Updated: June 4, 2022 9:29:59 am
On May 29, the Centre withdrew an advisory issued two days previously by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which advised people to not give photocopies of their Aadhaar to establishments such as hotels, cinemas, etc. to prevent their possible “misuse”. The advisory could be “misinterpreted”, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said in a statement.
The Indian Express has learnt that the original advisory, issued on May 27 by the UIDAI’s regional office in Bengaluru, was triggered after an individual who was allegedly part of an international narcotic drugs racket, was caught using fudged Aadhaar cards to book illegal export cargo of prohibited substances.
“One of the shipments, destined for Australia, was seized at the Bengaluru airport,” an official said. It is learnt that the matter was referred to the Chennai Police, which then arrested a person in that city for forging an Aadhaar card of an individual from Andhra Pradesh.
The Customs Intelligence Unit reportedly seized 4.4 kg of ephedrine crystals worth Rs 90 lakh that was concealed in a shipment of garments. The cargo was intercepted at the international courier terminal of Bengaluru airport. The accused individual was apprehended on May 20.
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In its May 27 advisory, UIDAI asked people to make sure they shared their Aadhaar details only with entities that have a “user licence” from the Authority, but did not specify how they should verify this.
While withdrawing the UIDAI’s advisory, the IT Ministry, however, said that people should only exercise “normal prudence”, and assured that the “Aadhaar identity authentication ecosystem has provided adequate features for protecting and safeguarding the identity and privacy of the Aadhaar holder”. The ministry did not say what constituted “normal prudence”.
In the period before it was withdrawn, the UIDAI advisory caught people by surprise, who expressed concern on social media that they routinely submitted photocopies of their Aadhaar for a range of services from obtaining SIM cards to opening bank accounts to checking into hotels. The advisory appeared to sharply contradict the claim of security made in 2018 by former UIDAI chief and then chairman of the Telecom
Regulatory Authority of India R S Sharma, who had posted his Aadhaar number on Twitter and challenged a user to show a “concrete example” of how the number could be used to “harm” him.
Critics have repeatedly flagged privacy concerns related to Aadhaar. A Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) report released in April noted that UIDAI has not ensured that the applications or devices used by agencies or private firms for Aadhaar authentication were “capable of storing personal information…which put the privacy of residents at risk”.
In 2018, the Supreme Court had struck down a part of Section 57 of The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016, which allowed private entities to collect Aadhaar details. While reading down the provision, the top court had called it “unconstitutional”.
Soon after the judgement, however, the UIDAI had clarified to banks that Aadhaar know-your-customer (eKYC) can be used to authenticate beneficiaries of government subsidies and welfare schemes, paving the way for private banks to use the document to identify beneficiaries of government welfare schemes. A few months later, in March 2019, the Centre issued The Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 2019, which allowed banks and telecom operators to collect Aadhaar details as proof of identity. In July that year, Parliament passed a law to replace the Ordinance.
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