March 24th, 2017
Roughly a year ago, Aadhaar became the world’s largest online digital identity platform. With its coverage extending to over 93% of Indian adults, it has become an extremely powerful platform containing very crucial and sensitive personal, biometric data of millions of Indian citizens.
With great power comes great responsibility
Aadhaar has been lauded in the public policy sphere as being a game-changer for effective implementation of government schemes. Its most crucial role is that of plugging leakages via targeted public delivery and social support systems.
Thus, Aadhaar is permeating into almost all forms of public services and processes and is increasingly being made mandatory for a number of government procedures including filing income tax, applying for a PAN card and even availing jobs under MNREGA.
So, Aadhaar card and number provide us with national identification and social benefits, and protect us from corruption and tax evasion. In short, the Aadhaar is the ultimate panacea for all our social needs as citizens of India.
Or is it?
While we view this wonder with full trust, let us ponder upon the various aspects of its utilisation and implementation.
When the Aadhaar was first implemented, most of the concerns related to it were regarding the infringement of right to privacy of Indian citizens, the security of the collected biometric data, and the legality of making Aadhaar mandatory. But these concerns have reached altogether a new level after the issuance of more than 1,13,03,08,464 Aadhaar cards.
The concerns now is this: is the implementation and execution of the Aadhaar Act error-free? Are government and extra-governmental agencies sticking to the various protective provisions of the Act?
It turns out this is where some of the good intentions behind the act are being eroded. Let’s take a look.
Acceptance Of Physical Aadhaar Card As Proof of Identity
While Aadhaar is a proof of identity, the mere possession of a physical Aadhaar card is not authentication of the fact that it belongs to the person carrying it. This is because Aadhar has no special security features like holograms embedded into its design, and multiple simple black-and-white card printouts of the card are acceptable as the original Aadhaar card. But this ‘original’ ID card is accepted by security personnel as a proof of identity at railway stations and airports, without following the additional mandate of the Aadhaar Act which asks for entities to authenticate data using an OTP or biometrics from the UIDAI system. Due to non-implementation of this very crucial provision of the Act, any imposter with a genuine citizen’s name and Aadhaar number can take such a printout and enter high security areas.
Publication Of Aadhaar Data
If one looks at the ease with which imposters can take out Aadhaar card printouts for impersonation purposes, it occurs to one that the most commonsensical solution to prevent this fraud is to ensure the secrecy of the Aadhaar data. This provision has, in fact, been strictly delineated in Section 29 of the Aadhar Act. But just a simple Google search will reveal search results containing hundreds of Aadhaar numbers and names within the span of a single click. Imagine the amount of security risk this can cause to the country and its citizens, yet no action has been taken against these government agencies!
Acceptance As Proof Of Citizenship
Although the Aadhaar Act specifies in its Section III.9 that the Aadhaar Number is not a proof of citizenship, passport services accept it as a valid supporting document of citizenship. The Passport Seva website has even declared expediting of the process of passport acquisition upon usage of the Aadhaar! Additionally, an illicit by-process for acquiring a passport is available to non-Indians and illegal migrants for acquiring an Indian passport. If they use their Aadhaar card to obtain water, electricity or other utility bills, they can then use these bills as valid documents for their passport application.
Acceptance As Proof Of Address
The Aadhaar Act mentions the Aadhaar card as a proof of identity multiple times, but it intentionally does not specify it as a proof of address. This is because the Aadhaar has been envisioned to be universal and possessed even by the homeless. To fulfill this, providing an address proof when one applies for an Aadhaar card is optional, and the Aadhaar card can thus not be accepted as an Address Proof. However, banks are increasingly using biometric e-KYC during the onboarding of new customers. In fact, this core feature of Aadhaar as an e-KYC is one of the important reasons for quick acceptance and usage of the card.
The Aadhar Conundrum
Looking at the above facts, it is easy to surmise that incorrect implementation of the Aadhaar scheme can lead to security risks, identity theft, wrongful acquisition of Indian citizenship and personal and financial fraud. However, government entities continue to blindly implement practices which go against the spirit of the Aadhaar Act and act as mere appeasement tactics for universal acceptance of the Aadhaar. And while it is more than likely that UIDAI knows of these shortcomings, it has shorn off all responsibility. Instead of correcting the wrongful usage of the Aadhaar by various agencies, it has shielded itself from the implications of such wrongdoing by framing protective policies.
Then there are the security concerns. In fact, a Google search for “Aadhaar number name filetype:xls” reveals multiple excel sheets in the results. These contain thousands of people’s information including name, date of birth, address, and Aadhaar number.
So is Aadhaar a brilliant move or a quick-fix technocratic solution riddled with loopholes? Well, any law or scheme is only as good as its implementation. And as I said, with great power comes great responsibility. The Aadhaar has covered the power aspect by gaining near universal coverage. But who is ready to take the responsibility?
You can read more here: 4 other issues that need UIDAI/Aadhaar’s attention