The Election Commission on Monday warned electoral registration officers of severe disciplinary action if the physical forms of documents containing Aadhaar details of voters are leaked, PTI reported.

The poll panel said that the Form-6B, which are physical copies that contain the Aadhaar numbers, should be preserved in accordance to a provision of Aadhaar (Authentication and Offline Verification) Regulations, 2022. The provision states that Aadhaar numbers collected through physical forms or photocopies of Aadhaar documents should be masked by redacting the first 8 digits before they are stored.

“Such collected Form 6B along with attachment, after digitisation, shall be kept in safe custody with double lock by EROs [electoral registration officers],” the commission said in a letter sent on Monday to chief electoral officers. “Severe disciplinary action will be initiated against EROs for any leakages of physical forms in public domain.”

The statement came after the Union government on June 17 issued a notification to allow linking electoral roll data with Aadhaar. The move allows electoral registration officers to seek Aadhaar numbers of citizens who want to register as voters to establish their identity.

While the government has maintained that sharing Aadhaar details will be voluntary, several activists have expressed concerns that linking them with voter cards could lead to voters being excluded from the rolls and compromise the privacy of their data.

In March 2015, the Election Commission had launched a countrywide project to link Aadhaar to voter ID cards. The project was stopped after a Supreme Court judgement in October 2015 that laid down limitations on the purposes for which Aadhaar could be used. Voter identification was not among the purposes.

However, during the project, state election commissions were found to have used data collected for other schemes without consent, a investigation in February 2019 showed.

In its letter on Monday, the poll panel told the chief electoral officers that submission of Aadhaar details by voters is “purely voluntary”.

It said that the electoral registration officer “will make it clear to the electors that the purpose of obtaining of Aadhaar number is for authentication of his entries in electoral roll and extending better electoral services to them in future”.

The letter reiterated the provision in the Election Laws (Amendment) Act, 2021, stating that the officials will not delete any entry in the electoral roll on the ground that the voter was unable to furnish Aadhaar details.

The poll panel also warned officials that under no circumstances the Aadhaar numbers should be released in public domain.

“If the elector’s information is required to put for public display, the Aadhaar details must be removed or masked,” it said.

The letter also said that the Aadhaar numbers submitted through the Election Commission’s Eronet application should not be stored on the app.

“This [Aadhaar] number should be stored in Licensed Aadhaar Vault hired by ECI in accordance with relevant regulations of UIDAI [Unique Identification Authority of India],” the letter added.

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