Renowned economist Jean Dreze on Wednesday said the Aadhaar information leak on a Jharkhand government’s website a few days ago was no temporary glitch, but the result of prolonged negligence on the part of the authorities concerned.
“It was a blatant case of negligence, not a temporary glitch,” said the economist, who is credited with conceptualising the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and working with Nobel laureate Amartya Sen on several developmental projects.
Jharkhand was the first state to witness a series of such Aadhaar information leaks on government websites across India this week. It was also the gravest, considering that it made personal banking details and Aadhaar-related information of over 1.4 million pensioners available on the public domain website for days.
Though the Jharkhand government claimed that the Aadhaar numbers and bank account numbers of government pensioners were displayed on the directorate of social security’s website for less than a week, Dreze’s associate Dheeraj Kumar – a right-to-food activist in Jharkhand – had found UID details of pensioners on the same virtual platform in the last week of March.
“I came across Aadhaar numbers and account numbers of pensioners during the course of my work last month. Back then, I did not realise this was an actual violation of the law,” Kumar said.
The state government has been denying the leak ever since it was fixed. Officials even told vernacular dailies on Tuesday that reports about the leak were false.
“We got to know about it this week. Our programmers are working on it, and the issue should be addressed very soon,” social welfare department secretary MS Bhatia had told HT on the day of the leak. The website was blocked within minutes.
Days after the Jharkhand breach, similar leaks were found on a public distribution system website in Chandigarh, the scholarship database in Uttar Pradesh, a pensioners’ dashboard in Kerala, and a Swacch Bharat Mission website maintained by the ministry of water and sanitation.
These breaches came at a time when the Supreme Court is hearing a set of petitions challenging a controversial government decision to make it mandatory for citizens to seed Permanent Account Numbers with Aadhaar numbers for filing income tax returns.
“It reveals that personal information is vulnerable to such leaks on government websites – making card-holders’ bank accounts, welfare scheme benefits and personal whereabouts accessible to potential offenders,” said Dreze.
The economist also pointed out that the aggrieved pensioners were not even given the right to lodge a complaint against the breach. “The rules are all lopsided. While the UIDAI has all the powers, the card-holder cannot even lodge a complaint,” he said.
Both Jharkhand and the central government have been pushing citizens to register themselves with Aadhaar. The state government recently mandated that welfare scheme benefits be accorded only to those with UID numbers.
“But this might only be the tip of the iceberg. As fingerprints can also be duplicated, they cannot be an individual’s sole proof of identity,” said Dreze.