Aadhaar: Twists and turns in the path of biometric identification

Press Trust of India New Delhi | Updated on December 23, 2018 Published on December 23, 2018

New offline verification tools, non-intrusive methods to be introduced

The biometric identity system is set for a revamp with new offline verification tools, non-intrusive approach

Aadhaar, the country’s extraordinary attempt to give every citizen a biometric identity, is set for a massive revamp with new offline verification tools and non-intrusive ways for people seeking to voluntarily use the 12-digit unique number for new bank accounts and mobile connections.

After a chaotic 2018, led by the landmark Supreme Court (SC) ruling on the constitutional validity of Aadhaar, the UIDAI’s efforts around offline modes, such as eAadhaar and QR code, that can leverage the unique ID without any access to biometrics or even revealing the 12-digit number, will gather pace in 2019.

Aadhaar touched multiple facets of people’s lives as it became the default identifier, until doubts emerged that collection of biometric details could infringe on a citizen’s privacy rights. Then, the SC upheld the constitutional validity of the world’s largest biometric identification database, but spelt out its new limitations.

Right to privacy

After last year’s assertion that Indians have a right to privacy, the apex court in September 2018 redefined the boundaries of the biometric authentication — Aadhaar can be used for payment of government benefits and taxation records but private companies were barred from accessing it.

In a 4-1 judgement the SC held that Aadhaar will remain compulsory for the filing of Income Tax (IT) returns and allotment of Permanent Account Number (PAN).

However, Section 57 of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016, that permitted private entities such as Telecom companies or other corporates to use the biometric data, was struck down, dealing a body blow to the government’s ambitions to make the world’s largest biometric project mandatory for a slew of services.

The landmark ruling sent banks, telecom operators and fintech companies — which relied heavily on Aadhaar eKYC — scrambling in search of other viable means of customer verification.

As the verdict meant that fulfilling regulatory KYC requirements would have again involved a lot of paperwork for verification, Aadhaar-issuing authorityUIDAI, came up with alternate modes like QR (Quick Response) codes, e-Aadhaar and offline methods.

The proposed amendments, which will be placed before Parliament during the ongoing Winter session, propose to arm UIDAI with regulator-like powers to take enforcement actions on the misuse of the national biometric ID, and impose stiff penalties on violations.

Published on December 23, 2018
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