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Govt mulls 'digital locker' to store citizens' info on cloud

Surabhi Agarwal  |  New Delhi 

Imagine you are applying for a service - government or private - and do not have to go through the hassle of paperwork; instead of depositing myriad physical copies of documents, you only have to give an "online link". This might sound too good to be true but such an idea is already in the works.

The government is working on the concept of a of sorts - an for all certificates and documents issued to the citizens of the country. So, when you apply for a service, the agency concerned will verify these documents, stored on a government cloud, and the task will be completed, without the trouble of record-keeping or getting photo copies, attestations and affidavits.

According to Ram Sevak Sharma, secretary in the department of electronics & information technology, the architecture for this 'digital locker' project is being discussed at present.

  • The ‘digital locker’ will be an for all certificates and documents issued by the govt
  • Documents will be hosted over a cloud to be maintained by the govt
  • The project will address the issue of counterfeiting and also save on the cost incurred in storing and maintaining physical documents
  • The govt will invite ideas through MyGov to build the architecture for the project
  • The issues of privacy and hacking fears remain key areas of concern

The government will invite ideas through MyGov, its platform to engage with citizens, and a conference of all stakeholders to chalk out details will be held soon. The idea is to do away with the need for physical copies of documents. And, the project will also address the issue of counterfeit certification.

"Let's admit it, we don't have all the answers right now," Sharma told Business Standard. It will be on the lines of the file hosting service Dropbox, Sharma added. The locker might be extended to also store health records, making it easier to share patients' past history for better treatment.

"It's a very radical and transformational idea but the whole ecosystem has to come together. Also, the rules of information interchange have to be defined," Sharma said, adding the project would have to ensure citizens' privacy was safeguarded and their informed consent was there, besides other things.

Going by the initial idea, any physical certificate issued by an authority will carry the URL (uniform resource locator) of an online copy.

This will ensure when this certificate is needed the next time, only the URL, leading to the original copy on the internet, could be sent.

Jaijit Bhattacharya, partner (government advisory), KPMG, said this was a "necessary" initiative and needed to be taken in the best way possible. "We have to make sure it works while taking into account that there could be some flip sides, too." Even Apple's iCloud had been hacked, so the security of the data needed to be ensured, he explained.

"Government has to build a locker that is really a 'locker'." There had to be measures to ensure people could not hack into their own documents to change those. If others got unwarranted access, there should be recourses to fix those again, Bhattacharya said. "The government will also have to work out a way to be able to store degrees from universities outside of India."

The idea was pitched in the department's presentation to the prime minister as one that could transform governance. Apart from making it easier for citizens and addressing the issue of counterfeiting, it would also save the government the significant cost incurred in storing and maintaining physical documents. At present, there is no mechanism to check whether a piece of document is fake or original. "People have even become pilots by giving fake certificates," said Sharma. To address this issue, it should be the government's responsibility to digitise all documents it issues and make those available online. The responsibility of verifying the authenticity of the online link should rest with the user agency. "Since the government will have all the originals stored, chances of fakes will reduce dramatically. This will also increase the confidence in the system," Sharma said.

First Published: Thu, September 11 2014. 00:57 IST