India's Individual Identification Project Adds API

Aadhaar is India’s ambitious project to provide a unique identification number to every citizen. The project has been in operation for the last two years and has now seen a unique number being assigned to over 9.2 million citizens. The latest strategy adopted by the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) is to create the UIDAI Authentication API and provide an SDK for its various subsystems, thereby inviting developers to create an ecosystem around it.

The move to open up the API free of cost to developers was announced by Nandan Nilekani, who heads the UIDAI initiative. Nilekani, who previously led Infosys before taking the plunge with UIDAI, clearly believes that by opening up the citizen database, he can get developers and service providers to tap into its potential and provide citizen services in a more streamlined fashion.

"People who have received these numbers will look for the benefits of the number. This is where the app ecosystem will come in. Different partners can build apps and provide benefits across different sectors like healthcare and banking," Nilekani said.

The Aadhaar number is a 12-digit number that is going to be unique across more than 1 billion citizens of India. For more information on number scheme and the tradeoffs, read the numbering scheme guide. A key component of the UID system is the Authentication API. This API can be used by applications to validate the authenticity of the Aadhaar number. The API functions over SSL and uses XML as its input and output data format. The Authentication API can also take into consideration additional input like demographic and biometric information to validate and confirm if the Aadhaar number is indeed the one being verified. This is expected to significantly ease out citizen services if service providers like Banks, Government institutions start integrating it.

Biometrics forms a major part of the Aadhaar initiative. At various enrollment centers, biometric devices capture information from the applicant and Feed into the Aadhaar servers. On the other side, during Authentication requests, the biometric verification is heavy lifted by various Biometric subsystems that the Server talks to. Amazingly, both of these Integration points are available as a SDK in .Net and Java which can be utilized by service providers to build devices and applications that integrate into the ecosystem. The Biometrics subsystem is defined via the ABIS API and for the input, there is Biometrics Capture API.

These are still early days for the world’s largest identification project. What is interesting to note is that API is a key part of the strategy at an early stage of its life. It is not clear at this stage from the Aadhaar Portal, how individuals can get involved directly with the project to harness the API. Available data indicates that currently all consulting, development is being done via approved vendors. But that should change as more information will emerge on it.

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