In a stout defence of controversial Aadhar cards the Director General and Mission Director Unique Identification Authority of India AB Pandey tries to allay fears regarding a possible violation of individual’s right to privacy because of the cards. Amresh Srivastava speaks to him. Excerpts from exclusive interview
There are apprehensions about violation of privacy because of Aadhar cards. People say that their right to privacy may be compromised. What is your take on this?
The Aadhar Act provides and protects (rights) to high standard as compared to any other law of the country. It is provided in the Act that no information, available with the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), about the residences, demographic or bio-metric shall be disclosed to anyone without the consent of the resident. The consent has to be obtained every time information is given. So it is not that once you give the consent, we keep on disclosing information for the whole life to the different agencies that will be using it. Thus, we also have a provision that only the demographic information can be disclosed with the consent of individual. His core biometric data will not be disclosed. This is one part. However, if an order is given by court that too not below the District Court, only then the information will be given.
This information can be disclosed in very extreme circumstances say like in the interest of national security. The information can be disclosed after the approval of the committee headed by Cabinet Secretary. So this is the protection we are providing. We also provide that the identity of the person, collected by any agency which is working with UIDAI or the Aadhar number is being collected by various agencies for their own purpose. They are required to disclose the purpose for which Aadhar number is collected and they will not further disclose to some other entity without the consent of the resident. We also have prohibited this under the law. The public display of Aadhar number on, let us say website, newspapers, or some notices is not allowed. So Aadhar number is a secret and confidential number which cannot be displayed in the public.
Sometime ago the railway also asked for Aadhar number for identification purpose due you think that this is appropriate?
Railway can use Aadhar number. There is no problem giving the Aadhar number to the Government agency which is asking you the identification but only thing is that railway cannot transfer this Aadhar number to some other agency. Similarly, the railway is not supposed to put this number on reservation chart for public display. However, it may be available with the Travelling Ticket Examiner (TTE) for the identification purpose.
This is a peculiar condition that UIDAI was created before and Act came later. So how you are going to do the fine tuning?
First the policy and regulations are to be put in place. Then, we have entered into various agreements with our partners. Those agreements will have to be changed. Next, all these things have to be reflected in the field, for example it could require changing a form to be filled - that has to be done. Some electronic processes for doing such tasks may also require modifications. What we have done is that we have formalised the system and given it a statuary backing. We have made data privacy stronger and in case of any violation of the policy there is a provision for strict action and punishment incorporated in the law.
Is this Aadhar card voluntary or compulsory? Will it be compulsory for financial transactions in future?
So far getting Aadhar number is voluntary, since the subsidy is given from consolidated fund of India the Government can make it compulsory. Aadhar is a great advantage, which can be availed anytime, anywhere to prove one’s identity. Earlier, you were asked to establish your identity. In the past most of the people did not have the formal proof of identity. Now Aadhar number is an identity document which is recognised by the Government under the law and this identity document is used in defining the beneficiaries and the benefits from the Consolidated Fund, so that the benefits can be given directly to the beneficiaries through online. The bank account can be linked with Aadhar and benefit can be transferred directly to the individuals without any layer of intermediaries.
We have seen some technical glitches in the system. When Rajasthan Government decided to use this Aadhar data to distribute ration the finger prints did not match with the data. How this kind of problem can be taken care of?
See there can be some technical glitches. Somebody’s finger may be injured at particular point of time or due to some other reason the system could not authenticate the finger prints at times. The department or agency which is using these data must have provided system for these kinds of exceptions. That means if these things happen, the concerned agencies should be provided with exception handling mechanism at the delivery point. They could have some register which lists the deliveries till the technical glitches are corrected. In that case photographs can also utilised to prove the identity.
The Aadhar data is collected from people above five years. Do you have any plan to register the data for infants below five years of age?
Right now we are not taking bio-metric data below five years of age. But in case of technological improvement takes place, apparently I am told that some research is being conducted where there is a some initial indication which is subject to confirmation, that a heel of a child or infant doesn’t changes much over the period of time. So if this hypothesis is true than we might take the biometrics of infants but not at this point of time. Right now we are collecting only photograph of the child.