Former India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s Aadhaar details were made public by a Twitter handle of the Central Services Centre. The leak has raised the issue of privacy of individuals and security of data collected by the government for Aadhaar. The government has been on an overdrive to implement Aadhaar and link it to both welfare and non-welfare schemes in the country. But, it is a serious concern when personal information of an individual is not kept secure and leaked out in the public domain. Despite implementing advanced technological safeguards, a thing as simple as human error breached the security of Aadhaar. Perhaps the focus should be on ensuring complete safety to Aadhaar data, at the collection points as well as storage repositories, instead of showing urgency to impose it on citizens.
Furthermore, there are security loopholes which are continuously being flagged but instead of paying heed to them and resolving the issues, the government seems to be in denial. In recent reports, it was seen how people were able to gain more than one Aadhaar enrollment IDs. Social media is littered with posts, some claiming to be evidence, of more extensive security vulnerabilities or compromise of Aadhaar.
A report by the Data Security Council of India submitted to the UIDAI a few years ago had listed several security threats to the system highlighting the concerns of maintaining centralised databases of biometric personal identifiable information. “Large centralized databases of biometric personal Identifiable Information, hooked up to networks and made searchable in a distributed manner, represent significant targets for hackers and other malicious entities to exploit. Further, large centralised databases are more prone to functional creep (secondary uses) and insider abuse. There are also significant risks associated with transmitting biometric data over networks where they may be intercepted, copied, and actually tampered with, often without any detection,” the report had said
Discomforting clauses in the Aadhaar Act allow great space for UIDAI and government to wriggle out of accountability issues. According to Aadhaar Act, UIDAI is not legally obliged to inform someone whose information stored with them is compromised. Furthermore, only the UIDAI can file a complaint in such a case. Therefore, not only is the onboarding done in a rushed manner with so many security and privacy issues, it comes with such clauses that effectively keep individuals in the dark about misuse of their personal information.
The UIDAI claims that all its systems are secure and that the data accumulated is secure. But security experts remain wary about the program. Incidents of unauthorised attempts to use Aadhaar databases, unauthorised storage of Aadhaar information by Aadhaar Authentication User Agencies (AUAs) have come to the fore in recent days. Human error, insider attack, man-in-the-middle-attacks are just some of the vulnerabilities experts list which show that the system may actually not be 100% effective.
Acknowledging that the central infrastructure would be state-of-the-art, the Data Security Council report elucidated: “It is the other registrars and the agencies which will capture the data, and store the same even as they transmit the same to CIDR, that may turn out to be the weakest link when it comes to the security and privacy. The latter are likely to be susceptible to attacks from all angles – people, process and technology.”
It has been a controversial issue and the Supreme Court is yet to deliberate on the validity of Aadhaar. Chief Justice of India and a Constitution Bench will also outline the details of right to privacy and chalk out the nuances of the debate. However, incidents like Dhoni’s Aadhaar number leak raise questions on safety and privacy of the data.