India’s Foundation: Aadhaar

Ever since John recorded his apocalyptic vision as the book of Revelation, people have been trying to figure it out. We’ve got “pre-trib,” “mid-trib,” and “post-trib” views. Some scholars believe that most of the prophesies described have already happened. Some are expecting the rapture; others expect the church to remain on earth until Jesus comes.

It seems as if every generation has its favorite interpretation. When I was in high school, Hal Lindsey was drawing parallels with current events in his book The Late, Great Planet Earth. More recently, we read the Left Behind series, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins.

While I doubt that any interpretation is going to be 100% accurate, every so often something crops up in the news that waves a big red flag. We may not understand the entire vision, but we recognize one piece of the puzzle. As I read my news feed this week, I realized that we’ve moved one more step closer to Revelation 13:16-17:

He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads,  and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

Ever since computers and credit cards were invented, it’s easy to see how a “mark of the beast” could be required for commerce. Plastic is replacing cash, and wouldn’t it be convenient to have that credit card chip in a place we can’t lose it? Now, new programs in China and India are using identification software to go a step farther.

I heard about India’s first. With 1.3 billion inhabitants, India has a huge job keeping track of everyone. Now the government is using technology to solve this problem. They’ve built a huge database with the goal of identifying every citizen by their fingerprints, retinal scans, and facial features. Already, 1.1 billion Indians are in the system, which is named Aadhaar (“foundation”). This isn’t some ethereal “one day in the future” scenario. It’s happening now.

The files include all kinds of personal information, from cell phone numbers to banking information, and participation is mandatory. Your Aadhaar number is required to open a bank account, go to school, buy a SIM card, collect pensions, and receive welfare benefits, such as free school lunches for undernourished children. Newborns cannot leave the hospital without being registered.

Those promoting the program describe how it will eliminate fraud, which is rampant, and allow the government to keep track of everything from traffic tickets to parolees. But not everyone agrees. India’s Supreme Court has received over 30 cases claiming that Aadhaar violates the constitutional right to privacy. A decision is pending.

Plus, as with anything involving technology, there have been problems. Often, rural villagers don’t have access to the technology needed. Leaks of private information—such as names, birth dates, and bank account numbers—have affected millions of people. And while exposing many “ghosts” (those using fake IDs to collect duplicate benefits), many real people have been accidentally denied benefits that they are entitled to.

Perhaps most worrying is the fact that India is just the first country to track its citizens in this way. Sri Lanka already plans to copy its neighbor. Russia, the Philippines, and Great Britain have shown interest. And China has its own social credit system that takes things much farther. (I’ll cover that next week.)

It’s easy to assume that, because we’ve read Revelation, we’ll recognize the events described when they happen. But will we? Like the much described frog in a pot of cold water, will we notice each little step? We need to be wise to the times in which we live, and we need stay in touch with the Holy Spirit, asking Him even about seemingly inconsequential decisions. None of this is a surprise to God.

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