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How Safe Is Your Identity Under Aadhaar ? #UID


UIDAI, Aadhaar, US Social Security Number

A lot of people believe that Aadhaar is just like – or even better than — the Social Security Number system of US. This is a big myth

Awidely-held misconception in India is that the US social security number (SSN) is a perfect identity that simplified government administration. And that UIDAI’s (Unique Identification Authority of India) innovation of adding biometrics to the Aadhaar number has made it foolproof. Nothing could be further from the truth. Consider a few facts.
The US started issuing SSN in 1936 for social security programmes and retirement benefits; it quickly went on to become a national identifier and authentication number. It is now used for medical records, health insurance, bank accounts, credit cards, driving licences, utility accounts, marriage and death certificates and even private sector employee filings.
SSN’s problems arose because of the linkage to various national databases, especially when the information went online along with photos, numbers and other identification details. Identity theft exploded. Significantly, the US realised the problem and initiated safeguards way back in 2004. A memorandum titled “Safeguarding against and Responding to the Breach of Personally Identifiable Information” asked various government departments, including the military, to “examine and identify instances” where collection or use of SSN is unnecessary, in 2007. All government agencies that issued identity cards with SSNs displayed were asked to remove the number. SSNs embedded in the bar code of military cards were also phased out since 2011.
The US SSN website ( has explicit warnings about identity theft and directions to a specialised national resource on how to fight the problem ( Advocacy by has now led to efforts to de-link various personal records from SSN. There is new legislation as well. The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 prohibits display of SSN on drivers’ licences, state ID cards or motor-vehicle registrations. The Social Security Number Protection Act of 2010 prohibits the display of an individual’s SSN on cheques and payments. But it is, apparently, not enough.
An article by Christopher Burns in the says that, in March 2015, the office of the inspector general of SSN found that 6.5 million Americans appear to be over 112 years old. They have active SSN numbers but are most likely to be dead. This, it says, is a big factor in identify theft and leakage of government funds. Mr Burns says improper payments by a range of federal programmes cost the US government a whopping $124.7 billion in fiscal 2014 according to the government accountability office.
Clearly, a national identity number is not enough to prevent massive leakage of government funds, even in a rich and literate country like the US. All these learnings were clearly available even before the Aadhaar was born. Yet, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) launched a massive and expensive Aadhaar programme, without proper legislation passed by parliament after a national debate on security measures, restricting its issuance to Indian nationals and linking of national databases. Worse, there is no clarity on costs, renewal of biometrics (which change ever three to four years) or clarity on dealing with identity theft. Instead, successive governments have tried to roll it out by stealth, making it mandatory for admissions, property registration and government services. This continued unchecked until a handful of public interest litigations (PILs) finally reached the Supreme Court. The apex court ordered that Aadhaar cannot be mandated for availing government benefits and services; but its orders have been repeatedly flouted.
Identity theft is new to India because most government records were not online or linked to a single identification. This will change. Unfortunately, most Indians, enamoured by the life-changing benefits of technology, are still to wake up to its dangerous flipside or the trauma of a stolen identity.

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Comment (1)

  1. Ben

    There is nothing like 100% security. If you understand the 3M principle for security where 3Ms stand for {Men, Money and Motivation} if someone has 2 of the 3, even the best security mechanism can be compromised. Question is can you increase the cost of doing so! And most importantly, “Compared to what?”

    Yes, SSN may have a hundred problems. Yes, identity theft is a big issue. And yes, improper payments cost a lot. But the question is in comparison to what?

    Twenty-five years after Rajiv Gandhi said that for every rupee sent to the common man, only 17 paise reached him, things are only worse in India today. Half the kerosene for poor ends up mixed with Petrol that produces toxic fumes. More than 85% of food subsidies today are eaten away. Almost all of urea subsidy goes to manufacturers that has only increased poverty in even richer states like Punjab. MNREGA today is infamous for ghosts getting paid.

    It is easy to point at US and point at some flaws in SSN and say look, I told so. But why don’t you consider the tremendous benefits of SSN in the US — credit monitoring, healthcare, fraud prevention, managing corruption, even streamlining government support.

    A similar comparison could be made for electronic voting machines — and the argument “how dangerous can they be”. Sure. Well even there, the question was “compared to what?”. The simple fact is that these machines have stopped booth capturing and rampant violence in voting process, for India they are a tremendous success!

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