A report by The Centre for Internet and Society claimed that around 13 crore Aadhaar numbers and 10 crore bank account numbers were easily accessible on four government portals built to oversee welfare schemes. The document, released on Monday, pointed out that though it is illegal to reveal Aadhaar numbers, the government portals examined made it easy for anyone to access them, as well as other data about beneficiaries of welfare schemes including in many cases their bank account numbers.
The report suggests that the Aadhaar numbers leaked could actually be closer to 23 crore, if most of the government portals connected to direct benefit transfers used the same negligent standards for storing data as the ones examined. “It is extremely irresponsible on the part of the UIDAI [Unique Identification Authority of India], the sole governing body for this massive project, to turn a blind eye to the lack of standards prescribed for how other bodies shall deal with such data, such cases of massive public disclosures of this data, and the myriad ways in which it may used for mischief,” the authors of the report said.
The document also pointed out that the breaches are an indicator of “potentially irreversible privacy harm” and said the data could be used for financial fraud. The report authored by Amber Sinha and Srinivas Kodali studied the National Social Assistance Programme, National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Andhra Pradesh government’s Chandranna Bima Scheme and Andhra Pradesh’s Daily Online Payment Reports of NREGA.
While the report said the Aadhaar initiative as a concept may be praiseworthy, the absence of adequate security could prove disastrous. “Sensitive personal identity information such as Aadhaar number, caste, religion, address, photographs and financial information are only a few clicks away and suggest how poorly conceived these initiatives are,” the report said.
The Centre had, on April 25, cautioned states against leaking Aadhaar information, after it emerged that a number of government websites were making it easy for people to access individuals’ Aadhaar numbers. The Unique Identification Authority of India also filed First Information Reports against eight private websites for collecting Aadhaar-related data from citizens in an unauthorised manner on April 19, but no such action appears to have been taken against government websites so far.
According to government data, the UIDAI has issued 112 crore Aadhaar numbers so far and has maintained that its biometrics database is tamper-proof, although it is up to various other authorities to maintain the secrecy of Aadhaar data collected or kept by them.
On April 21, the Supreme Court had questioned the Centre for making the Aadhaar card mandatory for a number of central schemes despite its repeated orders that the unique identification programme cannot be made mandatory. The government has nevertheless been expanding the scope of the Unique Identity project over the past few months by introducing it for initiatives such as the midday meal scheme of school lunches for children, and, most recently, requiring Aadhaar to file income tax returns.
In March, an Aadhaar enrolment agency had been de-registered for leaking the personal data of cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni.