Sunday, July 30, 2006

A new ID

Recently, there was a regulation stating it was required of the telecom companies to verify the details of their subscribers. There will be a cost for verification of contact details of each subscriber. Ideally government should be the agency which should enable this activity as a part of this business infrastructure. US has the Social Security Number, in India we have the Voter ID, Passport Number, PAN, MAPIN and God knows what not. Each time the same details get verified.

Is there a need?
There is a similar requirement for identification from one set of companies like banks, credit card companies. Other set of companies would give their right arm for getting the "verified" details of individual customers so that they can engage them better. The individual on the other hand, would like to have a convenience of having updated voter records, ration-cards, automatically updated subscription addresses, a single point control on all his/her details. This single source identity is, in a latent form, one of the biggest business infrastructure need that will emerge in coming years. More so as globalization actually permeates to working population making it mobile. Thus a need for a single ubiquitous universally accessible identification.

Can we do it?
Today we have almost all the technologies needed to put together such an id. We have computing power that can manage database of 6 billion people. We have electronic cards that can be interact with various kinds of readers magnetic, optical in variety of ways (bar code reading, credit card like swipe, access control like etc).One simple idea would be to use the telephone number as the id. But it will still not sort the problem of having verified details of the person being universally acceptable. Ther reverse can be a valid suggestion though. Individual should be able to use his id as his address, telephone number, blog address, website address, credit card number, etc. This number (sort of public key) can be used by anyone who wishes to contact the person provided person's private key details will decide what he wants to receive.

What needs to be done?
A co-ordinated effort at a global level is what is necessary for tackling this issue. Why global? Because even in US there are people who do not have a social security number. These people are currently out of the purview of the governmental system though they form an important part of the economic ecosystem. There can be global level effort to ensure that each telphone number (once appended by country and city code) is unique in the world. So there can definitely be an effort to have a unique identifier globally for each person!

How will government benefit?
Taxation will be become more effective and efficient. Benefits of subsidies can be more targetted and hence effective. Such mechanisms will be great tool for countering terrorism. Population migration, data on consumption, earnings, economic activity etc on which government spends millions of dollars will be easily accessible.

In sum
A universal identification clearly is the need of the century. Just like in pre-globalisation era each country needed an identity, in the post globalisation era each individual will need an identity. Can we hasten the process is the question?