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Aadhaar concerns and some consolation

Everything revolves around the biometrics, so without biometric verification connectivity to UIDAI it will make no sense

Sometimes it seems very few people know what Aadhaar is all about. So there is a need to explain what it is and dispel some risk perceptions, while confirming others.

First up, what is Aadhaar? In essence it is a number. The card’s job is only to record the number.

How does this number help? It means any place that is equipped with biometric verification linkage with the UIDAI database can verify that I am indeed who I say I am. It’s an identity proof – the number together with biometrics. That is all it is.

Once a number is assigned to a “name-biometrics” combination, all other names a person has used become inoperative, in theory. All official documents will eventually need to be matched and, where necessary, rectified and reissued. It might involve phenomenal cost, but that is another story.

What makes Aadhaar secure? Basic personal security in the tech world depends on two elements. First is what you “have”. The second is what you “know”. For the system to work well at least one of the two must be unavailable to others. For a smart card, the “card is what you have” and a “pin is what you know”. For a bank account, a “login ID is what you have”, and a “password is what you know”. A card number or a bank ID is seldom secret. It is the loss of a PIN or password to theft, guesswork, phishing, hacking or cracking that makes them vulnerable.

In the case of Aadhaar the “number you know” is like the email address or credit card number or bank account number. Regardless of what the government says, it is impossible to keep the UIDAI database secure and immune to hacking or leaking. So one way or another your number is what you know, but so do a lot of people and it is not a secret.

On the other hand, personal biometrics is “what you have” and only you do. The god-given password cannot be stolen. The card is a simple mnemonic device and you can happily lose it, so long as you have a record of the number. Duplicate or even fake cards can be produced with rudimentary technology and at virtually no cost. So, free advice to all authorities or entities using the card alone to check identity: don’t do it unless you have biometric verification connectivity to UIDAI.

It follows that stealing someone’s Aadhaar number or card will not do the thief any good, unless he can fake biometric presentation. It can be done but there are technical-financial barriers.

All that the Aadhaar system can thus legitimately, and accurately, do is to establish identity. Many commentators have criticised Aadhaar for not doing other things, which it is not and was never meant to do.

First, Aadhaar is not “proof of address” although it does have a “recorded address”. No effort has been put in to make it “proof”. Addresses being a variable, it is not even feasible. Organisations accepting it as address proof will soon wake up to the fact that their communications or even financial benefits do not reach the target if they misreported their address or moved. People who lose benefits or important communications will correct their recorded address — a fairly simple process.

Second, Aadhaar is not “proof of nationality”. No resources have gone into establishing that link. Nor was it ever within the UIDAI mandate. It is now linked to passports applications because it can eliminate multiple passports being issued to a person under different names.

The same objective of de-duplication is behind most other linkages, be it driving licences, LPG connections, PAN cards or what have you. All this can only benefit the country including those who cry themselves hoarse at every new linking. Can anyone use your Aadhaar to get your IT returns or financial transactions? Not any more easily than without it.

There is also criticism of third-party use – Reliance Jio, for example, uses Aadhaar as the sole customer registration tool. This should in fact be praised and encouraged — it cuts out all paperwork while completing know your customer norms. Every private or public party should be able to ascertain that the person they are dealing with is who he says he is.

The benefits in terms of law and order alone will have many benefits — take the case of an applicant for schoolbus driver position, with a history of child abuse.

So, is there any reason to worry? Yes indeed. I am scared stiff. Any government can and willl know everything about me. There is no bar on official misuse. And, eventually someone will find a profitable way to fake my biometrics.

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 10:25:51 AM |

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