Uncomfortable Aadhaar truths

Kashmir Times. Dated: 1/8/2018 11:18:45 PM

The issue is not the access journalist got to UIDAI data but the serious dangers that his report was exposing

If the news reports of gross misuse of Aadhaar details and possibility of foreign companies having complete access to the personal data of Indian citizens are shocking, the registering of cases of fraud by the government on whistle-blowers, not only amounts to shooting the messenger but also deals yet another blow to democracy and justice in this country. According to reports last week in a national daily of repute, 'The Tribune', an online service being offered by anonymous sellers that provided unrestricted access to details of more than one billion Aadhaar numbers created in India could be purchased with as less as Rs 500 through online payment and it took no more than ten minutes for the anonymous group to create a gateway for the purchaser of this service, giving complete access to every Aadhaar number in the portal and instantly the personal details of every individual as submitted to the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India), including name, address, postal code, photo, phone number and email. According to this report, a payment of another Rs 300 offered the facility of a software that could enable one to print the Aadhaar card after entering the Aadhaar number of any individual. This is shocking information and exposes the many vulnerabilities of the unique identification system, which is being forcefully linked to every service even though the case for making the provision of Aadhaar mandatory is pending in the Supreme Court. The news report offers a detailed expose of the system that not only violates the fundamental right to privacy but also makes unsuspecting Aadhaar card holders susceptible to fraud, deceit and scams. The report highlights the serious dangers of the Aadhaar details being up for grabs for petty sums of money and open to misuse, fraud, scams and even criminalizing individuals for no fault of theirs. The government should have grappled with the serious questions being posed by the report. Instead, it has tried to sweep under the carpet all allegations with blanket denials and muffle the voices that are bringing to public domain the serious lacunae with far reaching consequences on the country and its citizens. While the BJP has invaded the social media space with propaganda of the Tribune fake news, the UIDAI, apart from registering a case against the newspaper and concerned journalists, has emphatically denied Aadhaar data breach.
That anonymous sites are offering the service of access to all kinds of Aadhaar data for petty sums of money to unauthorised people, flies in the face of the UIDAI claim that there has not been any data breach. The shocking reality is that a large number of people have been accessing the data in an unauthorised manner probably for months. Already cases of thefts by Aadhaar card holders from their bank accounts have been reported from various parts of the country. Cyber criminals use precisely basic details of Aadhaar card holders to crack their net banking accounts and rob them of their money. The report about the ways in which the Aadhaar data is vulnerable to breach adds to the authenticity of such complaints which have been ignored in the past. The Tribune report highlights concerns that have been expressed for long by activists opposing the mandatory provisions of the UID that the system would be vulnerable to breaches, not only opening ways for unauthorized people to access people's personal information but also to their biometrics as well as misuse of the biometrics data both by unauthorized people and the centralized state authorities for sheer purpose of witch hunting and political vendetta. The news report has shown that the journalist uncovering the various lacunae in the system was able to enter biometric data of specific individuals and print out Aadhaar cards even if biometric data was not downloaded falsifies the official claims that Aadhaar enrolment system cannot be breached or bypassed fully. What is being highlighted through the report is not the ability of one journalist managing to hack into the system but that the system is easily open to breaches and frauds which are being availed by unscrupulous elements for a long time. There is need to grapple with this reality for reviewing the entire system, the egoistic foolishness of making the enrolment mandatory for every service without ensuring a foolproof system and plugging the loopholes, not for shooting down the messenger and putting up the pretence that everything is alright.



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