The introduction of Aadhaar Act as a money bill, and the concerns over mass surveillance, ethnic targeting, security of biometric data stored with the UIDAI have been central to political storms, and tussle between the government and the Supreme Court of India. Here is some brief information about UIDAI and the Aadhaar Act 2016 along with the changes introduced by Supreme Court judgements and government actions.
UIDAI – Unique Identification Authority of India
- statutory body established under Aadhaar Act 2016
- works with Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITy)
- purpose- to issue unique identification numbers (UID) (or Aadhaar) to all residents of India and securely administer the Aadhar database
Aadhaar is a 12 digit unique identification number, that can be obtained by residents of India. As of July 2018, 1.22 billion people hold an Aadhaar.
Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016
- Salient Features
- Every resident is entitled to obtain an Aadhaar number by submitting their biometric and demographic information – aadhaar number would be unique and random for each person.
- Demographic information collected for Aadhaar registration explicitly excludes data such as race, religion, caste, tribe, ethnicity, language, records of entitlement, income, or medical history.
- UIDAI is the regulatory authority for Aadhaar.
- Aadhaar is not a proof of citizenship or domicile.
- Protection of Information:
- Aadhaar act mandates UIDAI to ensure the security of identity information and to keep authentication records. A District Judge or higher court may force the UIDAI to reveal a person’s identity information, but not the core biometric information. An official with the rank of Joint Secretary or higher may access core biometric information if he has an order issued in interest of national security by the central government.
- UIDAI may share identity information, but not biometric information with public and private agencies, for the purpose of authentication/verification.
- There is provisions for fines and penalties, including prison term, for unauthorised access, damaging or leaking the information from the Central Identities Data Repository. Court Complaints under this law can be filed only by the UIDAI.
Updates on the Aadhaar:
- September 2018: The Supreme Court struck down several provisions from the Aadhaar Act, including Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act that permitted private entities to use the biometric authentication system for identification purposes. This makes the linking of Aadhaar with private services illegal. Moreover, the national security exception has also been struck down from the act, restricting government’s ability to access aadhaar data while safeguarding privacy of individuals. Source: Livemint
- March 2019: The Union Government of India has promulgated an ordinance to allow voluntary use of Aadhaar as identity proof for opening bank account and procuring mobile phone connection. Source: The Economic Times
More related information:
Aadhaar project has made the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) highly targeted and efficient, making sure that the welfare services reach the intended beneficiaries.
UIDAI has taken several steps to Secure Aadhaar. Technologically, it has introduced ways to authenticate without revealing personal info such as Virtual ID (a temporary number that can be used instead of Aadhaar number for authentication), UID token, Limited KYC. Government has instructed private players to follow all data privacy norms; UIDAI has warned of fines for firms which violate its guidelines.
Limitations of Aadhaar:
- Authentication failures occur due to poor connectivity and technical glitches, resulting in exclusion and non-disbursal of welfare benefit to the deserving. Supreme Court has instructed government to not deny welfare scheme-benefits on the grounds of authentication failure, and rather use alternative modes of authentication for such cases.
- Unaddressed Quantity Fraud: Authentic of beneficiaries can help plug leakages and diversions and can be helpful in ensuring that the funds reach the intended beneficiaries. However, authentication alone is not sufficient – as evident from cases where the fair price shop distributors take their cut from food ration given to beneficiaries even after biometric authentication. Such systemic irregularities need to be addressed to increase effectiveness of welfare schemes.
- We need to focus also on the human element of government service delivery, not just on technical element, to holistically improve delivery of government schemes.