As we have stepped into the new year, only a few thing seem to have changed. Caste-based violence is as prevalent as it was last year, if not more problematic; corruption and scams are still breaking in various parts of the country and perhaps the biggest debate that shook the nation last year, continues to rage, and rightly so. The mandatory imposition of the Aadhaar Card and its violation of the Right To Privacy of a billion people crossed another threshold right at the beginning of 2018 as access to the Aadhaar Database of more than a billion people was found to be sold on WhatsApp for a mere INR 500.
The Tribune carried out an investigation in which its correspondent was able to gain unrestricted access to details of more than a billion Aadhaar numbers, from an anonymous seller on Whatsapp. The investigating team received a login ID and a username to a portal that had all the details, once they paid 500 rupees over PayTM. Moreover, for an extra INR 300, the agent provided a “software” that could facilitate the printing of the Card after entering the Aadhaar number of any individual. This story in the Tribune reports the exact nature of investigation and the events that unfolded online.
The publication also revealed that this racket may have been started by the Village Level Enterprise operators that were hired under the Common Service Centres Scheme (CSCS) by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (ME&IT), who suddenly found themselves unemployed as their jobs were transferred to top officials to avoid any breach in data. These operators, trying to make quick money, may have somehow gained illegal access to UIDAI to provide Aadhaar services to common people, putting the personal information of the country’s citizens at risk of misuse.
We previously spoke to a number of young Indians (aged 18-30) and experts regarding the possible consequences of entrusting the government with such personal details. While there were mixed responses and opinions, the threat of an identity theft was felt by most, and it seems their fear has come to fruition. Vrinda Bhandari, an advocate actively involved in the Aadhaar privacy litigation, said, “Making the Aadhaar card mandatory is a violation of not just decisional privacy but also bodily privacy. Biometrics and iris scan are the most integral part of our identity which would be stored in a highly vulnerable and risky database.The possibility of an identity theft thus very much becomes a possibility, which is irreversible unlike the case of a credit card theft.”
Even after all the assurance by the government that top cybersecurity measures have been taken to protect this data, just a few days ago there was a major leak on 210 government sites that made Aadhaar information public. Officials dismissed any breach in the database, but pertinent questions have been raised regarding hacking with each such incident. Issues regarding the fraudulent use of fingerprints to attain sim cards, unauthorized storing of information and wrongful appropriation of an identity to commit crimes are just some of the many problems that can arise for everyday citizens. Moreover, identity theft is irreversible and if committed, the person may not even find out about it as the Unique Identification Authority of India is not mandated to inform citizens about information breaches. How is this allowed?
How many breaches will it take to get the government to at least just acknowledge that their supposedly mega-fortified database is not all that safe? How many times will the same questions regarding information security be raised before something is actually done? It is for these very denials that we need more media houses like The Tribune, whose investigation has brought to light the gross discrepancies in the system – just so you know, the government continues to rubbish everything the investigation has uncovered.
For more details and an understanding of the entire investigation, read the full report by The Tribune here
To understand the opinions of the Indian Youth on the Aadhaar debacle, read the full story here.
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