“My country finally owns me!" was the delighted reaction from a high level private sector official to the possibility of a national identity system in Bangladesh. A lot of brain-wracking thought went into the possible economic benefits of such a project.
The sleepless nights of complicated financial analyses and exasperatingly fruitless brainstorming sessions that reach a point when you are not willing to say anything until you find something that will make the rest of them jump on their chairs, make things very difficult sometimes! But, the answer was there, short and simple. Such a refreshing start to an interview for the purpose of identifying the probable benefits to service delivery agencies of having access to a near-immaculate database of citizens, was hardly anticipated.
Rolling out robust, digitized national ID (NID) cards to 100 million citizens over a period of five years is the daunting task ahead for Identification System for Enhancing Access to Services (IDEA) Project. One may argue about the novelty offered by this initiative when Bangladeshi citizens with voting eligibility actually have NIDs since late 2008. A solid counter argument would be the “digitized nature” of the sophisticated NIDs of ‘digital Bangladesh’, enabling machine readability of biometric citizen information embedded in the card, as a replacement of the paper based, easily faked cards with little printed information and near-alien photos that gave rise to popular groups like “I hate my NID photo” on Facebook!