The Reserve Bank of India has distanced itself from an RBI-backed researcher's views claiming Aadhaar to have problems of access to the last mile, issues with the quality of authentication, unclear financial benefits and security concerns.
This was raised in a paper, ‘Biometric and Its Impact in India’, part of Staff Papers series published in its October 2017 edition, by S Ananth, an adjunct faculty at the Institute for Development and Research in Banking Technology (IDRBT), which has been established by the RBI as an autonomous institute.
The benefits of Aadhaar, India’s biometrics-based unique national identity system– the world’s largest– are unclear and the impact of direct benefit transfers it will be used to deliver to the poor is not studied enough, the study had concluded.
However, late Wednesday, RBI released a statement on its website saying, "RBI has come across reports in a section of media attributing a study on security aspects of Aadhaar by one Shri S. Ananth, an adjunct faculty of Institute for Development and Research in Banking Technology (IDRBT), to RBI researchers.
"It is clarified that neither RBI nor its researchers were in any way connected with the study. Further, views expressed by the author are not those of the RBI," the central bank stated.
The research paper came to light after an investigative story reported in The Tribune on January 3, 2018, alleged that unrestricted access to details of over one billion Aadhaar numbers can be purchased at as little as Rs 500.
By paying Rs 300 more, the details of any Aadhaar card can be printed, the report called it a "major security breach,” quoting the deputy director of UIDAI regional officer Chandigarh.
However, Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the statutory body collecting Aadhaar data and issuing UID numbers, denied such leaks saying there "has not been any Aadhaar data breach”.
Moreover, it has filed a complaint against the journalist who wrote the story and those whom she has met during the course of reporting it.
The 12-digit, controversial biometric unique identification number, meant to be a voluntary enrollment, will soon be compulsory to receive benefits under 530 welfare schemes and to perform a host of activities including filing income-tax returns, receiving college degrees and obtaining driver’s licenses.
However, linking of the Aadhaar number with various bank accounts, PAN card and various other welfare schemes has to be done before March 31, 2018.
This was earlier December 31, 2017 but the deadline was extended by the Supreme Court.
Aadhaar is, hence, required for a number of transactions and it is available in the database of a large number of service providers and any breach can compromise the information contained in it.
The research paper by Ananth has flagged the issues related to Aadhaar saying there needs to be caution in the manner in which the government is linking more economic programmes and activities with Aadhaar.
Ever since its inception, Aadhaar has been caught in various debates and controversies, largely over the issue of the citizen’s right to privacy and threat of security due to information leak.
So far, more than 1.12 billion Indians–88.2 percent of the population–have now been enrolled for Aadhaar.