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Indian government looks to blockchain for managing multiple digital IDs

Senior government officials in a panel attempted to justify leveraging blockchain tech for Indians to prove their identity online.

The Indian government is looking to develop a uniform blockchain platform on which it plans to host an identity management application that can be a single access point for different government-issued IDs such as the Unique Health ID and other IDs under the AgriStack, EduStack, and more.

This was stated by officials from NITI Aayog and the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC) at a panel organised by the Global Blockchain Business Council. CDAC Joint Director Lakshmi Eswari said that the digital ID system is one of the applications that will be hosted on the universal blockchain platform and the government will onboard other applications in the coming five years.

Eswari said that the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has created a roadmap for its adoption. For the time being, she added, the government will be using an existing blockchain solution and in the future, it will be looking for an indigenously developed platform.

These remarks come a few months after MeitY urged the Indian government to create a National Level Blockchain Framework (NLBF). The ministry’s draft National Strategy on Blockchain recommended using blockchain for public projects that have to do with digital identities, land records, health records, official documents, and more.

Currently hard for Indians to prove identity online: NITI Aayog

Justifying the blockchain-based ID management system, Saurabh Thukral, Senior Specialist at NITI Aayog, said that currently, it is hard for Indians to prove their identity in the online sphere. The government wants to have a mechanism where citizens can prove their identity like one does in the offline world by sharing physical ID cards. This is where blockchain comes in, he added.

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India is building multiple digital platforms —health stack, edu stack, agri stack. Unique IDs will be given for relevant stakeholders. For instance, under the health stack, unique IDs will be given for patients, doctors and hospital. In the edu stack, they will be giving IDs for teachers and students. There can be one person who can play all these roles — a patient can be a teacher. In the offline world we used to have physical cards, but to really integrate these systems and to ensure that identity is proven easily, I think blockchain can be a game changer. It can help in integrating these public digital platforms that India is developing — Saurabh Thukral, Senior Specialist at NITI Aayog

Why blockchain for ID?

Decentralisation: Thukral said that blockchain is decentralised and said, “If we have a digital (blockchain) wallet it will be stored on a digital device. At the same time, the challenge will be its adoption. We need to see how adoption of this can happen in India. But since it has long term benefits, we need to start somewhere.”

Different log-ins will be challenging: Thukral hinted that, besides the health stack, edu stack, agri stack, the government is also building other digital platforms. “So rather than having 10 different logins (for the different platforms), if we have one central identity through which we can access these different platforms, (sic)” he added.

If I am going for Digilocker (a cloud based platform for storage of the Indian government) for one particular platform, land records for a different thing — each one will work in silos and there cannot be interaction among them and there is no interoperability. Such systems may not be suitable for the country in the long run —CDAC Joint Director Lakshmi Eswari

Challenges in existing systems like lack of evidence of tampering: Eswari said that although digital signatures are available for systems (like DigiLocker), there are challenges when it comes to evidence of tampering and verifiability aspects in the existing systems. Batting for blockchain, Eswari said that the Indian government’s “requirement is tamper evidence, tamper-proof storage, (sic) need to have auditability and verification features”.

Why not use Aadhaar as a single login?

Thukral was asked by the moderator if one could use Aadhaar as a login for accessing all the other different IDs. The NITI Aayog official said no and elaborated that —

Aadhaar is not mandatory: Thukral said that the government allows citizens to use other IDs if they do not want to use Aadhaar.

Aadhar needs biometric verification, Blockchain doesn’t: “In the online world, if I am doing my validation using Aadhaar, it needs to be a biometric validation. For that to happen we need a hardware device, finger print device. If we look at blockchain, we do not need those hardware devices to prove my identity — because we will be using a very secure blockchain network with the use of public and private keys,” Thukral said.

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

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