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The Government Has Biometric Data on a Billion People

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.

Meet Alessandra Cominetti, a recipient of MIT Technology Review Magazine's Innovators Under 35 award. As a lab technician at Eni's Research Centre for Renewable Energy in Novara, Alessandra has devoted her career to finding new solutions and materials to optimize solar energy. Much like the serendipitous encounter that resulted in her employment, her eagerness and willingness to try new things allowed her to stumble upon a material for the creation of portable solar panels.

Watch her remarkable story on the latest episode of Faces of Eni.

"If [the election] is very close and it ends up in the courts, that kind of protracted situation I think will lead many Americans to believe that it was an unfair election." Rick Hasen, election law expert and author of Election Meltdown, lays out some of the worst-case scenarios for Election Day, ranging from unprecedented voter suppression to dirty tricks by foreign actors. The conversation was part of the latest episode of GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. The episode begins airing nationally in the US on public television this Friday, October 30. Check local listings.

"No election is conducted perfectly, and elections have all kinds of problems.We're going to have more problems because we're running an election during a pandemic." Election law expert Rick Hasen cautions that both campaigns could misconstrue honest mistakes in the administration of this week's national election as nefarious acts. The integrity of the election, he warns, could be compromised by human error and the unprecedented challenges posed by a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. Hasen's especially concerned about key states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. His conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of the latest episode of GZERO World.

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

With COVID increasing in France, Germany, Spain, and elsewhere, has Europe lost control of the pandemic?

Well, I wouldn't say lost control, but clearly it is a very worrying situation. With COVID increasing virtually everywhere, we see a new wave of semi-lockdowns... it's not as bad as it was in the spring... with the hope of being able to contain the surge during the month of November. Let's wait and see.

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An extended conversation with Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former top State Department official under President Obama and the CEO of the think tank New America. Slaughter spoke with Ian Bremmer about how a "President Biden" could reshape US foreign policy.

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