How a MapR Database is Helping Give India an Identity

Insights from FirstMark’s Data Driven series, a monthly event covering Big Data and data-driven products and startups.

Of India’s 1.2 billion residents across 640,000 villages, only about 30% have a birth certificate.

“I don’t have a birth certificate, for example” MapR CTO M.C. Srivas said. “Officially, I don’t exist. There’s no way to prove who I am.”

This is a significant problem for India’s poor, who can’t prove their identity to receive subsidies like food coupons or cooking gas, check in at an airport, or open a bank account. However, six years ago, a band of Silicon Valley CTOs and CEOs set out on an unbelievable plan to tackle the problem, creating the Unique Identification (Aadhaar) project to provide the residents of India with a unique identification number that can be used to access services and benefits.

MapR was used to build the project’s biometric database, which is now the world’s largest. The database includes an iris scan, digital fingerprints, a digital photo, and text-based data for every resident. The system can verify a person’s identity within 200 milliseconds.

To date, the project has created identification for 900 million people in India and there are about 1.5 million people added to the database each day, Srivas said.

Since, the project has reached scale, the Indian government has rolled out biometric ATMs across the country that enable any citizen with an ID to open a bank account with their fingerprint. Among dozens of other uses, Srivas laid out the scenario of a widow trying to collect her deceased husband’s pension. Previously, the process required her to pay a notary to vouch for her own identity, her deceased husband’s identity and the fact that they were married when he passed away.

Today, she can use any cell phone camera to get a fingerprint or retina scan to receive a unique ID. She can then open a bank account anywhere and have the pension deposited directly without the danger of middlemen looking to take a cut. 

“This is how people are getting transformed in India,” Srivas said.

FirstMark is always on the lookout for technology that has the potential of changing lives for the better. To hear more stories from Srivas’ chat with FirstMark’s Matt Turck, check out the video above.

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