Imagine living in a country where your credit card, national identification number, driver’s license, bank account, health insurance information, and even metro pass are linked and stored in one place. This is the world that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev envisions.
From 2012 to 2015, Russia will begin to issue Universal Electronic Cards (UECs) to every citizen.
There are substantial and undeniable advantages to this program. The Russian government will be able to collect taxes more effectively, have a running census, and provide better services. Accountability could increase.
Several challenges to the UECs launch remain. First, its seven step implementation process always had an aggressive timeline. Although admittedly, India’s biometric identity program is proving this false. Second, many private and public entities that will need to support the UEC have not had time to prepare their infrastructure. Third, there is no unified agreement of what services this card will support and its implementation may differ between regions. There were delays in St. Petersburg due to a disagreement with Moscow over which vendor to use for manufacturing UECs.
While the English-speaking press has seldom covered this development, there has been one notable exception. Aaron Saenz discussed at some length the Russian UEC and highlighted several challenges. For example, people will be issued alternate PIN numbers, one for everyday use and another to give thieves. This is a ludicrous solution, as all criminals will know of this publicly announced gimmick and may resort to physical violence to obtain the correct password. (Saenz also addresses corruption and autocratic abuse. But that is a discussion for another post.)
Three banks – Sberbank, Uralsib, and AkBars – will oversee the UEC program. As future criminals will spend most of their time breaking in, damaging, and robbing people in cyberspace and not on the streets, these banks will need to have the necessary tools to provide their customers – the entire country – protection. Russian banks have not had the need to think about security at such a scale before. Their ability to secure private information remains questionable and will certainly be tested.
For many Russian citizens, having their identity recorded on paper also made them secure from these modern crimes. And lacking an established credit system also meant that even at the most basic level, Russian citizens have been insulated from the crimes against identity that have plagued the West.
As Russian citizens leapfrog to this uniform information management system, they will need to adopt a habit that took many in the West more than a decade to develop: privacy management. It is important to note that many Russian Twitter users list their email addresses and telephone numbers right on their profile page. It will take time for new habits to form.
Russians will need to ask and their government and financial institutions will need to address a lot of questions on privacy and security before the UEC is fully implemented. But for now the most popular topic related to the launch of the UEC is a nation-wide contest to choose the card’s logotype.