The government has withdrawn a statement issued by the Bengaluru Regional Office, UIDAI, on Friday, advising people not to share photocopy of their Aadhaar card with any organisation as it could be misused. This follows complaints from various quarters on its “possible misinterpretation’’ and the confusion it could cause.

“UIDAI-issued Aadhaar card holders are only advised to exercise normal prudence in using and sharing their UIDAI Aadhaar numbers,” the Ministry of Electronics & IT said in a press release on Sunday.

It pointed out that the release issued by the Bengaluru Regional Office, UIDAI, was issued by them in the context of an attempt to misuse a photoshopped Aadhaar card. “The release advised people not to share photocopy of their Aadhaar with any organisation because it can be misused. Alternatively, a masked Aadhaar which displays only the last four digits of Aadhaar number, can be used. However, in view of the possibility of the misinterpretation of the press release, the same stands withdrawn with immediate effect,” the MeitY statement read.

‘Knee-jerk reaction’

A source closely working with MeitY seeking anonymity said, “The withdrawal of statement is more of a knee-jerk reaction due to strong resistance. Aadhaar is now being seen as the default address proof. MeitY is not making any major changes and just come up with general recommendations which would be difficult to explain in detail since this is not industry specific.”

Bankers, too, raised concerns on the notification. “The safety of Aadhaar has never been doubted by a common bank customer so far and it has been the fulcrum of all Know Your Customer (KYC) norms. It’s a concern for banks that any misgivings on sharing of Aadhaar can create unnecessary panic and can cause issues in day-to-day operations,” a senior SBI official said. It is learnt that the same has also been communicated to the government by a few banks, he said. 

Few bank customers are also worried over the issue. “In these days of online frauds in banking transactions, any possibility of misuse of Aadhaar is worrisome as it is a very freely used and shared number,” N Siva Krishna, a customer of Union Bank of India, said.

Data misuse

MeitY and related ministries are desperately trying to get their act together so that whatever may or may not happen should come to their notice. That is why this six-hour window for disclosure under the new cybersecurity directives came in, which still stands. A lot of enterprises like banks and CIOs it is speaking to, are very particular about following these rules, the official said.

The Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (Cert-In) doesn’t just want to be seen as an agency but also provide intelligence for people to take notice of it. They really want to step into the driving seat and will come up with a slew of measures over the next four-five months,” the official said adding that MeitY is trying to ensure that data is not getting shared and misused.

“We have time and again seen instances where data has been breached and have fell into wrong hands. A lot of times this data has been procured by companies who are pushing them as marketing initiatives,” the official added.

Safety, privacy

Apart from the masked Aadhaar, the government has also time and again has said it is safe and that UIDAI database has only minimal information that one gives at the time of enrolment or update. This includes the name, address, gender, date of birth, 10 finger prints, two iris scans, facial photograph, mobile number (optional) and email ID (optional).

Apart from masking the Aadhaar number, individuals can also generate 16-digit virtual ID (VID) linked to the Aadhaar and also lock/unlock the Aadhaar for a few days through UIDAI’s website.

A few years ago, former chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) RS Sharma vociferously explained to users how safe Aadhaar was and how nobody could hack into his account when some hackers tried to prove that every details of a person could be found out, including banking.