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By Indrajit Basu: Digital Community innovations from around the world.

India Lauches World's Largest Electronic ID Program

June 26, 2009 By Indrajit Basu

Manmohan Singh.jpg

Setting a precedence for certainly the developing world and perhaps also for the developed world, India on Thursday set in motion its largest e-governance project that aims to provide a unique identification number to each of its billion plus citizens in the next two years.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yesterday invited Nandan Nilekeni one of the founders of the Nasdaq-listed Infosys Technologies, India's poster boy $4.7 billion revenues IT company, to take charge of the Unique Identification Scheme [UIS] for laying down the plans, policies and its implementing so that to all citizens get a unique identification number by  2011.

Nilekeni will obviously have to resign from the Infosys board. 

Based on the smart card format, the unique identity will include basic information like name, address, age, residence, education, annual income, etc, as well as photograph and biometric data in a digital format to make identification foolproof. The aim, says the government, is to eliminate the need for multiple identification mechanisms, prevalent across various government departments.

Clearly, the rolling out of a country-wide unique identity scheme, perhaps the first in the world, has multiple implications for India; it is a big leap in e-governance; a major boost for national security; an important administrative reform measure that will bring in transparency in governance; and a move that has the potential to eliminate wastage and leakage of official subsidies.

"This is a project that has significant transformational capabilities. It will allow us to channelize all subsidies through the cards; it can promote financial inclusion; and it can help us provide social security," said Nilekeni in a public response to his appointment.

But above all, it throws up multi-billion dollar business opportunities for not only the domestic technology sector, but also the global technology companies who can look forward to gaining a huge and new market at a time when most top markets in the developed world are under recession.

After all, a billion smart cards for a billion people would require a vast eco-system encompassing data collection, delivery channels, chip designing, smart card manufacturers, application and software providers, system integrators, networking analysts and print companies.

Back of the napkin calculations indicate that the project will create at least a 100,000 additional jobs the next two years, while the entire project would require at least $30 billion to roll out fully.

According to the local IT industry, after having been badly hit by the global meltdown, many tech leaders have been urging the government to accelerate the country's e-governance,and this project was the quick response to that call.

Equally important is the fact that the current Congress-led UPA government has leveraged its blockbuster win in the May general election to bring in some sweeping changes in the Indian administrative process.

The plan to provide a unique identification number has been brewing for a while. It was conceived in 2002 during the BJP Party-led National Democratic Alliance regime under the aegis of Multipurpose National ID Card program. The main aim then was to provide a unique identity to Indian citizens to check illegal immigration from neighboring countries. But fearing that such a move would severely deplete BJP's popularity, it was shot down soon after.

The next Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance government revived the idea in 2004 to primarily make a difference in its administrative process; it re-introduced the plan with the key objectives of reducing leakage in the government's various welfare programs by assigning a unique identification number to the intended beneficiaries.

For the next few years this plan circulated between various departments like the home ministry, finance ministry and rural development ministry and the registrar general of Census of India until the UPA government, in November 2008, established a Unique Identity Authority under the Planning Commission.

The authority's mandate was to implement the unique identification system for a variety of purposes, including better targeting of government's development schemes such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, regulatory and security purposes, and banking and financial sector activities.

In April this year, the government also gave this project its first serious push by allocating $20 million in seed money.

"It is a transformational project for the country," said Som Mittal, president of local IT lobby, The National Association of Software Services Company, popularly known as NASSCOM. "I see this overlaying many underlying projects, creating huge efficiencies for the country leading to enhanced governance and reduced costs."

Nevertheless, this plan is not without concerns. And the biggest downside is that it is based on smart card concept and whether or not the UIDA will have the administrative capability to verify the authenticity of the information provided by the citizens, is a big question mark. After all, the country has already seen a major failure of a similar plan in the past when a smart card-based project to provide cheap food grains to the rural poor could not get off the ground because few revealed their actual financial status.

 

Photo: Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, addresses the worlds media at the close of the London Summit, 2009.(Credit: London Summit. CC Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic)


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Social Networking Sites Become a Recruitment Tool

June 18, 2009 By Indrajit Basu

im a twitter.jpg

Mention online social network and the first thing that comes to mind is that it's a great tool for connecting with family, friends, colleagues and even potential customers. Social networking makes it so easy to stay in touch with large groups of people that are spread out across great distances that there is a constant effort to find new ways of utilizing its power.

However, while companies and businesses have found some ways of using social media beyond just social networking, for local governments it has remained just that; social media. Barring a few leading examples such as San Francisco connecting its 311 service with Tweeter, it appears that most local governments in US are still looking for ways to use social media effectively.

Here's one new trend though regarding the use social media by the corporate world that perhaps local governments can emulate now - recruitment and hiring. After all, getting right IT candidates has always been a task for local governments given the comparative low pay they offer vis-a-vis the corporate sector.

A recent study by a New Jersey-based search engine and social media marketing consultancy and services firm Jump Start Media has revealed that increasingly, hiring managers are turning to -- and even depending on -- social media sites for identifying and researching job candidates for meeting their hiring needs.

After some extensive polling -- that included 100 hiring managers at small, mid-sized and large companies -- on how social media is being used in the hiring process, Jump Start found that a good number of the hiring managers have started checking social media sites to research candidates before making a job offer. While LinkedIn-the only professional social networking sites to research the credentials of job candidates, is the favorite for three quarters of those polled, a good 48% turn to Facebook and 26% to Twitter.

According to Veronica Fielding, CEO of Jump Start, although on the most basic level, social media is still being used for social networks, that social media connects large groups of people is making it a powerful tool for job hunting as well.

"Social media is not only a great networking tool, it is a great way to bag a new job if you use the media correctly and do the right things," she says.

One big reason why the social media has emerged as an important tool in the hiring process these days, say hiring managers, is its power to offer hiring managers the ability to gain a broad picture of an individual.

"It allows you to see the professional beyond their resume," says Rosina Racioppi, President of Women Unlimited, an organization that trains and grooms women to pursue a professional career. "Utilizing social media tools enables hiring managers to assess whether a candidate is an appropriate fit for their organization."

Fielding says since of all the popular online networking websites, LinkedIn has been the most professionally focussed; it should be the first hunting ground for hiring managers. "The easiest, safest choice is LinkedIn because it has always been a 100% professional networking media."

Photo by Dave 77459. CC Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

 


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Tiananmen Square: China Observes Internet Maintenance Day

June 5, 2009 By Indrajit Basu

Students in Tiananmen Square.jpg Photo: Students in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China. May 1989.

In yet another display of its ruthless censorship regime, as Beijing pulls a blanket over the web in China for this week's 20-year anniversary of the military crackdown in Tiananmen Square, rebels have found a new way of protesting the notorious state censorship; they have started calling the crackdown on the Internet as, "Chinese Internet Maintenance Day".

Look at what Global Voices Online, which describes itself as a global anti-censorship network of bloggers and online activists, says;

"Today, on 3rd of June, a large number of local websites, including Fanfou (Chinese version of twitter) and VeryCD (user generated resource sharing website), have put up system maintenance notices stating that the websites would be inaccessible until June 6. With all the blocking and system maintenance measures, June 4th has occupied the third most searched key term in google.cn (June 3 10:09pm), although netizens could not get much information from the result list."

Another Chinese rebel websites called Damwei has even given it sarcastic twist. In an entry under the headline "Chinese websites under maintenance", Damwei said,

"The administrators of Chinese websites are putting in a period of inaccessibility on their sites for a period of two to three days starting with the T??nanmen anniversary tomorrow (June 4).

Fanfou.com, China's knock-off version of Twitter.com, shows this maintenance message: "The Fanfou server is undergoing technical maintenance. Service is expected to resume before dawn on the 6th."

VeryCD.com, a user-generated service that allows users to download films, music and other material, is also under "technical repair" from June 3rd to June 6th. Dictionary Wordku.com is too, whose message thanks the support of their users, are also calling the period the "Chinese Internet Maintenance Day", probably mockingly."


Indeed Internet censorship in China is nothing new and over the years Beijing's phobia of freedom of expression over the Internet seems to have increased despite the fierce global condemnation of the country's censorship policies.

For instance China has now 60 Internet regulations, while the Middle Kingdom has over 30,000 Internet police. According to Amnesty International China "has the largest recorded number of imprisoned journalists and cyber-dissidents in the world."

China is also infamous for its Golden Shield Project, a system -- also known as the Great Firewall of China -- that blocks content by preventing IP addresses from being routed through, and consists of standard firewalls and proxy servers at the Internet gateways.

But China's Internet censorship measures this week is perhaps one of its strictest. Beijing-the seat of Chinese administration- has not only blocked hundreds of popular local websites like wordku.com, hihicd.com, yeeyan.com, xiaonei.com (Chinese version of Facebook), tieba.baidu.com, douban.com and the likes. A blanket over global networking websites like twitter.com, blogspot.com, youtube.com, flickr.com, bing.com, and cmule.com has also been throww.

Reports suggest that the censorship has not been limited to the Internet, with some sensitive TV stations also experiencing blackouts. Besides China is turning away all Tiananmen dissidents -- who managed to flee China after June 1989 and trying to return to observe the anniversary -- at the airports. The police has also ordered house arrests on family members of many of the students massacred that day, in order to prevent them from visiting the Square.

What's worse, no one there is allowed to publicly talk or write about the date June 4, 1989.

PLA Troop Movement.jpg Photo: PLA Troops, Beijing, China, June 3rd 1989.

Beijing's phobia over the anniversary observation of the Tiananmen Square massacre is not difficult to fathom. Ever since a fleet of army tanks mowed down hundreds or may be thousands of unarmed civilians on June 4, 1989, the Chinese administration has been trying hard to wipe out all memories and signs of the Chinese army's suppression of the student democratic movement.

No one knows exactly how many -- a number that Beijing has painstakingly kept under wraps -- died in that crackdown, as the administration has vehemently refused to recognize the movement as one for democracy. Instead, Beijing has always termed it "counterrevolutionary" and an attempt to overthrow the state.

Nevertheless, even as many consider China's heavy-handed censorship this week as one of the biggest violations of freedom of expression, for many software companies offering workarounds, it has been a period of brisk business.

E-mail encryption services masking identities of the sender and recipient are reportedly seeing an increase in use and so have proxy servers that enable viewing of blocked websites. Freegate, a software that specializes in moving around Chinese censor has reported a 20% increase in downloads as well.

Photos by Cromacom. CC Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

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International Beat
Indrajit Basu

Technology may the one of the greatest enablers of good things in life, but even until recently, it was mainly a phenomenon that benefited the more resourceful section of the world. That's changing though. Thanks to its constant evolution in the last few years, technology, particularly digital technologies, have ceased to be the privilege of a select few. From a hungry child in Niger, to the downtrodden lavatory cleaner in India, to the lonely billionaire widower living in a swanky Manhattan apartment, digital technologies are radically changing the lives of all these days.

As an international correspondent for Digital Communities, I have covered the power that ICT wields, particularly over the inhabitants of the developing world. But often a 1200-word feature does not bring forth the magic of ICT fast enough. My endeavor in this space would be to do just that; highlight some notable ICT-related developments as fast as I can.