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BW Businessworld

Can Your Aadhaar Number Be A Threat To Your Privacy?

Aadhaar exposes you to an increased risk of identity theft since your biometrics can be harvested by shopkeepers and reused without your permission

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The whole debate around Aadhaar has sidelined and the right to privacy has taken centre stage. While the noble intentions behind making Aadhaar as a national identity card cannot be questioned, its vulnerability to data abuse can also not be denied. For instance, if you use your Aadhaar number to buy a SIM card, the company can use it to access all your identity information, barring your core biometrics.

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government brought in Aadhaar but the incumbent National Democratic Alliance government is giving more push to Aadhaar by linking it with welfare schemes like National Action Plan for Skill Training of Persons with Disabilities, Central Sector Scholarship Schemes, Saakshar Bharat (adult literacy), Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, National Health Mission, National Career Services, Support to Training and Employment Programme (women-centric entrepreneurial assistance), Ujjawala Scheme under the Protection and Empowerment of Women Scheme, and more.

Although, the government’s effort to remove middle men from the scene by bringing in Aadhaar in every space is commendable but the lack of a comprehensive privacy law is slowly becoming a worrying factor for the nation. Recently, MS Dhoni's Aadhaar number and the rest of the information were leaked and one of his ‘fans’ posted all that information on Twitter.

This is not a lone case; there have been breaches earlier as well. Many third parties (neither UIDAI nor government officials) are creating a private database with Aadhaar information and interlinking identity with other sources. Kiran Jonnalgadda, co-founder, HasGeek and Internet Freedom Foundation told BW Businessworld, “Aadhaar, with the current laws, can is vulnerable to data abuse. We need a comprehensive law. We are awaiting the Supreme Court’s verdict on privacy laws.”

Another glaring fact is that the Unique Identification Authority of India had outsourced the responsibility of collecting the data to 556 private agencies. There have been 1,390 complaints against them but the proceedings took place only in the case of Dhoni.

A senior IT expert, who wished to remain anonymous, told BW Businessworld, “Aadhaar exposes you to an increased risk of identity theft since your biometrics can be harvested by shopkeepers and reused without your permission. Further, by using the same Aadhaar number in multiple locations the government has created a system by which a 360° view of a person can be had by combining multiple databases.  For instance, a hospital and a health insurance company can combine their databases without your consent.  While this is possible even without Aadhaar, it is made easier and more accurate with Aadhaar. To prevent this from happening, we need to have a strong privacy law in India that applies to both the government and the private sector.  We also need to limit the ability of the private sector to force you to give up your biometrics.”

Aadhaar-related security breaches may leave the individual wide open to commercial exploitation and identity fraud. Aadhaar is often compared to the United States (US) Social Security Number but it must be noted that biometrics are not taken in the US and there is a law for privacy in the US as well.

Since Aadhaar is gradually becoming an identity tool for almost all purposes; the government must try to figure out some way to remove all the technical discrepancies that can make all our details transparent at an immediate basis.