Crack down on identity theft

The Union government had issued a notification cautioning citizens they should be careful about who they share their Aadhaar credentials with.
Crack down on identity theft
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CHENNAI: Our reliance on the Aadhaar card as a means of identification is something we had taken for granted until the government performed an about turn last week. The Union government had issued a notification cautioning citizens they should be careful about who they share their Aadhaar credentials with. The Bengaluru regional office of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) had issued this advisory that warned people against sharing photocopies of their Aadhaar card. The alternative provided was to download a copy of the masked Aadhaar card that would depict only the last four digits of the Aadhaar number, in order to prevent the misuse of the same. However, two days later, the notification was withdrawn by the government on account of it being ‘misinterpreted’.

It’s been four years since the masked Aadhaar has been around, a development that was precipitated by a report that was released by the non-profit Centre for Internet and Society. As per the report, sensitive information regarding Aadhaar card details as well as specifics of bank accounts held by individuals were available as part of data sets in the public domain, which obviously posed challenges to data safety and privacy. To top it off, a whole range of criminal activities now hinge around identity and data theft. Fraudsters have tricked everyone from senior citizens to well-heeled professionals who were conned into parting with critical information as part of ‘KYC’ compliance checks, and high tech screen mirroring scams.

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Govt withdraws advisory to not share Aadhaar photocopies

Cybersafety experts have highlighted how damaging the consequences can be if a criminal gains access to an individual’s Aadhaar copy along with his or her biometrics as well the Aadhaar linked-OTP. Recently, the Telangana police issued a notification on frauds perpetrated using the Aadhaar-enabled Payment System or the AePS. The framework allows people to perform banking transactions like fund transfer and ATM withdrawal on the go. To carry out a transaction, all you need is the biometrics/fingerprints of an individual, the Aadhaar number and details of the bank.

Biometric scams have also allowed fraudsters to enjoy welfare benefits at the cost of the genuine beneficiaries missing out on the whole deal. While the UIDAI has assured citizens time and again that their data is safe and protected against miscreants, the onus of due diligence and judicious sharing of personal details falls upon the individual. Citizens have every right to deny any unauthorised agency from requesting their Aadhaar related details, whether it’s a hospital or even a hotel. And if such data is necessary, a simple QR code-based verification is all that might be needed to establish the credentials of an individual. We could borrow a few leads from the US playbook: the US Social Security Agency has cautioned people against sharing their Social Security Numbers without probing whether it’s necessary to provide the details. A similar stance has been taken by the UK which regards the National Insurance Number as sensitive data.

In India, apart from the need to increase awareness on the use, misuse of Aadhaar linked data and enforcing the masked Aadhaar requirement for identification purposes, what is also necessary is for us to implement a personal data protection law on priority. Ironing out the specifics of placing accountability in terms of misuse of data by public and private enterprises, as well as the imposition of stringent penalties for violation of basic data privacy laws will go a long way in helping the Digital India dream bear fruit in the years to come.

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