Comparison with SSN

Aadhaar captures biometrics. The Social Security Number does not.

Aadhaar collects biometrics, which include the scan of all fingerprints, face and the iris of both eyes. Aadhaar Act’s section 2(g) states that “other biological attributes” may be collected in the future, a provision that was intensely debated in Parliament.

In contrast, when the Social Security Number was created in the 1930s, the US government decided not to collect fingerprints. “The use of fingerprints was associated in the public mind with criminal activity, making this approach undesirable,” notes the Social Security Administration website. The Social Security Number is thus printed on a small paper card and does not carry even a photograph.

In recent years too, the Social Security Administration has restrained from collecting biometrics of residents. In 2007, when the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act asked the SSA to improve the security of Social Security Number cards, the SSA considered adding the holder’s photograph or biometrics to the card but eventually decided against it.

“A biometric identifier, such as a fingerprint, can be an effective and highly accurate way to establish the identity of an individual, but it can also facilitate a much higher degree of tracking and profiling than would be appropriate for many transactions,” said Marc Rotenberg, the president of Electronic Privacy Information Center, a research organisation, in a testimony to the House of Representatives.

He added: “The problems that will arise when biometric identifiers are compromised are severe. What will happen at the point that your biometric identifiers no longer identify you?”

Around 2011, American authorities considered introducing a new biometrics-linked identity card for work authorisation for residents. Called the Biometric Enrollment, Locally-stored Information, and Electronic Verification of Employment or BELIEVE card, it aimed capture fingerprints or scans of veins on the back of hands.

BELIEVE card supporters presented it as necessary for immigration reform but many opposed it. “We pointed out that a biometrics ID system would be expensive, intrusive and ineffective, and requiring such an ID card would fundamentally transform the information demands the US government places on its citizens,” said Michael Froomkin, a professor of law at Miami University.

Ultimately, the proposal was dropped.

(First appeared in on December 20, 2016.)