Centre for Internet & Society

Around 5 crore bank accounts of active MGNREGA workers yet to be seeded with Aadhaar.

The article by Sanjeeb Mukherjee was published in the Business Standard on July 14, 2017.

Alarmed over reports of ‘public disclosure’ of sensitive Aadhaar data through various portals and payment gateways, the Centre is in the process of appointing a high-powered panel of almost 20 experts to suggest ways and means through which data, particularly one which can be accessed through the MGNREGA-DBT platform can be encrypted.

Encryption, officials believe, would prevent the Aadhaar data and other related information from falling into wrong hands.

The need for proper encryption of Aadhaar data rose after the government made it mandatory for availing almost all benefits - be it school scholarships, payments of wages, identification of beneficiaries under mid-day meal scheme and even public distribution system along with others.

Ensuring cyber security has become all the more necessary as the Central government, in a notification issued last month, has made it mandatory for all bank accounts to be seeded with Aadhaar numbers by December 31, 2017, or else they would cease to be operational until the time the account holder furnishes his

This could seriously hamper payment of wages to workers because as per available information almost 5 crore active workers don’t have their bank accounts seeded with Aadhaar.

To complete the process before December 2017, the ministry of rural development has planned special Aadhaar camps to be held in villages from July 20 to September 2017.

Recently, a website published all confidential details of customers of a private telecom company including Aadhaar numbers and other information.

The breach was another instance of secure confidential information falling into public domain.

Officials of the panel, which would be headed by former NASSCOM head Kiran Karnik are expected to submit their report on the same within the next few months.

Other members of the panel include Director General of National Institute of Smart Governance (NISG), officials from Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (ICERT) and others.

However, cyber security experts believe that encrypting Aadhaar-DBT details mainly for those schemes and programmes which have a direct linkage with the public at this later stage has its own challenges as the entire ecosystem around Aadhaar has grown manifold ever since it was made mandatory for a variety of programmes.

Also, in the absence of a national encryption policy, such a move will have its own legal and regulatory challenges.

“Ever since the government made Aadhaar mandatory for many things, the entire ecosystem around it including the Central Identities Data Repository (the agency which stores Aadhaar data is exposed to leaks,” noted cyber law expert Pawan Duggal told Business Standard.

He said that without a proper national encryption law, it would be extremely challenging to provide legal and regulatory backing to encrypt all Aadhaar- DBT data details for “Also now that the ‘cat is out of the bag,’ encryption of Aadhaar details will be hugely challenging,” Duggal said.

Already, civil society activists said that after some concern, the central government has removed all Aadhaar numbers and bank details from website, which has made tracking payments difficult.

A recent study by Amber Sinha and Srinivas Kodali from the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) found that granular details about individuals including sensitive personally identifiable information such as Aadhaar number, caste, religion, address, photographs and financial information are only a few clicks away through government schemes dashboard and portals.

“While initiatives such as the government open data portals may be laudable for providing easy access to government data condensed for easy digestion, however in the absence of proper controls exercised by the government departments the results can be disastrous by divulging sensitive and adversely actionable information about the individuals who are responding units of such databases,” the report said.

It specifically studied two major schemes of the ministry of rural development; the National National Social Assistance Programme and along with some state schemes.

a)  Centre to form a panel to encrypt all MGNREGA-DBT database to prevent leaks.

b) The panel might also suggest ways and means in which such ‘encryption’ could be applied in other platforms.

c)  The panel is expected to be headed by former NASSCOM head Kiran Karnik.

d) The encryption is essential as from January 2018 all non-Aadhaar seeded bank accounts will cease to be operational unless the holders seed them.

e)  A recent study found that vivid details about individuals can be easily accessed from government platforms and databases.

f)   The database was one such publicly available platform which formed part of the study.