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Govt departments breach Aadhaar Act, leak details of beneficiaries

LiveMint logoLiveMint 24-04-2017 Komal Gupta

New Delhi: In a violation of the Aadhaar Act, various government departments across the country, including a central government one, have published Aadhaar numbers of beneficiaries of the schemes they run.

These are more in the nature of a violation of privacy than a data breach, said one expert, adding that increasing instances of Aadhaar numbers being publicised would only serve to increase the chorus of protests against the unique ID.

The expert asked not to be named given the intensity of feelings on both sides of the debate. To be sure, the Aadhaar database itself, housing biometric details, hasn’t been breached. The unique ID is used by various government department to identify and authenticate beneficiaries.

On Monday, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) asked all government departments to ensure they didn’t display Aadhaar numbers and also find out how the numbers went up on their websites in the first place.

UIDAI chief executive Ajay Bhushan Pandey did not respond to calls seeking comment. UIDAI did not respond to an e-mail.

Among government departments that have displayed Aadhaar numbers are the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, the Jharkhand Directorate of Social Security, and the Kerala government’s pension department.

Pandey told PTI that the authority takes such violations very seriously. “We have approached the Jharkhand government and requested them to identify the officials or the staffers who are responsible for this act of omission or commission that led to this mistake.” The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act specifies that no Aadhaar number or core biometric information collected or created in respect of an Aadhaar number holder shall be published, displayed, or posted publicly.

Experts attribute the failure to a legal vacuum and lack of effective deterrence.

“The fact that such details are being put up on websites is because we do not have a legal provision to stop it. There is need for a central legislation which talks about privacy,” said Rahul Matthan, a partner at law firm Trilegal and a Mint columnist. “The fundamental roadblock is that the government, in its attempt to be transparent, is disclosing details but at the same time it is violating personal privacy,” he added.

There are more than 1.13 billion Aadhaar number holders in the country.

Aadhaar aims to plug leakages in the delivery of state benefits, such as subsidized grains to the poor and aid in generating a savings of about Rs70,000 crore a year for the government. Last month, UIDAI blacklisted a common services centre for 10 years after it shared the Aadhaar details of former cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

PTI contributed to this story.

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