Perspectives

Same-day passport a digital possibility?

passport (1)

Such turnarounds are well within the reach if tech is leveraged to its full potential

The passport services have significantly improved in the last five years, from what once was a time-consuming, harrowing and unpredictable experience. It has not only come closer to the citizens through the passport seva kendras (PSKs), there also is a lot of clarity on what documents are required; when one should reach the center; what needs to be done in case of exceptions, and when the passport will be dispatched. One can also track the status of the passport through SMS, web or a mobile app. However, it still takes three to four weeks to receive a passport under normal circumstances.

I was just wondering if the delivery could be done in a day flat, say, simply by scanning one’s retina as an input to an app? It may sound impossible today but the way technology is being embraced in improving the quality of governance, I see it becoming a possibility in a not-too-distant future.

E-governance initiatives today are like islands of automation with no convergence between related domains of the ecosystem. The processes that link the related domains are still manual and present a huge scope for improvement. For example, the biggest chunk of time on providing a passport is allocated to the police verification process. If that part can be handled automatically, it could save a great deal of time. Local police stations primarily look into local criminal records and verify the residential address of the applicant. Can’t the national crime records bureau enable this through a simple API? Can’t police databases be so strong that, internally, they could pull data from each police station in the country, and complete the verification process for the applicants?

True, the identification and authentication of the individual citizen applicant would also be required. Can’t that piece data flow from the UIDAI database? I recently read a news that UIDAI is talking to the smartphone manufacturers to embed UIDAI key into the device chip so that authentication could be done securely through finger print or retina scan on the mobile. The result would be UIDAI-ready smartphones. Now, with 1,040 million registrations with UIDAI and 400 million smartphone users, a vast majority of the population could be covered. The coverage is only going to increase over time as smartphones become more affordable and ubiquitous.

Another substantial chunk of time is required in scanning and uploading the documents at the PSKs. It requires the citizens to travel to the nearest PSK and spend an hour’s time there, on an average. Now, if their personal information is made available through the UIDAI server and the documents are stored at DigiLocker, that process can be completely automated and hence the physical visits totally avoided. Similar connections can be made with eCourt applications to handle exceptions such as a pending criminal case.

Today, we are already at a stage where most of the required digital components—UIDAI, eCourts and DigiLocker—are already in place. The only thing is that they are not seamlessly interconnected. Once that is done, and these systems are also connected with the passport system (as well as other systems), the process can be dramatically expedited.

True, all this may still sound unnerving—and hence unachievable—from a security and privacy point of view, but with the maturing of e-Governance initiatives and developments in digital technologies, it may be real sooner than later. The logic is equally applicable to all other citizen-facing services, where integration and convergence of different e-Governance islands may lead to big and far-reaching benefits. It’s important that various project owners and other stakeholder today embrace technologies with a conscious goal of achieving linkages with other programs in the broader ecosystem.

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