Safeguarding Aadhaar Data | 31 May 2022

For Prelims: CAG, UIDAI, Aadhaar Act 2016

For Mains: Aadhaar and related issue, Government Policies & Interventions

Why in News?

Recently, Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) first issued a warning to the public not to share a photocopy of their Aadhaar with any organisation, and then withdrew the warning over worries that it was open to “misinterpretation”.

What is the Unique Identification Authority of India?

  • Statutory Authority: The UIDAI is a statutory authority established on 12th July 2016 by the Government of India under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, following the provisions of the Aadhaar Act 2016.
    • The UIDAI was initially set up by the Government of India in January 2009, as an attached office under the aegis of the Planning Commission.
  • Mandate: The UIDAI is mandated to assign a 12-digit unique identification (UID) number (Aadhaar) to all the residents of India.
    • As of 31st October 2021, UIDAI had issued 131.68 crore Aadhaar numbers.

What was the Initial Warning from UIDAI?

  • The UIDAI warned the “general public not to share photocopy of one’s Aadhaar with any organisation, because it can be misused”.
    • Rather, it recommended using "a masked Aadhaar, which displays only the last four digits of the Aadhaar number,".
  • It also asked the public to avoid using public computers to download their e-Aadhaar.
    • In that case, they were reminded to "permanently delete" any downloaded copies of the same.
  • Only those organisations that have obtained a User License from the UIDAI can use Aadhaar to establish the identity of a person.
    • Moreover, hotels and movie theatres are not allowed to collect or maintain copies of the Aadhaar cards, due to the Aadhaar Act.

What are the Concerns related to Aadhaar?

  • Misuse of Aadhaar Data:
    • Many private entities in the country insist on an Aadhaar card, and users often share the details.
    • There’s no clarity on how these entities keep these data private and secure.
    • More recently with Covid-19 testing, many would have noticed that most labs insist on Aadhaar card data, including a photocopy.
      • It should be noted that it is not mandatory to share this for getting a Covid-19 test done.
  • Excessive Imposition:
    • In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that Aadhaar authentication can be made mandatory only for benefits paid from the Consolidated Fund of India and that alternative means of identity verification must always be provided when Aadhaar fails.
      • Children were exempt but aadhaar continues to be routinely demanded from children for basic rights such as anganwadi services or school enrolment.
  • Arbitrary exclusions:
    • Central and state governments have made routine use of the “ultimatum method” to enforce the linkage of welfare benefits with Aadhaar.
    • In this method, benefits are simply withdrawn or suspended if the recipients fail to comply with the linkage instructions in good time, such as failing to link their job card, ration card or bank account with Aadhaar.
  • Fraud-prone Aadhaar-enabled Payment System (AePS):
    • AePS is a facility that enables someone who has an Aadhaar-linked account to withdraw money from it anywhere in India through biometric authentication with a “business correspondent” – a kind of mini-ATM.
      • There have been rampant abuses of this facility by corrupt business correspondents.

Which Issue has Recently Arisen?

What is the Significance of Aadhaar?

  • Promoting Transparency and Good Governance: Aadhaar number is verifiable in an online, cost-effective way.
    • It is unique and robust enough to eliminate duplicates and fake identities and thus used as a basis/primary identifier to roll out several Government welfare schemes thereby promoting transparency and good governance.
  • Helping Bottom of the Pyramid: Aadhaar has given identity to a large number of people who did not have any identity earlier.
  • Neutral: Aadhaar number is devoid of any intelligence and does not profile people based on caste, religion, income, health and geography.
    • The Aadhaar number is a proof of identity, however, it does not confer any right of citizenship or domicile in respect of an Aadhaar number holder.
  • People-Centric Governance: Aadhaar is a strategic policy tool for social and financial inclusion, public sector delivery reforms, managing fiscal budgets, increasing convenience and promoting hassle-free people-centric governance.
  • Permanent Financial Address: Aadhaar can be used as a permanent Financial Address and facilitates financial inclusion of the underprivileged and weaker sections of the society and is therefore a tool of distributive justice and equality.

Way Forward

  • Abide by the Supreme Court Ruling:
    • The government must abide by and enforce Supreme Court directions, including (1) restriction of mandatory Aadhaar to permissible purposes, (2) provision of an alternative whenever Aadhaar authentication fails, (3) unconditional exemption for children.
  • Ensure Benefits to Needy not Withdrawn:
    • Benefits should never be withdrawn or suspended without (1) advance disclosure of the names that are likely to be deleted along with reason for proposed deletion, (2) issuing a show cause notice to those concerned and giving them an opportunity (with ample time) to respond or appeal, (3) ex-post disclosure of all cases of deletion, with date and reason.
  • Stronger Safeguards Needed:

UPSC Civil Services Examination, Previous Year Questions (PYQs)

Q. Consider the following statements: (2018)

  1. Aadhaar card can be used as a proof of citizenship or domicile.
  2. Once issued, Aadhaar number cannot be deactivated or omitted by the Issuing Authority.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Ans: (d)


  • The Aadhaar platform helps service providers authenticate identity of residents electronically, in a safe and quick manner, making service delivery more cost effective and efficient. According to the GoI and UIDAI, Aadhaar is not proof of citizenship.
  • However, UIDAI has also published a set of contingencies when the Aadhaar issued by it is liable for rejection. An Aadhaar with mixed or anomalous biometric information or multiple names in a single name (like Urf or Alias) can be deactivated. Aadhaar can also get deactivated upon non-usage of the same for three consecutive years.

Source: IE