Responding to this article, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has written a letter to Jairam Ramesh, a Congress member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha, on the use of Aadhaar for authentication by private companies.
The Aadhaar Bill was notified as law on March 28. Swabhimaan Distribution Services, which owns TrustID, registered as an Aadhaar authentication agency in November 2015, and the app was launched in January 2016.
TrustID app offers that users can send anyone's Aadhaar number, gender and name – or even biometrics – and the app claims it can verify their identity. It does so by sending an authentication request to the UID servers, which maintains in its database the time of request, identity of the private company requesting for authentication, and the response provided.
While Jaitley in his letter puts the onus on the requesting agency, he does not mention under what conditions access to authentication requests was given to TrustID. He is also silent on how this was done prior to the law being notified.
The minister does not say if the contract under which access was provided to Trust ID by the UIDAI will now be rescinded. He seems to only provide a justification saying from now on a law will be in place.
In an op-ed in The Indian Express, advocate Apar Gupta has pointed out that Aadhaar Act offers ineffective judicial remedy. As per the new law, Aadhaar users have no right to be informed when a crime related to their personal data occurs, nor will they be able to approach a court directly because the UID authority has the exclusive power to make complaints in case of any violation, or breach of privacy.
The use of Aadhaar by private companies increases the risks of profiling when these databases are combined.
Monika Chowdhry, who heads the marketing division of Swabhimaan Distribution Services, the company that created TrustID told Scroll.in that over time, the company will retain the Aadhaar number of individuals. Their aim, she said, is to create a private verified database of TrustIDs.
At the same time, when more private companies – airlines, telecoms, insurance, real estate firms and more – start asking for Aadhaar as a proof of identity for availing their services and authenticate individuals from the servers of the UID Authority, the government would have a database that would include an individual’s personal identity data, as well as the details of the authentication requests such as time of request, identity of the entity requesting for authentication, and the response provided.
Analysing this, the PRS Legislative Research has stated that Aadhaar Act does not specifically prohibit law enforcement and intelligence agencies from using the Aadhaar number as a link (key) across various datasets (such as telephone records, air travel records) in order to recognise patterns of behaviour.
“Techniques such as running computer programmes across datasets for pattern recognition can be used for various purposes such as detecting potential illegal activities,” notes PRS. “However, these can also lead to harassment of innocent individuals who get identified incorrectly as potential threats.”
PRS adds that the United States has enacted a law that requires each government agency engaged in data mining to submit an annual report to the legislature on all such activities. The Aadhaar Act has no such provisions. It does not explicitly prohibit private companies from using Aadhaar number as a link (key) across various datasets. In fact, there is a writ petition pending in the Supreme Court that claims that Aadhaar may be in violation of right to privacy.