UIDAI's Virtual ID, limited KYC does little to protect Aadhaar data already collected, say critics

 BusinessToday.in   New Delhi     Last Updated: January 12, 2018  | 00:00 IST
UIDAI's Virtual ID, limited KYC does little to protect Aadhaar data already collected, say critics

Aadhaar-issuing body, Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), had barely started patting itself on the back for introducing the Virtual ID concept, what CEO Ajay Bhushan Pandey called "one of biggest recent innovations in this field", when detractors came crawling out of the woodwork, all guns blazing.

"Under compulsion, millions of persons have already shared Aadhaar number with many service providers. New security layer is like locking the stable after horses have bolted," tweeted P. Chidambaram, Congress veteran and former finance minister. This is not just an opposition party member taking potshots at the government. As of last month, close to 14 crore out of about 30 crore Permanent Account Numbers (PANs) had already been linked to Aadhaar and 70% of the estimated 100 crore bank accounts had been seeded. This will be the case for insurance policies as well as all government-sponsored welfare schemes and services since the Supreme Court ruling to extend the deadline for mandatory Aadhaar linking came just a fortnight before the government's December 21 deadline. So how does the new two-tier security system protect all that Aadhaar data already collected by sundry agencies?

The short answer is that it does not. According to media reports, banks and other service providers have not been asked to delete stored Aadhaar data from their databases. The only directive is to enforce the new security system within the June 1 deadline. In the absence of a legal mandate, agencies can very well choose to retain any Aadhaar data previously collected on their servers, leaving it open to any number of security breaches in the future.  

So, it would appear that the new VID and limited KYC norms are good ideas, just too late in arriving. Only procrastinators putting off linking Aadhaar to essential services stand to gain, unless the government decides to revoke all existing Aadhaar cards and issue fresh 12-digit unique identification numbers post June 1.

Where the new security system definitely scores is on the privacy front. To remind you, VID a temporary, 16-digit, randomly-generated number that an Aadhaar holder can use for authentication or KYC services along with his/her fingerprint instead in lieu of the Aadhaar number. The VID together with biometrics of the user would give any authorized agency, say, a mobile company, limited details like name, address and photograph, which are enough for any verification. You can generate/replace Virtual IDs on the UIDAI website, Aadhaar mobile app and at enrolment centres.

Since the system-generated VID will be mapped to an individual's Aadhaar number at the back end, it will do away with the need for the user to share Aadhaar number with sundry service agencies. This will, in turn, reduce the collection of Aadhaar numbers by various agencies. VIDs being temporary cannot be de-duplicated and as an added precaution, agencies that undertake authentication will not be allowed to generate VIDs on behalf of Aadhaar holders.

Furthermore, under limited KYC, UIDAI will evaluate all Authentication User Agencies (AUAs) and split them into two categories: Global AUAs and Local AUAs. Only agencies whose services, by law, require them to store the Aadhaar number-qualified as Global AUAs-will enjoy access to full demographic details of an individual. All the remaining AUAs will be branded as Local AUAs and will neither get access to full KYC, nor can they store the Aadhaar number on their systems. Instead, they will get a tokenised number issued by UIDAI to identify their customers. The 72 character alphanumeric 'UID Token' for your Aadhaar number will reportedly be different for every authentication body you approach so agencies will no longer be able to merge databases, thus enhancing privacy substantially.

However, there's a problem here, too. As Pranesh Prakash, Policy Director of Bengaluru-based Centre for Internet and Society, told The Hindu, "unless all entities are required to use VIDs or UID tokens, and are barred from storing Aadhaar numbers, the new measures won't really help."

In a recent online survey, conducted by social engagement platform LocalCircles, 52% of 15,000 respondents said they feared that their Aadhaar data might not be safe from unauthorised access by hackers and information sellers. The UIDAI's latest move does little to allay this doubt.

with PTI inputs

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