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Why is the UIDAI cracking down on individuals that hoard Aadhaar data?

Private firms’ offer to print Aadhaar details on plastic card a breach of law

Alnoor Peermohamed  |  Bengaluru A

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The billion-strong citizen identification system, Aadhaar, has given rise to businesses keen on illegal harnessing of this private data, say the authorities.

Outfits are offering services to print the details on plastic cards, something the Union information technology ministry warned against on Monday. These entities charge anywhere between Rs 50 and Rs 600, and are listed on e-commerce websites, apart from own online presence.

Under the Aadhaar law, collecting and storing of the data by private companies without the user’s consent is a crime. Monday’s warning from the ministry to e-commerce marketplaces such as Amazon, Flipkart and eBay to disallow merchants from collecting and printing such details was a result of this.

This newspaper could not find any listings of Aadhaar printing services on Flipkart but there was one on Amazon (taken down) and no less than five such listings on eBay.

PrintMyAadhaar is one of the more well organised outfits operating in this space. “Get your E-Aadhaar printed on a PVC card for easier handling,” reads their website. Users are prompted to fill their Aadhaar details on the website, pay Rs 50 and have the card sent to their houses. PrintMyAadhaar even offers discounts for bulk orders.

“Collecting such information or unauthorised printing of an Aadhaar card or aiding such persons in any manner may amount to a criminal offence, punishable with imprisonment under the Indian Penal Code and also Chapter VI of  The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016,” read the statement from the ministry.

Currently, Aadhaar stores a person’s name, date of birth, sex and address, apart from their biometric data.

While the biometric data isn’t available to these PDF printing shops, the rest of the information is, according to Srikanth Nadhamuni, chief executive officer of Khosla Labs and a former head of technology at the Unique Identification Authority of India. However, collecting this data poses no security risk to the Aadhaar infrastructure, he added.

“Allowing somebody to accumulate large amounts of data from Aadhaar users in general is not a good practice. We should ensure that the Aadhaar details of people remain private and it should only be up to the discretion of the end-user to share this,” said Nadhamuni.

Some security experts say Aadhaar does pose a security risk, as it makes available an individual’s details in the public domain. Several institutions are treating Aadhaar just like any other proof of identity.

“Transactions that should have been conducted using biometric authentication are being conducted just by presentation of paper documents. What is happening most commonly is that people are giving a printout or photocopy of their Aadhaar acknowledgement as their proof of identity to get a SIM card. The risk here is that somebody can get a mobile number against your name,” said Sunil Abraham, executive director of the non-profit Centre for Internet and Society.

He says the other technical issue with Aadhaar is the lack of a smart card that stores a person’s information, as in a digital signature. Due to the lack of this, people don’t know what information to keep private and what to make public. Conventional security techniques would have had a person keeping their PIN private (as with a bank account). If this personal PIN would have been saved on a smart card, which users wouldn’t have had much to worry about.

“In the case of Aadhaar, the authentication factor and the identification factor are in the public domain, because many people might have your UID number and people release their biometric data everywhere. Due to this broken technological solution, we are now through policy putting band-aids, saying people should not disclose their UID number unnecessarily,” added Abraham.

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