The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology Sunday withdrew an advisory issued by the Aadhaar agency which cautioned people to not share a photocopy of the document with entities such as hotels and cinema halls owing to the possibility of “misuse”. A ministry statement Sunday said the advisory was withdrawn because it could be “misinterpreted”.
The advisory was issued Friday by the regional office of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) in Bengaluru.
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It said citizens should share their Aadhaar details only with entities that have a “user licence” from UIDAI. It did not specify how to verify this user licence.
On Sunday, while withdrawing the advisory, the ministry said Aadhaar holders are “advised to exercise normal prudence in using and sharing” their Aadhaar details, without elaborating on what “normal prudence” constitutes.
“Aadhaar identity authentication ecosystem has provided adequate features for protecting and safeguarding the identity and privacy of the Aadhaar holder,” the statement said.
It added that the advisory had cautioned against sharing Aadhaar details following an “attempt to misuse a photoshopped Aadhaar card”.
Friday’s advisory appeared to be in stark contrast with a contention made by UIDAI’s former chief and then TRAI chairman RS Sharma, who in 2018 had shared his Aadhaar number on Twitter, challenging a user to show a “concrete example” of how the number could be used to “harm” him.
The advisory read: “Do not share photocopy of your Aadhaar with any organizations because it can be misused. Alternatively, please use a masked Aadhaar which displays only the last 4 digits of your Aadhaar number.”
CAG flagged privacy risk
The Comptroller and Auditor General of India had noted in April that UIDAI had 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”.
“Only those organizations that have obtained a User Licence from the UIDAI can use Aadhaar for establishing the identity of a person. Unlicenced private entities like hotels or film halls are not permitted to collect or keep copies of Aadhaar card. It is an offence under Aadhaar Act 2016. If a private entity demands to see your Aadhaar card, or seeks a photocopy of your Aadhaar card, please verify that they have valid User Licence from the UIDAI,” it said.
In 2018, the Supreme Court had struck down Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act which essentially allowed private entities to collect citizens’ 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, the Centre issued the Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 20