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Monday, May 16, 2022

Explained: Why, according to UIDAI, Aadhaar data can’t be used in police investigations

The UIDAI, which issues the unique Aadhaar number to residents of India, is prohibited by law from sharing any core biometric information with police.

Written by Sofi Ahsan | New Delhi |
Updated: May 10, 2022 7:36:48 am
The UIDAI, which issues the unique Aadhaar number to residents of India, is prohibited by law from sharing any core biometric information with police. (Express Photo/File)

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has opposed a petition by Delhi Police seeking directions from the High Court that would allow investigators to match a suspect’s picture and chance prints (latent fingerprints) from the crime scene with the Aadhaar database to help identify the accused in a case of murder.

The UIDAI, which issues the unique Aadhaar number to residents of India, is prohibited by law from sharing any core biometric information with police. The statutory authority has also said it is not technologically feasible to accede to the request of the police.

The Delhi Police plea

In a first-of-its-kind case, Delhi Police approached Delhi High Court in February under Section 33(1) of The Aadhaar Act, according to which a judge of a High Court can order the disclosure of information on identity in certain cases. This section says “nothing contained in sub-section (2) or sub-section (5) of section 28 or sub-section (2) of section 29 shall apply in respect of any disclosure of information, including identity information or authentication records, made pursuant to an order of a court not inferior to that of a Judge of a High Court”.

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Sections 28(2) and 28(5) of The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 say that UIDAI “shall ensure confidentiality of identity information and authentication records of individuals”, and that no UIDAI employee can, either during service or later, “reveal any information stored in the Central Identities Data Repository or authentication record to anyone”.

The case at hand

The case under investigation dates to June 12, 2018, when a jeweller, Hemant Kumar Kaushik, was murdered by alleged robbers in his shop in Adarsh Nagar in northwest Delhi. While two suspects robbed the shop, a third waited on a stolen motorcycle. When Kaushik tried to grab one of the men, he was shot.

The police recovered 14 chance prints from the spot and footage from CCTV cameras in the area showing one of the suspects. The chance impressions and pictures did not match with any of the data already available with the police. Investigators now wants to cast the net wider, using Aadhaar’s biometric database.

Data UIDAI collects

The authority collects demographic and biometric information of residents at the time of enrolment. Demographic information includes name, address, date of birth, gender, mobile phone number, and email address; biometric information includes 10 fingerprints, two iris scans, and the resident’s photograph. The unique 12-digit Aadhaar issued after successful enrolment is a proof of identity to obtain a subsidy or service.

Confidentiality of data

The Aadhaar Act requires the UIDAI to ensure confidentiality and security of the identity information it collects. According to UIDAI, the Delhi Police’s prayer is contrary to Section 29 of the Act, which prohibits it from sharing core biometric information — fingerprint, iris scan or any such biological attribute — with any agency “for any reason whatsoever”.

The UIDAI has also said that no Aadhaar data can be shared by any individual or entity with anyone without the consent of the resident or holder of the Aadhaar.

Section 33, the provision under which Delhi Police has approached the court, allows the disclosure of only identification information including photograph or authentication records, but no core biometric information. Also, the court cannot pass the order “without giving an opportunity of hearing to the Authority [and the concerned Aadhaar number holder]”.

There is also a national security exception — an officer not below the rank of the Secretary to the central government can order disclosure of information including identity information or authentication record in the interest of national security

Tech impediment

While opposing the Delhi Police petition in February, the UIDAI had told the court that no “1:N” sharing of data was possible, it had to be done on a 1:1 basis only. “The Aadhaar technology only permits biometric authentications which are done on a 1:1 basis for which it is necessary to have the Aadhaar number of an individual,” the UIDAI has said in its written reply.

UIDAI has also said it does not collect biometric information — iris scans and fingerprints — based on technologies, standards or procedures suitable for forensic purposes. “Therefore using the biometric data for random matching purposes may not be technologically feasible and shall be beyond the purview of the Act,” it told the court.

According to UIDAI, for Aadhaar based authentication, it was essential to have both “live biometrics” and the Aadhaar. The authority can establish the identity of an individual only through the Aadhaar number — if that is not possible, it is technically not feasible to even provide the photograph of an unknown accused, the authority has said.

“The technological architecture of UIDAI or its mandate for Aadhaar based authentication does not allow for any instance of 1:N matching wherein finger prints including latent and chance fingerprints are matched against the other finger prints in the UIDAI database, except for generation of Aadhaar number,” the authority has said.

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