Biometrics is not the only problem, the enrolment process and authentication systems are also emerging as serious issues with the UID or Aadhaar identification project. This is also forcing banks to search for other alternatives for payment authentication
Lost cards, fake and frivolous enrolments and difficulty in reading biometrics of the really poor on whose name the expensive project was started, are just a few of the issues plaguing Aadhaar, the Unique Identification (UID) number project, the brainchild of Nandan Nilekani. The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) appears to be happy to enrol more people who already have some identification rather than those who do not have any.
This has evoked strong criticism from a top official from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). Dr KC Chakrabarty, deputy governor, RBI, in a report said, “Aadhaar was to give ID to people without cards, but it is giving to those who don’t need one. Even if it signs up 500 million people in the next five to six years, and they are all people like you and me, it will not serve any purpose.”
Several poor people, who do not have any ID, are also finding it difficult to enrol for Aadhaar. Many of them, like housemaids and construction labourers, are finding it difficult to provide a clean fingerprint sample. Some could not even submit sample of their iris due to cataract. After failing to provide clean samples for registrations, these people may be deprived the Aadhaar number or enrolled in physically-disabled category. People also have been complaining about the long time taken for registering for the Aadhaar.
According to media reports, even the finance ministry is looking at an alternate system of payment validation. While, the government and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has asked banks to accept the Aadhaar number as one of the identification proofs for opening an account, the lenders are not sure about the authentication and verification of these numbers for the payment system. The RBI does not appear to be confident about Aadhaar as it feels that the UID project is not ready for handling secure payment transactions.
Last week, an initial probe by the Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS) in Hyderabad revealed that its staff indulged in fake enrolments and dispatch of the UID numbers.
Mohammad Ali, a data entry supervisor of IL&FS, told the police that he was sacked in September 2011 and surrendered his login ID and password to his seniors. The company, however, gave this login ID and password to others, who in turn registered about 30,000 people in just six months from 17 enrolment centres in Hyderabad. They even dispatched the letter mentioning the UID number. However, majority of the registrations were fake and UIDAI admitted that it never received any data for these Aadhaar enrolments. Out of these 30,000 enrolments, about 800 were registered under the physically-disabled category, which may make it easy for a fake user to obtain other documents like a passport.
This is completely in contrast to the UIDAI claims. Earlier in January, UIDAI said, “… based on the analysis, it can be stated with confidence that UIDAI enrolment system has proven to be reliable, accurate and scalable to meet the nation’s need of providing unique Aadhaar numbers to the entire population. It is now safe to conclude that the system will be able to scale to handle the entire population”.
This again may be the reason, why the finance ministry and bankers are searching for other avenues for a payment authentication system. In Mewat district of Haryana, the Department of Financial Services has started its own pilot project for biometric authentication. The National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) has created routing systems for payments in the pilot project.
Even, the request for proposals (RFPs) issued by State Bank of India (SBI) for enrolling banking correspondents (BCs) in Maharashtra says that the technology solutions can be based on authentication system other than those of UIDAI (Aadhaar, what else?). Bankers, especially, belonging to state-run banks, have expressed reservations about the legality of Aadhaar.
Last year in December, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance, headed by Yashwant Sinha had rejected the National Identification Authority of India Bill (NIA Bill). The finance ministry, the home ministry and the Planning Commission, further strengthening the committee's reservations to the big-ticket scheme, have also opposed the project.
The committee also raised concerns about security, data theft and privacy. “Considering the huge database size and possibility of misuse of information, enactment of a national data protection law, which is at a draft stage, is a prerequisite for any law that deals with large scale collection of information from individuals and its linkages across separate database… The committee is afraid that the scheme may wind up being dependent on private agencies…,” the committee noted in its report.
According to a potential class action suit filed by Bengaluru-based Col (retd) Mathew Thomas of Citizens’ Action Forum and VK Somasekhar, founder-trustee of Grahak Shakti, every day the UID project continues, several crore of rupees of taxpayers’ money would be lost. Apart from this, the continued gathering of people’s data would be an unacceptable security risk both to the people and the nation itself.
“It is respectfully submitted that while millions are dying of hunger, starvation and deprivation be it children, women, men or aged persons, spending such huge amounts of money to benefit and make it possible for many to pocket the money at the expense of the citizen in the name of Aadhaar even without any legislative sanction is illegal. Plaintiffs are affected by the conduct of the defendants and so are many millions of Indians,” said Col (retd) Thomas and Mr Somasekhar in the petition.
Social activist and writer Arundhati Roy, in an interview to the New Internationalist magazine expressed reservation about the Aadhaar scheme. “Imagine a government that cannot provide food or water to its people, a government whose policies have created a population of 800 million people who live on less than Rs20 [about 45 US cents] a day, a country which has the largest number of malnourished children in the world, which has, as a major priority, the desire to distribute UID cards to all of its citizens.”
“The UID is a corporate scam which funnels billions of dollars into the IT sector. To me, it is one of the most serious transgressions that is on the cards. It is nothing more than an administrative tool in the hands of a police state," the activist had said.
The UIDAI is also been accused to make false claims about the reliability of biometrics used in the Aadhaar project. (Read: True lies of biometric technology in Aadhaar enrolment).