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Aadhaar is ‘an improper gate to service’: Edward Snowden

Snowden shares his views on non-government entities’ role in taking Aadhaar information.

tech Updated: Jan 22, 2018 17:55 IST
Marcia Sekhose
Marcia Sekhose
Hindustan Times
Aadhaar,Aadhaar Edward Snowden,Aadhaar UIDAI
Edward Snowden tweeted saying that Aadhaar information could be saved in external databases.(HT File)

Aadhaar has been in the news recently following a report about the alleged vulnerability of the database. The biometric system received renewed global attention when Edward Snowden joined in and expressed his views on the system’s “weakness”. Snowden was responding to the Unique Identification Authority of India’s (UIDAI) statement of the Aadhaar number being “an identifier, not a profiling tool”.

UIDAI’s tweet reads, “Aadhaar database does not keep any information about bank accounts, shares, mutual funds, property details, health records, family details, religion, caste, education etc.”

While conceding this “might be true”, Snowden nevertheless added that, “This might be true if banks, landlords, hospitals, schools, telephone & internet companies were prohibited by law from asking your #Aadhaar number.” Snowden said that since non-government entities ask for Aadhaar number they also must have databases.

According to a report in HT, the risk involved is with information spread across different databases, and not with UIDAI’s database. Subhashis Banerjee, Professor of Computer Science Engineering at IIT Delhi said, “Ordinarily, the existence of these biometric databases would not scare me. But given the UIDAI uses biometrics for authorising transactions, these databases are a risk.”

Aadhaar has been made mandatory for availing of many services in the country. According to UIDAI, when someone provides their Aadhaar number for verification the only information sent is the Aadhaar number, biometrics information and basic Know Your Customer (KYC) details like name, address, and photo. UIDAI also clarifies that your biometrics taken at the time of verification aren’t stored or cannot be used by these entities.

Tweeting earlier on the subject, Snowden had said that the demands from non-government entities for the Aadhaar number “must be criminalised.” He had cited an article published in The Wire by ex-RAW chief KC Verma, which talks about how Aadhaar is being abused by banks, telcos, and transport and making it “an improper gate to service”.

The authority’s defence for making Aadhaar mandatory is for security. It believes by linking the Aadhaar number it becomes easier to find out fraudulent activities. For example, if there is any illegitimate withdrawal from a bank account, finding the culprit would be easier through Aadhaar. In the case of mobile companies, this would help prevent misuse of mobile numbers for terrorist activities.

Snowden’s Twitter bursts on Aadhaar began with The Tribune’s report on buying Aadhaar details for just Rs 500. Ever since, Snowden has been active in questioning and criticising the government’s role in safeguarding the privacy of Indian citizens. UIDAI stays firm on its recurring statement of the Aadhaar database being safe and secure, and that it has never been breached “during the last 7 years of its existence”.

First Published: Jan 22, 2018 17:41 IST