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Is Aadhaar Card worth considering an essential identity proof?

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Gunja Kapoor
Gunja Kapoor is a policy analyst based in New Delhi. She tweets at @gunjakapoor

Not against it, for the sake of it

In a country where more than 40 per cent people defecate in open, people live under the sky and yet make babies, share ALL their identity proofs even when one would suffice, it is understandable why Aadhaar is just another identity proof for them; just another piece of laminated paper that will accompany the existing oxidized bundle of identity proofs.

In fact, because it incorporates biometric data, it brings an additional layer of notional security with the instrument. Most of my well-read friends see no reason why I should have an issue with this Godsend, err, I mean Nilekani send solution that promises to do away with all the miseries a land of 1.25+ people faces.

If God could design so many faces, we can sure do better. So, what is it, that we don’t know (probably ‘they’ don’t want us to know) about Aadhaar?

a. Aadhaar for everyone, how?

Chapter I, Section 5 of the Aadhar Act states:

The Authority shall take special measures to issue Aadhaar number to women, children, senior citizens, persons with disability, unskilled and unorganised workers, nomadic tribes or to such other persons who do not have any permanent dwelling house and such other categories of individuals as may be specified by regulations.

Disabled: The Act is unclear how it intends to deal with disabled people, leprosy patients, amputated limbs, and people born with deformities. The form does not entail any column for such cases, implicitly excluding them from the scheme. Also, do we have door-to-door Aadhar for the immobile?

Homeless/Nomads: The form has no provision where one may identify themselves as homeless or nomadic. Although the form does not make address fields mandatory, if Aadhaar is envisaged as the means to transfer benefits, those without an address are left at the mercy of the data operator to start with, and excessive discretion of PDS officer to end with.

b. Aadhaar for Anyone

Proof of Identity: Identity proofs that can be used for document based introduction are very basic. For example, “Photo ID issued by Recognized Educational Institution” being the easiest of all.

Proof of Address: There is no background verification, like that in passports to verify if the applicant is indeed residing at the said location. Acceptable documents like electricity bills are easily available to terrorists operating in the country.

Date of birth documents: Using the option of “Declared” and citing absence of documents related to date of birth, an unintended applicant does not have much to worry about.

We have colourful reportage of terrorists possessing sim cards and fake documents, even operating bank accounts. If this instrument is espoused as the elixir to identity crisis, control should have been the repeated theme.

Aadhar Form

 c. Aadhaar is not an address proof, or is it?

Chapter III, Section 9 of the Aadhar Act states:

The Aadhaar number or the authentication thereof shall not, by itself, confer any right of, or be proof of, citizenship or domicile in respect of an Aadhaar number holder.

On the contrary,

The passport office mentions Aadhaar as an acceptable proof of address. It goes on to say, Furnishing of Aadhaar card will expedite processing of passport applications.

We established in the above point that Aadhaar can be obtained easily by non-Indians. Using Aadhaar, I am able to open a bank account and avail utility services, which in turn help me completing documentation required for an Indian passport.

d. Spurious Aadhaar cards

The existing technology does not differentiate between the iris of a human being or an animal. Similarly, the detection of fingerprint will capture the paw print of your pet too. If Aadhaar is to be used to transfer benefits only to intended people and ensure it is follows a one to one mapping to control DBT leaks, existing systems being deployed are failing at their game.

Your iris + Your fingerprints = Aadhaar 1
My iris + my fingerprints = Aadhaar 2
My iris + your fingerprints = Aadhaar 3
Your iris + my fingerprints = Aadhaar 4

If the Aadhaar machine operator is my dear friend, let’s get this growing exponentially. The stuff frauds are made of. There is very little control exercised by UIDAI on data collection agencies.

Even MS Dhoni’s data is not safe.

Come to the other leg of implementation. When I use Aadhaar 3 or Aadhaar 4, and my fingerprints or my iris, respectively don’t match, I negotiate for a benefit of doubt and blame technology for endless glitches. Moreover, there is little clarity on the composite unique key being used to match, while transferring of benefits.

2 people with 4 Aadhaar cards. N people, N^2 cards of which only N are genuine. Depending on the number of people who decide to thrive on this racket, this can be a nightmare in the wings. Increasing biometric identifiers only increases the problem, further.

e. Aadhaar is not a one-time activity

Chapter II, Section 3.3 of the Aadhar Act states:

The Authority may require Aadhaar number holders to update their demographic information and biometric information, from time to time, in such manner as may be specified by regulations, so as to ensure continued accuracy of their information in the Central Identities Data Repository.

The Act takes cognizance of the fact that our biometrics alter with age and health. This necessitates periodic updating. The Act does not spell out the timeframe after which a subscriber needs to revisit the Aadhaar centre for the same. Imagine, a hospital denying admission to a critical patient because her biometrics don’t tally or PDS distributor harassing the intending beneficiaries because the detection machine is not functioning.

Cannot deny benefits in the absence of Aadhaar:

There has been recent fear mongering that those without Aadhaar may be deprived of entitled subsidies, benefits and services. We may safely put them to rest, on the back of the following caveat mentioned in Chapter III of the Act:

“Provided that if an Aadhaar number is not assigned to an individual, the individual shall be offered alternate and viable means of identification for delivery of the subsidy, benefit or service.”

In the absence of the Act not posing querying regarding the absence of Aadhaar, one cannot chained to subscribe for one.

We can either go ahead with full-fledged implementation and adopt yet another instrument that will suffer from the same follies as its many other counterparts. Alternatively, test it for all cases and strive for highest standards of security till it truly deserves to be the Aadhaar of everything.

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Gunja Kapoor
Gunja Kapoor is a policy analyst based in New Delhi. She tweets at @gunjakapoor
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