integration of biometric devices with Aadhaar-enabled applications, according to a government document reviewed by InfraCircle.

It will ensure uniformity in procurement cost and save time for procurement of these devices by the government departments and private firms. The type of device which is envisaged to be empanelled in the aforesaid contract should have a screen size between four and seven inches in case of a phone, and seven inches and above in case of tablets.

“The plan is to make every tablet and smartphone in India to be Aadhaar-enabled so that users can biometrically authenticate themselves. Also, the services, which currently require a physical presence and signatures, can be provided to people digitally in presence-less, paperless and cashless manner,” the document noted.

The devices should be able to perform iris-based authentication as per Aadhaar authentication framework.

The Unique Identification Authority of India, which issues Aadhaar numbers, has conducted proof of concept exercises involving iris technology and concluded that more than 99% of people could be reliably authenticated. With only fingerprint-based authentication, there is always a risk of failure because of deterioration of beneficiaries’ fingerprint quality, especially given the country’s large farm worker population.

Iris recognition is also the most accurate form of biometric identification currently available with extremely low false acceptance rates and false rejection rates, according to the ministry.

Queries emailed to the spokesperson of the IT ministry on 7 November remained unanswered.

Experts welcomed the move.

“The penetration of smartphone is increasing significantly. It is only a question of time before technology becomes cheap enough to be available to most people. To have a system that is able to leverage new technology for delivery of various government services, it is a good and timely move,” said Krishnan Dharmarajan, executive director at the Centre for Digital Financial Inclusion, a New-Delhi based think tank.

Around 1 billion citizens at present have Aadhaar numbers out of which 400 million have smartphones. More than 310 million people have linked their Aadhaar numbers to their bank accounts.