The numbers don’t add uphttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/aadhaar-uidai-biometrics-the-numbers-dont-add-up-5512538/

The numbers don’t add up

The possibility that Aadhaar numbers can be misused is not theoretical

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The biometric data used for issuing the Aadhaar cards consists of finger prints, iris scan (eye details) and photograph (Representational/Express Photo by Abhinav Saha)

We have 29 states and seven union territories (UT), which together have 707 districts, about six lakh villages and 5,000 cities, and a total population of about 130 crore as on date. In order to issue Aadhaar numbers, the UIDAI appointed 167 registrars or agencies including states, UTs and public sector agencies. Of the total 118 crore Aadhaar numbers issued by them as on October 30, 2017, 90 per cent of the numbers were issued by eight states and 12 public sector undertakings. The rest 147 registrars issued only 10 per cent of the numbers. This is as per the affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court by the assistant director general of UIDAI on October 30, 2017 in writ petition 494/2012.

There is a genuine doubt raised about the claim of UIDAI that their 167 agencies had issued 118 crore Aadhaar numbers from September 29, 2010 till October 30, 2017. A query was made by a social activist under the RTI seeking information about the names and numbers of the enrollment operators appointed by all the registrars. The UIDAI refused to furnish the information. Further, it is evident that many Aadhaar numbers have been issued without identification of persons, since the primary identities which are voter cards, pan cards, driver licences, ration cards and passports are far less than the Aadhaar numbers issued. The voter cards are 60 crore, pan cards 29 crore, driver licences 17.37 crore, ration cards 15.17 crore and passports 6.9 crore. The information given under RTI that about 99.97 per cent Aadhaar numbers have been issued by using at least two of the primary identities is, therefore, not correct. At least 58 crore Aadhaar numbers appear to have been issued without verifying two or even one primary identity document, making them suspect.

The biometric data used for issuing the Aadhaar cards consists of finger prints, iris scan (eye details) and photograph. The finger prints cannot be unique among a large population of 130 crore, which is admitted by the UIDAI. The iris scan as a biometric data was introduced in August 2016. It need not be pointed out that if a person undergoes eye operation for cataract or implant, or uses contact lenses, his iris scan will automatically change. As regards the photograph, even a video photograph or mask can substitute the real face of the person. Thus, these biometrics can be manipulated and, therefore, are unreliable.

It is said that an OTP, that is the one-time password, which is a four digit number, is an alternative to the biometrics. In the first instance, it is generated by the provider or the distributor of the benefits or services by a programme which is nothing but a set of instructions. These instructions are on the computer of the distributor, and are meant to generate an OTP which is sent as an SMS to the holder of the mobile number, registered or associated with the Aadhaar number. If the mobile number is not registered, one cannot get an OTP. If it is registered and later gets changed but the new number is not registered with UIDAI, the old number continues to be circulated by the distributor and it remains in circulation. The holder of the old number then is free to misuse the said Aadhaar number for all purposes including to get another OTP or for any other transaction which requires Aadhaar authentication. Further, no one certifies the genuineness of either demographic or biometric data associated with the Aadhaar number.

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The possibility that Aadhaar numbers can be misused is not theoretical. The accounts in banks increased from 70 crore in April 2010 to 120 crore in April 2014 and deposits during the said period from Rs 45 lakh crore to Rs 80 lakh crore.

Since January 27, 2011, the RBI legitimised opening of small bank accounts with restrictions under PMLA, on the basis of Aadhaar numbers, and since September 2011, the bank accounts have been permitted to be opened also online, and without any restrictions. Are all these bank accounts genuine?

Reports in October 2017 pointed out that LPG subsidy of about Rs 167.8 crore due to 37.21 lakh consumers, was deposited in bogus Airtel Bank Accounts, without the knowledge of the consumers. This shows that fake accounts can be opened using only Aadhaar numbers without the knowledge of the genuine holders of the said numbers. It also shows that money can be siphoned off with the help of Aadhaar numbers, genuine and non-genuine.