Centre for Internet & Society

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the regulatory authority for Aadhaar, has written to a Bengaluru-based research organisation, Centre for Internet & Society (CIS), seeking details about a suspected hack attack on government websites that led to the leak of information about 13 crore users.

The article by Mahendra Singh was published in the Times of India on May 18, 2017.

In a recent report, CIS had highlighted that websites run by various government departments, owing to a poor security framework, had publicly displayed sensitive personal financial information and Aadhaar numbers of beneficiaries of certainprojects.

In its letter, UIDAI argued that the data downloaded from one of the websites could not have been accessed unless the website was hacked. As hacking is a grave offence under the law, the UIDAI has asked CIS to provide details of the persons involved in the data theft.

According to a source, the UIDAI said that access to data on the website for the 'National Social Assistance Program' was only possible for someone in possession of authorised login details, or if the site (http://nsap.nic.in) was hacked or breached. The UIDAI said in its letter that such illegal access was against the provisions of the Aadhaar Act, 2016, and the IT Act, 2000, and that the persons involved had committed a grave offence.

Asking the CIS to reply before May 30, the UIDAI also said, "Aadhaar system is a protected system under Section 70 of the IT Act, 2000, the violation of which is punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a period up to 10 years." It added that the penalty clauses for violations are also provided in Section 36, Section 38 and Section 39 of the Aadhaar Act.

The UIDAI, however, maintained that even if the Aadhaar details were known to someone it did not pose a real threat to the people whose information was publicly available because the Aadhaar number could not be misused without biometrics.

The UIDAI letter said, "While, as your report suggests, there is a need to strengthen IT security of government websites, it is also important that the persons involved in hacking such sensitive information are brought to justice for which your assistance is required under the law."

"Your report mentions 13 crore people's data has been 'leaked'. Please specify how much of this data had been downloaded by you or are in your possession or in the possession of any other persons that you know. Please provide the details," the UIDAI added in its letter. The UIDAI also urged CIS to provide the details of the persons/organisations with whom it shared the data, if it did.