Between your wallet and that locker in your house where you keep things safe (in theory; in practice you forget to put things in there safely, and then have a panic attack as you desperately search everywhere for your missing passport), how many government documents do you think you have? A quick check shows that there are several at hand - an Aadhaar card, a driver's license, voter ID, PAN card, all in the wallet, and a passport at home. Then there's old income tax returns, property tax receipts, and educational certificates from school and college, all kept "safely" archived for when they're needed.
That's a huge number of documents to keep and manage, and the government also seems to have taken notice. As part of Digital India week on Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi officially launched a digital locker service called DIGILocker, though the service was soft-launched sometime back.
So what exactly is DIGILocker? Very simply, it's a website where you can store your various government issued documents, using your Aadhaar card as your identification. While it hasn't been stated as such, to us, it also looks like a good way of bringing data from different government agencies together under the aegis of the Aadhaar card, potentially making the document more useful to people carrying it.
To sign up, you need only enter your Aadhaar number, and an SMS is set out to the mobile phone number you registered at the enrolment camp. This one-time-password is the only way to get inside your DIGILocker for the first time, but afterwards, you can set your own password or link the DIGILocker to your Google or Facebook login.
After you've signed up, you can upload your government documents to the DIGILocker - there's only 10MB of storage at present - but you can also save the Uniform Resource Identifiers (URIs) of government documents using DIGILocker.
The idea is that this should minimise the need for physical documents; if your birth and education certificates are online, and you apply for a passport, then the Passport Office could use your Aadhaar number to request the DIGILocker for your details, without needing you to carry a large file of documents for the application.
Or, the RTO could issue your Driver's License directly to your DIGILocker, based on your Aadhaar information alone; this way, if you need to send your new license to any agency as verification, you'll have an online, authenticated version available whenever you need it.
There's also a planned e-Signature facility with DIGILocker, though that will be launched later; between digital signatures and government documents in the cloud, it is clear that the government wants to make it easier for people to use government services online. Today, getting almost anything done with the government requires you to produce ID documents, which requires a visit to the government offices. Few, if any, government branches allow you to mail a copy of your documents - which actually makes sense for security reasons - but DIGILocker will be a way to authentically curate your documents, and make it easy to share them to different departments.
You can see how to sign up for DIGILocker and use it in the slideshow below:
There's also the question of external threats. While the DIGILocker website looks to have the basics in place by using HTTPS (the same protocol that your bank uses to secure communication between your computer and their servers) for the main part of the website, you have to wonder how secure the backend is. You can be pretty sure that a place where everyone is keeping their official documents will be a target for hackers foreign and local.
Right now, there's not too many ways in which DIGILocker is useful, but it's a clear signpost to the direction we're moving in. Some people worry that this much centralised data could lead to misuse, and also warn of the potential of small mistakes in documents now creating much bigger problems than before, but there's no denying that the convenience of having all our documents digitally accessible and easily shared to different government departments when needed is very appealing.
To access your digital locker, visit DIGILocker and you can sign up now for free with your Aadhaar details.