At least 1,400 complaints have also been registered with UIDAI over duplicate entries, bribery, and a variety of related issues.
The debate over whether Aadhaar is an intrusion of privacy, due to be taken up by a five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in hearings later this month, might take a backseat now as fears are plaguing the nation over whether the UIDAI servers are safe. The fear of the possibility of identity theft rose after a newspaper report revealed that a mere electronic transfer of Rs 500 to an agent communicating on WhatsApp was sufficient to have a gateway created and a login ID and password for entry to access the account details of millions from the UIDAI database by feeding an Aadhaar number. Far from investigating and finding out if its servers had been accessed and data breached, UIDAI took to a venomous attack on the story with FIRs against the journalist and “unknown persons”.
The authority’s bristling reaction will in no way help assuage valid public concerns over the security of their private data. The Aadhaar database may have been expanded beyond the billion mark since its inception in 2009, but concerns over data security have magnified of late as the Aadhaar ID through biometric data has been promoted for various government services – 139 government subsidies, mobile SIMs, bank accounts and essential financial and other services. Petitioners in pleas against Aadhaar have also noted that 135 million Indians may have been affected by multiple data breaches from government portals. Government departments have shown utter disregard for the database’s sanctity by freely putting up the identity of welfare beneficiaries on their websites. At least 1,400 complaints have also been registered with UIDAI over duplicate entries, bribery, and a variety of related issues.
The distrust of government, implicit in the understanding of the common man, is not the only reason for so much anxiety regarding Aadhaar. Considerable damage has been done to the image of Aadhaar with Bharti Airtel opening payments bank accounts without authorisation from the customers and diverting money earmarked as subsidies for cooking gas and the like. Credibility being extremely low after these exposes, it is important that UIDAI must investigate the possible leak thoroughly and work towards keeping the system clean rather than pounce on the newspaper and the journalist who exposed a systemic weakness. While there is no guarantee that any database can ever be completely secure in these days of professionals and pranksters acting as hackers, the authority must convince itself first that it can protect the data. Standing the scrutiny of a legal challenge on whether the very concept is a breach of the fundamental right to privacy is a different matter altogether. Government callousness and corruption are the greatest threats in the Indian system. We wonder whether UIDAI is really capable of staving off those challenges.