The government of India has withdrawn a warning about the security of its Aadhaar national identity cards only two days after issuing it. The original warning was released after someone attempted to misuse an Aadhaar card that had been edited, and advised the public not to share photocopies of their document with any private parties like hotels or movie theaters.
The problem is that many hotels and other establishments are in the habit of taking photocopies of Aadhaar cards when people book or check in, a fact that was repeatedly pointed out on Indian social media in the wake of the announcement. The government’s warning triggered a viral panic, since the many people who had shared a photocopied Aadhaar card with a private business were suddenly worried that their personal information may no longer be secure.
The press information bureau, however, described that panic as a misunderstanding in its retraction. The organization’s follow-up statement said that the government was pulling the warning to avoid any more misinterpretation, and that “normal prudence” would be enough to protect the average citizen.
Each Aadhaar card has a unique identity number, and that number is bound to an individual through the use of face, fingerprint, and iris biometrics. The Unique Identification Authority of India believes that those features are strong enough to prevent fraud and preserve people’s privacy, and has stated possession of personal data is not sufficient to commit a crime. Having said that, the agency has made those claims in response to security breaches, and critics argue that the collection of biometric data gives the government invasive surveillance capabilities.
The original press release stated that unlicensed private entities are not legally allowed to store copies of Aadhaar cards. The retraction creates some ambiguity about that statement, insofar as it is not clear if that is still the case, or if the government is simply trying to quell the backlash on social media without making any institutional changes. In that regard, it’s also unclear if the situation that led to the announcement has been resolved. The Indian government has tried to make Aadhaar registration mandatory for various programs, though the country’s Supreme Court has rebuffed those efforts to allow citizens to opt out of the identity scheme.
June 2, 2022 – by Eric Weiss