By Jaydeep Saha, Contributing Writer, HCL Technologies Ltd. 

 

After the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) had on Friday issued an advisory directing people of India not to give photocopies of their Aadhaar cards to various organizations, the Narendra Modi government on Sunday withdrew the notice and clarified its stand, putting a stop to the widespread panic—triggered by misinterpretation—it had created on social media.

Instead, the Centre in a press release, urged the citizens to exercise “normal prudence”, while using the universal IDs.

“The release advised the people to not to share photocopy of their Aadhaar with any organization because it can be misused,” read the PR issued by the Press Information Bureau.

An Aadhaar card, which has a unique 12-digit number tied to an individual’s fingerprints, face, and eye scan, aims to block theft and leakage in India’s welfare schemes. But critics fear it could spawn a surveillance state, reported Reuters.

The government suggested: “Alternatively, a masked Aadhaar which displays only the last 4 digits of Aadhaar number, can be used.”

An order misinterpreted

On May 27, the Bengaluru regional office of the UIDAI issued a press release in which it had advised Aadhaar holders not to share photocopies of their Aadhaar cards with any organization due to the potential for misuse. The Friday advisory read: “Unlicensed private entities, like hotels or film halls, are not permitted to collect or keep copies of Aadhaar card.”

Reuters reported that the warning triggered alarm on social media as screenshots of the press release and news articles went viral, with the issue among the top 10 trending topics on Twitter in India on Sunday.

An earlier concern

In 2018, the Supreme Court upheld the validity of the Aadhaar, but flagged privacy concerns and reined in a government push to make it mandatory for everything from banking to telecom services. In April 2022, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) raised similar concerns and pulled up the government body about over a range of issues, including duplication of cards and privacy issues.

The CAG report stated that Aadhaar has gaps in its data archiving policy and struggling with preserving confidentiality in the delivery of the cards to people.

CAG suggestions to UIDAI

In response, the CAG suggested tightening the parameters of Biometric Service Providers, devising foolproof mechanisms for capturing unique biometric data and improving upon their monitoring systems to proactively identify and take action to minimize, multiple and duplicate Aadhaar numbers generated. It also suggested UIDAI to review the update of technology daily.

The CAG report underlined the need to strengthen the Automated Biometric Identification System so that duplicate Aadhaar number generation can be stopped at the initial stage, the Times of India reported.

The central government’s Sunday statement concluded saying: “Aadhaar Identity Authentication ecosystem has provided adequate features for protecting and safeguarding the identity and privacy of the Aadhaar holder.”