The Unique Identification Authority is a central government agency that collects demographic information about residents of India, stores that data in a centralized database and issues a 12-digit identification number called an Aadhaar to each resident. The Planning Commission created the Unique Identification Authority as a way to deliver welfare services and monitor government programs efficiently. It is the largest national identification number project in the world.
The Supreme Court of India issued a ruling in September 2013 stating that the government cannot deny services to residents who do not possess Aadhaar and that obtaining Aadhaar is voluntary rather than mandatory. The court also ruled in August 2013 that Aadhaar may only be used for the Public Distribution System and kerosene distribution, but even in those cases Aadhaar is not mandatory.
The Unique Identification Authority has issued 940 million Aadhaar since its creation on Jan. 28, 2009, and has spent $840 million on the project as of December 2015. The former chief of the Intelligence Bureau announced in August 2009 that the program was to identify illegal immigrants but added the social services aspect later. The civil liberties groups Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties and Indian Social Action Forum oppose the Unique Identification Authority and Aadhaar because of privacy concerns.