Centre for Internet & Society

UIDAI directive to Aadhaar authentication agencies aims to avoid putting citizens’ biometric data at risk

The article by Komal Gupta was published in Livemint on February 8, 2018.

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has directed all Aadhaar authentication agencies to use only registered biometric devices from 1 March to avoid putting residents’ data at risk.

The initial deadline to upgrade these devices was 1 June 2017, but it has been extended several times. The latest is the sixth extension.

The UIDAI wants the biometric devices registered with the Aadhaar system for encryption key management. The Aadhaar authentication server can individually identify and validate these devices and manage encryption keys on each registered device.

“It is reiterated that to ensure encryption of biometrics of residents at time of capture, it is absolutely essential to use only the registered devices. Any further use of non-registered devices will be putting residents’ privacy at risk,” a UIDAI circular dated 2 February said.

In January last year, UIDAI had instructed all the authentication user agencies (AUAs) and authentication service agencies (ASAs) to adhere to its new encryption standards and accordingly upgrade the devices to the new norms.

The AUA is an entity engaged in providing Aadhaar-enabled services. It may be a government, public or a private legal agency registered in India which uses Aadhaar authentication services provided by UIDAI.

The ASA is any entity that transmits authentication requests to the Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR) on behalf of one or more AUAs.

Requests from AUAs to extend the timeline has been cited as the reason for delay by UIDAI. The last deadline was 31 January.

Still, UIDAI claims most of the entities have migrated to registered devices and “no further extension will be given in this regard.” Failure to meet the February-end deadline will lead to loss or disruption of services, the circular added.

A privacy expert called for better security in the Aadhaar system.

“The UIDAI should have gone in for smart cards, which are inherently more secure and would have proven a better basis for a national ID system. Given its choice of biometrics, UIDAI should have required hardware-level encryption — the yet-to-be-specified (Level 1) security standard— from 2010,” said Pranesh Prakash, policy director at think tank Centre for Internet and Society.

“Making the much-delayed Level 1 mandatory is what UIDAI should be focusing on; sadly, even basic registration and easily-defeated software-level encryption (Level 0) is yet to be made mandatory,” he said.

UIDAI has been under the scanner over the past few months over charges that random entities have been accessing personal information without the consent of individual Aadhaar number holders.

Last month, UIDAI put in place a two-layer security to reinforce privacy protections for Aadhaar holders—it introduced a virtual identification so that the actual number need not be shared to authenticate their identity. Simultaneously, it further regulated the storage of the Aadhaar numbers within various databases.
There are more than 1.2 billion Aadhaar holders in the country.