Unique Identification: Inclusion and Surveillance in the Indian Biometric Assemblage

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Jacobsen, Elida K. U. (2012) Unique Identification: Inclusion and Surveillance in the Indian Biometric Assemblage, Security Dialogue 43(5): 457–474.


The last decade has seen an increased focus on secured forms of identification in security governance, leading to a massive growth and standardization in the application of biometric technologies globally. This article examines what is currently the largest biometric technology project in the world: the nationwide Unique Identification (UID) number system in India. It emphasizes the importance of investigating the postcolonial contexts of governance in which biometric technology is currently being applied. Approaching the Indian scheme as a discursive/practical assemblage of multiple actors and rationales, the article investigates three contexts within which the biometric project emerged: India’s Home Ministry, the Unique Identification Authority of India and a project focusing on the biometric identification of homeless people in Delhi. In particular, the article examines the various targets of intervention constructed in the discourses and practices of the national ID scheme. It is argued that the practice of biometric identification is produced as a solution to a wide array of problems of governance, both as a means of financial inclusion and as a method of surveillance.