The Supreme Court ruling that private companies can no longer use Aadhaar data has sent the sector into a tizzy. What is still unclear is whether the 12-digit biometric number can be voluntarily extended by cardholders for registration and authentication purposes. So the telecom department will reportedly meet the relevant authorities soon to figure this out.
"We will have meetings with Aadhaar authorities, with TSPs (telecom service providers) and with the law ministry to ensure that we are in complete compliance with the Supreme Court," Aruna Sundararajan, secretary of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), told reporters yesterday.
According to The Economic Times, she further pointed out that Aadhaar-based verification had been a convenience. "So now, on a voluntary basis, if people want to use Aadhaar, can they or not? We will probably have to seek advice on this also," she added.
The Aadhaar-issuing body, Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), too, said that it would hold inter-ministerial meetings involving the finance and telecom departments to discuss issues arising out of Wednesday's Supreme Court order.
According to industry sources, all telecom operators had moved near-completely to e-Know Your Customer system to verify customers using Aadhaar - instead of the older system of physical verification - and it will be very challenging to acquire new customers in absence of the system. The daily added that telecom operators will be sending their concerns regarding the judgement to the government in three weeks and seek directions on the future course.
Telcos claim that that the Supreme Court's latest Aadhaar judgement will not only send their customer acquisition costs shooting up but also increase processing time for new subscribers, which may lead to delays in getting phone connections.
With Aadhaar, the cost was pegged at about Rs 30 per new subscriber. But with verification going back to old ways, the telcos will have to send agents to every household - possibly making multiple trips - so the cost is expected to jump to Rs 250-300.
"We along with our lawyers are reviewing the order to obtain a clear understanding of it. Once this is done, we will arrive at an industry consensus on Aadhaar and submit our views to DoT," Rajan Mathews, director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which represents all major telcos, told the daily. "This will probably take two or three weeks."
Telcos are also grappling with the issue of eKYC. While the verdict says Aadhaar is not mandatory, an earlier DoT directive said eKYC was compulsory, which required the finger prints and Aadhaar number of the customer.
According to operators, if they now need to move back to the old paper-based KYC method, they will need a directive from DoT to stop eKYC.
However, Sundararajan yesterday said that given the convenience of the Aadhaar-backed system, the department would see if "something" can be done to "get this convenience (back) because some form of digital identity is useful for eKYC".
Telecom operators are also confused about the Supreme Court's directive that authentication records obtained via Aadhaar that are already with them should not be stored beyond six months. "We need clarity on what documents need to be destroyed. We store the KYC details which have the subscriber's address and identity proof. Lately, they are linked to Aadhaar for easier verification. But now does this mean we have to destroy just the Aadhaar number or the documents linked to it?" posed a senior executive in one of the large telcos, adding that clarification is also needed on the methods that can be used to destroy the data.
According to Sundararajan, the telecom department will be meetings with the telecom service providers "to ensure that the apex court ruling of destroying customer data within six months is duly followed".
While everything is still up in the air, telcos also worry about subscribers asking to delink their Aadhaar number with the mobile numbers in the days ahead.