Centre for Internet & Society

The Aadhaar card is not compulsory for citizens and "no person should be denied any benefits or ‘suffer’ for not having the Aadhaar cards issued by Unique Identification Authority of India," the Supreme Court ruled on Monday.

The live chat was published in the Hindu on March 17, 2015. Sunil Abraham took part in the discussions.

Four years after Aadhaar was launched – and touted as a panacea to access social services and subsidies – its users continue to be dogged by an array of problems ranging from technical glitches to procedural delays. And those who do not have an Aadhaar card find themselves quizzed by government authorities.

The Hindu’s Tamil Nadu edition today highlighted the challenges ordinary citizens - both those who have cards and those who do not – face, be it from non-availability of application forms or glitches in the biometrics process.

We will be hosting a live chat on Aadhaar at 5 pm today. You can pose questions and share your views with Sunil Abraham, Executive Director of Bangalore-based research organisation, Centre for Internet and Society; K. Gopinath, Professor at the Computer Science and Automation Department at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and The Hindu’s K. Venkatraman.

Comment From Anon

What could have happened such that the current government, who were once in the opposition, were members of the parliamentary committee that strongly opposed UIDAI, now suddenly wants to use it everywhere? What could have transpired such that the PM got so convinced that it would help its citizens more than it could potentially harm?

Sunil Abraham: Usually the party that is in power is pro-surveillance and anti-censorship and the opposition is pro-privacy and pro-free speech. After the elections - if the parties swap positions as a result of the mandate - then they usually also swap positions on surveillance and censorship. This phenomenon is not specific to India.

K. Gopinath: The leakage in the current models is very high. Hence, the attraction.

The issue earlier was whether there was some costs to the use of sw (esp. proprietary) from outside the country. Probably, these have been addressed.

Comment From Saurabh

Aadhaar was supposed to be a good 2 factor authentication mechanism, what happens to it now ?

Sunil Abraham: Aadhaar architecture was designed to allow for multiple authentication factors. Unfortunately biometrics is a poor authentication factor since it cannot be revoked. Any two-factor authentication scheme where one factor is biometrics is in reality only a one-factor scheme. Pin code as with credit cards and debit cards would have been much more secure for authentication.

K Venkataramanan: It will continue to be relevant, but is unlikely to be mandatory for quite some time.

K. Gopinath: Real-time 2-factor auth (biometrics, signatures) are not easy, esp over Internet, and would require a much longer rollout

Comment From Saurabh

I did not get Aadhar for myself or my family. Does this mean, I will not have to as yet.

Sunil Abraham: As per the UIDAI - Aadhaar is not mandatory. Also according to the latest remarks from the Supreme Court - Aadhaar should not be made mandatory without enabling law. But many state and central government agencies have ignored the comments made by the SC and have made Aadhaar mandatory for various programmes and schemes.

The Hindu: Is Aadhaar virtually redundant now following the SC order? Nothing more than an expensive experiment?

K. Gopinath: I think it will be used as an addl auth mechanism (just like elec./ph. receipts). May be once the technology is demo'ed properly (it has not been done seriously anywhere else), it will be taken up again.

Comment From Abubacker

I am an NRI and need to have Aadhaar Card? How to obtain Appointmet - I am from Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu

K Venkataramanan: Your family member or representative living in Tuticorin may apply for Aadhaar through the local body. It may be possible to get a date for recording biometrics. However, you have to come down here for recording biometric details.

Comment From Kishore J

Why is Govt. not able to legalize the Aadhar, I'm assuming the only reason Supreme court keeps blocking it is because its not a law passed by Parliament ?

K. Gopinath: SC goes by the constitution. If there is some concern someone is being "excluded", they will block it.

Sunil Abraham: The NIA bill was proposed in parliament and then referred to a Standing Committee. Our summary and detailed feedback to the Bill is available here: http://cis-india.org/intern... The Standing Committee harshly criticized the Bill. See: After which the Bill has not been reworked by the UIDAI or the Planning Commission /Niti Aayog for re-presentation to the Parliament.

Sunil Abraham: No - it is not just an expensive experiment. It is much more dangerous - it is what security experts call a Honey Pot. A centralized repository of biometrics harvested from residents of India. These biometrics can be used to authenticate transactions in the UIDAI database and other services. If there is a breach - then this huge collection of authentication factors will end us in the hands of criminal elements or some foreign state.

Comment From vaz

Aadhar is a joke, i have so many IDs and i cannot get any benefits out of it, it is simply wasting time, if Govt really want mandate make it easy for people, i pay taxes and Govt should treat me like one , i can not waste my time standing in queues to get that card, get me time slot and don't waste my time.

Sunil Abraham: This is because the process of registration has been outsourced to private agencies. These private agencies have futher outsourced to others and so on and so forth. Consequently, there is very poor management and quality control by these agencies. If indeed corruption was a priority - we should have tackled high-ticket corruption first. We could have had biometric registration just for only the politicians and bureaucrats. We could use biometric authentication with them to create a non-repudiable audit trail of subsidies flowing from the Centre to the Panchayat. Unfortunately, we tried to register everybody simultaneously and that has resulted in poor quality of biometrics and demographic data. We have visited some of the registration centre and have seen the reality on the ground.

Comment From Guest

I have been threatened by Gas Agency people if i don't link Aadhar to Bank Account, won't be given a refilling cylinder.Is this a right one?

K Venkataramanan: There is an option for getting DBT even without Aadhaar. The bank account and the gas agency consumer account can be linked without Aadhar. Please check www.mylpg.in for knowing how to apply for DBT registration without Aadhaar

The Hindu: Your views Prof Gopinath? Do you see it as a biometrics Honey Pot too?

K. Gopinath: From a security pov, it is certainly risky. It needs really robust technologies before one can think of rolling out. For example, we have "denial of service" attacks. ie, a service can be shut out by random bombardment of msgs. Most curr large scale systems are designed to handle it but some cannot handle it if large numbers collude. This only prevents access to service but other attacks can exfiltrate (take out) data, modify data, etc.

The Hindu: And Mr. Venkataramanan, your thoughts?

Comment From kuldeep singh chauhan

We need a strong law for data security. Aadhar is collecting data but there is no provision except some provisions of IT Act and IPC for data security.

K. Gopinath: Yes, the legislation is weak or unnecessarily vague (eg. the IT2000 act) or too broad in scope. I think what we need is a citizen's charter for data access, security and privacy. Also, what needs to be done when systems do not work!

Sunil Abraham: There are two interpretations of Sec. 43A of the IT Act. Acccording to most experts it only applies to Body Corporates in other words it does not apply to the Government when it plays the role of a data controller. According to an order issued by the IT Secy of Maharastra [the court of first instance for 43A of ITA] -this section will also apply to the Government. But beyond that order we have no clarity on this question.

Comment From Pavan

With no privacy laws, isn't it a bad idea to store citizen's data in a database? We all know how inept our government is in ensuring any security/privacy.

Sunil Abraham: With or without laws. Centralized approaches to identity/authentication management are much more fragile and vulnerable compared to decentralized options. The Internet is secured by digital signatures - there is no centralized repository of all these signatures. Therefore there is no centralized point of failure for the Internet. If the Aadhaar project was based on Smart Cards instead of Biometrics - then just like the Internet it would be robust without a central point of failure. http://cis-india.org/intern...

K. Gopinath: Storing all info in a single place is a big security risk. It needs very robust technologies (such as replication and "secret sharing protocols") that work inspite of failures. These have been done here and there but doing it on a large scale requires care.

Comment From Kunal Soni

SC Adhar card recommendations, ok Got it! But what about the banks for example SBI who ask for adhar cards stating its the bank's rule? Who's going to answer the question as they would never listen to common man and they never did.

Comment From Sandeep

Hi,May be it is a strong message, but what exactly is the need to make/introduce the Adhaar card, which is not recognizable worldwide? Why dont we make our passport smart enough and reduce it to a chip as in Europe. This will also enable everyone to get enrolled in our administrative system. Basically, we are only repeating the entire process with no international recognition.

Comment From Krishna Rao

Need to make it mandatory in the lines of SSN in US. Else it would be very difficult to manage and ensure the subsidies and benefits reach the really deserved section.

Comment From Ramesh

It is a great concept it all information like property purchases, tax returns, ration card, pf, esi, bank accounts , rail, air tickets are all linked. will reduce corrupt practice considerably. It should be the main identity of an Indian

Comment From arun

@Sunil what are the privacy safeguards that are in place currently regarding protection of information collected by the government and private agencies designated for this?

Sunil Abraham: Do you mean legal or technical?

K Venkataramanan: @The Hindu: Yes, there are serious privacy issues involved in a centralised database. However, their is a counter-view that this is no different from any other data base available in the hands of the government such as the one relating to PAN. The main concern of those worried about the privacy problem in Aadhaar is that data collection is done by private agencies, and details such as biometric data could be misused

The Hindu: Sunil, a question for you from arun

Comment From Pawan

Govt should give it legal recognition and give legal guarantee about the usage and storage of the data... After that there would be no concern related to identity security or enforcing it on the people.. People would trust it and come forward to register for it.

Sunil Abraham: Legal recognition and guarantees are not sufficient. You cannot use the law to fix poor technology design. The security of the Internet is not a function of good law. It is a function of good technological design.

Comment From Pappan

the so called Europe, US an other developed countries already have Social security numbers, why cant we just look at it like that?

Sunil Abraham: Social Security Number are an additional identifier. The database just contains a collection of identifiers. If that database is compromised the information cannot be used to authenticate transactions. This is very unlike the UIDAI centralized database which is a collection of authentication factors. Think of it as a database filled with the passwords of all Indian residents.

K Venkataramanan: @Kunal Soni - SBI can't insist on it as of now. The person who issued any circular to that effect may be hauled up in court

Comment From Guest

I have two questions. First, why is the honourable supreme court strking down aadhar, on what grounds? Second, how can the government come around those objections and allay the courts fears/objections? The informed panelists may please give their opinions too. Thank you

Sunil Abraham: There are 3 sets of petitioners who are being heard by the SC in the combined case. Some of them associated with the right are arguing that the UID is a threat to national security as it legitimizes illegal immigrants. Those associated with the left are arguing that it is a violation of the right to privacy. Still other who are ex-officers from the armed forces are arguing that the project is mired in corrupt practices.

K Venkataramanan: The Court has not struck down Aadhaar. It has only passed interim orders protecting the access to services of those who have not yet had them.

Comment From Aashish Gupta

Aadhaar was supposed to usher in portability of benefits. That is, you could migrate to a different state and still get the benefit you deserved.

Sunil Abraham: The Aadhaar database only contains information that identifies you and also allow you to authenticate against that database. It does not indicate eligibility for various schemes/subsidies. The migration across State level eligibility lists has to be done by the State. It is not a functionality provided by the UIDAI.

Comment From Ramesh

Supreme Court should have suggested a better option instead of coming down heavily on the Aadhar Card. The card will straight eliminate multiple rations cards and voter ids.

Sunil Abraham: The previous technology adopted by the NDA government - smart cards or SCOSTA [for the MNIC]. This technology option is free from many of the flaws of UIDAI's current design.

Comment From Mrigesh

Why is Aadhaar needed? I am for a middle class or for the elite class?

Comment From Geetha

Has the government (or concerned agencies/departments) formulated any policy on using the Aadhar information collected? For instance, what agency can use the information, under what conditions, with whose approval, for what limited purposes? Is this policy publicly available?

Sunil Abraham: No. Anyone who is approved by the UIDAI as a legitimate can use the KYC API. Absolutely anyone can use the Authentication API. There is no policy on what data collection/retention practices must be adhered to by the users of both these APIs.

Comment From Arun Jayapal

Has the government ever considered/analyzed a way to link the existing resources (such as ration card, DL, passport, voter id, etc.,) and not have come up with a completely new system (aadhaar). Is this not an absolute waste of time and resources?

Sunil Abraham: Yes, you are absolutely right. The government should have used biometrics as a means to dedup an existing high value database like the Electoral Rolls or more importantly the PAN Card database. That would have been better RoI for our anti-corruption Rupee.

K Venkataramanan: @Ramesh The Court has come down heavily on only officials who insist on Aadhar for delivery of services when there are clear orders that it should not be mandatory

Comment From George J

I'm an NRI. I presently work and live in a country where the first order of business on landing/Birth is to register one self and get a unique ID number and ID. This the case for expats as well as residents be they foreigners or Citizens. The registration process includes collection of Biometric data. This single No and Id is used for everything from Bank Accounts to School Admissions. It is good that India is doing something similar. It is high time people with multiple ration cards, Passports and the like are weeded out and provided a single verifiable identity. Data Security is of essence and necessary safeguards are available.

Sunil Abraham: Could you name the country? And can you use biometrics your country to authenticate transactions in a centralized database for all sorts of transactions? If yes, then the technology design in your country is as poor as in ours and it is only a question of time when the centralized database leaks.

Comment From Aashish Gupta

Apart from the Honey Pot, Aadhaar does not serve its primary purpose: tackling corruption. Most pilots of Aadhaar have crash landed, and as a result, state governments have created their own simpler systems to tackle corruption.

Sunil Abraham: See: http://www.thehindu.com/opi... If the authentication match is not working [1:1 match]. Then basically the dedup will not work [1:n] match. That is why they are doing demographic dedup before biometric dedup - because they know that the biometric dedup is fallible.

Comment From Balu

A citizenship card , backed with a strond database is a must for every citixen . Some serious thoughts should be done in this matter at the earliest , instead of wasting time and money on different schemes .

Sunil Abraham: We should use decentralized Internet scale technologies based on open standards that are already proven. If we had used smart cards based on SCOSTA or EMV standard we would be in a much better place.

Comment From PRASHANTH

Has the government (or concerned agencies/departments) formulated any policy on using the Aadhar information collected? For instance, what agency can use the information, under what conditions, with whose approval, for what limited purposes? Is this policy publicly available?

Comment From vikash

supreme court should not have to push such legal hurdles given that the 750 million card has already been generated.A lot of money has been investad in the project

Comment From Saket

Aaadhar card is full of errors. At the place where I got registered person was issuing it in a hurry which creates lots of typing errors in DOB and Place.

Comment From Aashish Gupta

The supreme court has not struck down aadhaar, it has said that aadhaar cannot be mandatory. This is to make sure that people who do not have an aadhaar card do not miss out on their entitlements.

Comment From Ramesh

Aadhaar should be made mandatory with necessary safeguards. Unless there is an ultimatum and time frame to get the card it will never be implemented. Even now many do not know where to get it done.

Comment From Aadharam

Could you clarify whether this is an interim order or a final order on Aadhar? Is there scope for a retraction/shift on the Supreme Court's part?

Comment From Onkar Tiwari

Why supreme court doesnt understand Adhar is necessary? it can curb corruption. it wll reduce corruption specially in manrega where people enters fake details and grab the money.

K Venkataramanan: It is only an interim order. The Court will, hopefully, resolve the questions raised by the petitioners about privacy and data security issues

Comment From George J

I have taken Aadhar Card. The procedure asks the applicant themselves to verify the data entered for typing mistakes etc. before being uploaded, in fact where I registered they had asked for a sign off on the final data on a printout. So how errors can creep in is beyond me. However the photography equipment and skill of the data entry operator leave much to be desired as the mug shot is not very kind to me!

Comment From Guest

There should be a guide line which need to be followed as it is in the hands of private partners who are also ask for bribe from the poor people for the aadhar and they have no other option to pay for it as they thought that this only can help them to get the govt. facilities and subsidies.

K Venkataramanan: @Onkar Tiwari, It is up to the government to convince the court that Aadhaar will help curb corruption, and how. The Court is unlikely to stop the use of technology to improve delivery of services and curb corruption.

Comment From v subrahmanian

help line over phone and the email correspondence is total waste.. they themselves are helpless. Any query has never been replied to the caller's satisfaction. Getting them on line itself is a challenge. It's so complex. Of course, every eligible citizen of this complex country must have the identity card. Why not if it is done through employer in case of organized salaried employees?

Comment From Ramakrishna Rao

Hi !! I request the panelists to kindly sum up in few 4 or 5 points the reasons/grounds on which the parliamentary committee has rejected the aadhar

Comment From Guest

The agencies who are collecting data for Aadhar Card are not doing good. The aadhar card is full with many kind of errors including Name and DOB.. Even a person is able to register twice under this scheme.

The Hindu: Mr. Venkataramanan would you like to respond to Ramakrishna Rao?

Comment From Guest

@K Gopinath - how robust is the de-duplication UID claims to have. And in real time transactions, is it possible to authenticate n request without 'false positives' or 'negatives'?

K. Gopinath: Dedup claims assume “good” conditions. For example, a farmhand may have rough skin, etc that may make the fingerprints problematic. 1% errors have been reported in the past. Real time txns: I think the current Aadhar is not geared for it. The connectivity is not there. Also, with fingerprint technologies, the ability to check large number of fingerprints for a match is not good enough. It has never been scaled to the extent that is being planned.

Comment From Sandeep

Still not sure if Aadhaar then other ID cards not needed ? Or Still all along with Aadhaar ? then what is meaning of Aadhaar ? Only for LPG connection? Why not govt making Aadhaar is mandatory in all other fields as well , As Govt spent huge money for Aadhaar

Comment From Guest

@ Sunil - How plausible is the idea that govt can use UID data to profile public?

Comment From Sushubh

I for one is very happy that at least the Supreme Court is not falling for this privacy infringing scam. People defending this card here on this platform needs to read more about it.

Comment From Guest

Govt. created panic among public regarding adhaar. Public is highly annoyed with the way the government is handling this adhaar project. Only court reprimands,govt. backtracks as far as the adhaar is concerned. It is high time for govt. to have serious insight into this.

K Venkataramanan: The parliamentary committee on Finance had objected to the UID being extended to non-citizens on the ground that it may end up in illegal immigrants getting Aadhaar numbers.

It had also questioned the rollout ofthe scheme before legislation was passed. It had objected to its implementation without regard to its consequences.

Comment From Srinivasa

I believe Nandan Nilkeni had mentioned certain very good examples of the system flagging duplicates. So I assume the system is robust. We need to make it mandatory for all services delivery and have suitable policy and technology to protect data.

Sunil Abraham: I don't think we can go by the assurance of someone no longer associated with the project. It is not persons that keep us safe it is proper technology and law.

The Hindu: Welcome back Sunil! Lots of questions await you

K Venkataramanan: The committee had said UIDAI had no conceptual clarity, no proper assessment of the costs involved, and that it could end up in the hands of private agencies, that the technology was untested and the UID may not meet the objectives for which it was conceived

Sunil Abraham: Sorry I was logged out.

Comment From Guest

There was a recent news in The Hindu about linking of Adhar cards to election voter ID cards in Andhra Pradesh. Do you think that adopting such moves by every state result in mandating the procedure eventually?

Comment From Guest

First Passport then PAN , voter id and now adahar, in any country there is only passport and SSN, why india needs so many identity cards

K. Gopinath: The PAN database has been problematic just as the voter id. Hence, every technology cycle, a new system is usually attempted that attempts to be "better" than the before. However, this requires care which is not in good supply in the govt where the "lowest" bidder wins or outsourcing happens.

The Hindu: We have Prof Gopinatha back too. Sorry about that technical glitch.

Comment From Deepak Vasudevan

Why are different apex agencies managing Aadhar like UIDAI, Census and NPR? There should be one root (apex) body and others should report onto it.

Sunil Abraham: Yes. The division of work between UIDAI and NPR is not very clear and has added to the confusion.

K Venkataramanan: The parliamentary standing committee, too pointed out the overlap of functions involving UIDAI and NPR

The Hindu: There was this question for you earlier on the thread @K Gopinath - how robust is the de-duplication UID claims to have. And in real time transactions, is it possible to authenticate n request without 'false positives' or 'negatives'?

K. Gopinath: Dedup claims assume “good” conditions. For example, a farmhand may have rough skin, etc that may make the fingerprints problematic. 1% errors have been reported in the past. Real time txns: I think the current Aadhar is not geared for it. The connectivity is not there. Also, with fingerprint technologies, the ability to check large number of fingerprints for a match is not good enough. It has never been scaled to the extent that is being planned.

Comment From Guest

When Union Of India aimed to greater transparency... these are the road blocks they get... If Aadhar is not mandatory... then make Voter ID, PAN Card, Ration card also not mandatory in their respective Govt Businesses ... make self declaration as mandatory .. lets go to the stone age in this Information age. Instead SC should direct the center to come up with procedure to accommodate legitimate citizens of India into the scheme in a time bound manner and frame policies to avoid misuse of the personal data. are we looking the current world Information age thru the same old glasses... it is time to adopt the change...

Sunil Abraham: Indeed we need more transparency. But privacy protections must be inversely proportionate to power and as Julian Assange says transparency requirements should be directly proportionate to power See: http://openup2014.org/priva...

K Venkataramanan: Linking Aadhaar and voter ID cards is also being tried out in other states It is only one more means of eliminating fake voters or duplicates, but is unlikely tobe a ground to make Aadhaar mandatory

Comment From Ganesh

@Mr.Sunil, The current technology adopted for UIDAI is not good compared to last regime?

Sunil Abraham: Please see my our open letter on this question http://cis-india.org/intern...

Comment From Madhavan R

Just because UPA government bring this, its not good for NDA to object it.. STOP wasting our money.. Just try to make best out of it..

Sunil Abraham: Pouring more money into a failed project will not save it. It has serious technological flaw and without addressing it we are just making a bad situation worse.

Comment From George J

Currently all embassy's are collecting biometric data when you apply for a visa. Most of this collection is done by private parties on behalf of the respective governments. So if an Indian has travelled abroad the chances of his Biometric data being available to foreign govts is 99%. So what is the big scare about this? The need that it should be secure and should not be misused is sacrosanct. with the kind of revelations that have been made about mass eavesdropping I think people should get used to living in glass houses!

Comment From Pappan

@Sunil, please clarify about your comment on technology inadequecy

Comment From Yuvaraj

I strongly support Adhaar card implemenataion. intially they may face challeneges but for the long run its very effective mechanism to monitor every thing

Sunil Abraham: Monitoring everything means you monitor nothing. The bigger the haystack the harder it is to find the needle. Good surveillance practices means targetting survelliance not en masse data collection.

Comment From Guest

It is heard that privacy of citizens is at stake with adhaar card. can panelists respond to this?

Sunil Abraham: I have dealt with your question here: http://www.business-standar...

Comment From Srinivasa

That comparison of the two standards (SCOSTA and Aadhar) made interesting reading. Why not a system where you collect biometrics and iris and then issue a SCOSTA card? the biometrics and iris can be used to remove duplicates and maintain a clean registry by failing the duplicate SCOSTA cards. And all further transactions will only need a card based access.

Comment From Loganathan

This is one the worst move by any government in the center to remember. With no motive for the card, they introduced just to add to the loss in exchequer and there is no benefit out of it. Many have wrong data entered against their name and totally the waste one of all

Comment From Sabari Arasu

I am aware of someone who is not Indian citizen got Aadhar card for himself and his family. This scares me a lot as anyone(read Bangaladheshis, Sri Lankans, Pakintanis, etc..) can get Aadhar card. Is there a measure taken by Government to identify these issues?

Sunil Abraham: This is possible because the technology [biometrics] cannot verify citizenship. Even worse biometrics can be imported from foreign countries and can be used to create resident ghosts. This is because the technology cannot even verify if the person in India. We will need surveillance cameras at every point of registration to take care of this possible fraud.

Comment From Chandra Sekhar

Aadhaar card was a huge opportunity for the government to improve the efficiency of governance.It was a challenging task and required great amount accuracy.The way this project was executed is a question mark on efficiency of governance.

The Hindu: Sunil, Venkatramanan, Gopinath - would you agree that Aadhaar was an opportunity to improve governance? @chandra sekhar

Comment From Guest

Freebee lovers/netas will always oppose when you want to implement some thing which might deny them the benefit.

Sunil Abraham: Any evidence to backup this statement?

Comment From Guest

if the ASDHAAR is nt necessary as per SC then why everywhere it is being preferred identity such as Subsidy, Passport etc.

Sunil Abraham: Preference is not the same as a mandatory requirement.