The Modi government has found a solution to long-held security issues regarding Aadhaar. The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has asked telecom operators to use Virtual IDs and limited KYC to issue new SIM cards to the customer. As of now, a 14 digit Aadhar number is being used for consumer verification on new SIM card purchases. The sharing of Aadhar card number to telecom companies makes the biometric data of the user vulnerable. The sensitive biometric data which is fed in Aadhar could then be shared with other companies and also used for marketing activities of these telecommunication companies.
According to a notification released by DoT, “ …all licensees shall implement the changes proposed by the UIDAI regarding use of Virtual ID as an alternative of Aadhaar number, UID tokens and limited KYC concept in their system/networks subject to the adherence of existing Aadhaar based e-KYC processes for issuing new mobile connection to subscribers and re-verification of existing mobile subscribers.” The implementation will be in retrospective manner, i.e, if Aadhaar number of a user is already shared with the telecom companies, then the telecom companies will have to replace the Aadhaar numbers of existing subscribers with UID tokens as a one-time measure.
The virtual ID which can be now used for the purchase of new SIM cards will be a combination of 16-digits used to mask the Aadhaar data. The virtual ID will be linked to Aadhaar, and therefore, the verification will be foolproof as the telecom operators will not be able to access the Aadhaar data as they will not have the real Aadhaar number of the user. In this limited know-your-customer (KYC) concept, only the pieces of information required for authentication are shared by the authority and not the full details.
The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) which represents all major operators including Airtel, Vodafone and Jio responded to the DoT circular in positive manner. Rajan Mathews, director general of COAI said, “The DoT’s circular dated 12th June 2018 is based on UIDAI instructions are another step to ensure the customers’ privacy. Telcos are making best efforts to make the necessary updates in their IT systems to implement the suggested changes by July 1, 2018, We believe that this step will provide convenience and confidence to the subscribers to get an authentic verification conducted without having the fear of giving their Aadhaar number.”
It could be said that Aadhaar card is a single identity with many benefits. Some civil liberty groups and NGOs have protested against Aadhaar with the claim that it is in breach of personal liberty of private citizens. These groups could not see the government’s efforts to protect the Aadhar data and the benefits it has delivered to the poor of the country. They want India to remain a poor country because in the name of serving poor, the owners of these NGOs get hefty foreign funding. There may be some glitches in Aadhaar but its benefits far exceed the minimal harms that the government is trying to fix as per requirement. The latest decision by UID and DoT could be considered as another positive step in the direction of protecting the personal biometric data of the citizens of the country.