(Source: Bloomberg)

Study Raises Red Flags And Fresh Debate On Aadhaar

Is information of over 86 percent Indian citizens stored in the Aadhaar database safe? Do the costs of implementing the Unique Identification System outweigh its benefits and how big are the last mile connectivity issues?

These questions resurfaced after a recent study conducted by a Reserve Bank of India-funded organisation said benefits of India’s biometrics-based unique national identity system are unclear and the impact of direct benefit transfers it will be used to deliver to the poor, has not been not studied enough.

“Instead of putting their foot on the brakes, the government is putting its foot on the accelerator creating more vulnerabilities,” said economist and IIT Delhi Professor Reetika Khera whose research has been quoted in the study by the Institute for Development and Research in Banking Technology.

Vulnerabilities in the Aadhaar database have come to the fore once again over the last few days after after The Tribune, a Chandigarh-based newspaper, reported that it could access the Aadhaar database by paying Rs 500, raising privacy concerns.

Petitions challenging the validity of Aadhaar and the government’s decision to make it mandatory for everything from bank accounts to mobile services are pending in the Supreme Court.

We have been forced to link our Aadhaar number to bank accounts. It’s true that a lot of demographic information is out there. But if it is not linked to our bank accounts,you are creating a break between the data.
Reetika Khera, Associate Professor, IIT Delhi

“We have not had a single instance of biometric breach,” Amit Malviya who heads the IT cell for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party told BloombergQuint. A lot of the data that activists say could be hacked into, is already publicly available, he argued.

Aadhaar captures over and above the biometrics, your name, your date of birth, your address and your sex. These details also available on your voting list, ration card and in the public domain.
Amit Malviya, Head, IT Cell, BJP

Former Deputy Governor at the Reserve Bank of India, R Gandhi, struck a conciliatory note, saying the research papers points out ‘theoretical possibilities’ which doesn’t mean a breach has occurred. But concerns on Aadhaar also extend to what its long-term benefits are and whether linking it to basic services like the Public Distribution System is keeping the most needy Indian from availing essentials like monthly ration.

Gandhi advocates an alternative method of identity proof.

If for any reason.. Aadhaar-related information is insufficient or not accessible there should be additional alternate methods through which one can prove identity.
R Gandhi, Former Deputy Governor, Reserve Bank of India

Disclaimer: This discussion was recorded a day before the UIDAI said the government will introduce a virtual identification number for Aadhaar to help strengthen privacy.