The Government Has Biometric Data on a Billion People

If the government has iris-scans, photographs, fingerprints, and addresses on file for 98 percent of its citizens, is privacy dead? It’s a question people in India had good reason to ponder last week after a newspaper claimed government staffers had sold unauthorized access to a giant database containing basic personal details of nearly every person in the country — read: more than a billion people.


The breached database was connected to Aadhaar, India’s ambitious biometric digital ID program that lets people prove who they are with a simple fingerprint scan. That technology has been a godsend for India’s poorest, many of whom lack birth certificates or other documentation, which has forced them historically either to forego government benefits or to rely on extortionary middlemen to get them.

Aadhaar promises to boost efficiency and cut fraud. But there are two big questions: first, how do you protect this much sensitive data from snoops or cybercriminals? As last week’s story shows, big data is a big target. And second, surrendering your information to the government is OK so long as the government intends to use that data for helpful purposes. But what if that changes? Who keeps an eye on that? The tradeoff between efficiency and security/privacy is an increasingly urgent political issue for governments — and people and corporations — around the world.

Scientists, engineers and technologists are turning to nature in search of solutions to climate change. Biomimicry is now being applied in the energy sector, medicine, architecture, communications, transport and agriculture in a bid to make human life on this planet more sustainable and limit the impacts of global warming. New inventions have been inspired by humpback whales, kingfishers and mosquitoes.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

The drumbeat for regulating artificial intelligence (AI) is growing louder. Earlier this week, Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google's parent company, Alphabet, became the latest high-profile Silicon Valley figure to call for governments to put guardrails around technologies that use huge amounts of (sometimes personal) data to teach computers how to identify faces, make decisions about mortgage applications, and myriad other tasks that previously relied on human brainpower.

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January 27 marks 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi extermination camp. But even as some 40 heads of state gathered in Jerusalem this week to commemorate the six million Jews who were killed, a recent Pew survey revealed that many American adults don't know basic facts about the ethnic cleansing of Europe's Jews during the Second World War. Fewer than half of those polled knew how many Jews were killed in the Holocaust, and close to a third didn't know when it actually happened. Here's a look at some of the numbers.

1: The Greek parliament has elected a woman president for the first time since the country's independence some 200 years ago. A political outsider, Katerina Sakellaropoulou is a high court judge with no known party affiliation. "Our country enters the third decade of the 21st century with more optimism," Greece's prime minister said.

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A quarantine in China– Local authorities have locked down the city of Wuhan, the source of the outbreak of a new and potentially deadly respiratory virus that, as of Thursday morning, had infected more than 540 people in at least six countries. Other nearby cities were also hit by travel restrictions. Rail and air traffic out of Wuhan has been halted. Public transportation is shut, and local officials are urging everyone to stay put unless they have a special need to travel. Wuhan is a city of 11 million people, many of whom were about to travel for the Chinese New Year. We're watching to see whether these extraordinary measures help stem the outbreak, but also to see how the people affected respond to the clampdown.

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