Aadhaar is, believe it or not, one of the very few digital IDs ever to be implemented in a countrywide scheme. Before Aadhaar there existed only a handful of digital ids of similar scale. The Social Security Number in the United States, the National Insurance Number in the UK, and the Digital ID in Estonia are some nationwide digital identity systems out there.
All these identity systems have faced security flaws, identity thefts, and data breaches. The very fact that these systems house personal data with potential for misuse makes for a real debate. The Forbes article by Jayshree Pandya talks about the implications and the risks involved with having such sensitive data at hand for private entities to use.
Aadhaar is the biggest repository of human biometric data ever compiled in the history. Over a Billion people from India have their biometric and personal information in the database, with around 99% of adults already enrolled. There are apparent concerns of misuse of the data by the government and private institutions, including profiling, tracking of different accounts, and politically influencing individuals. The identity system has been linked with multiple governments and private accounts, including bank accounts, phone numbers, government-subsidized ration, and more.
Following the heated debates in 2018 and the subsequent review of the identity system by the government, the Indian Judiciary made it unlawful to use Aadhaar cards as the identity of any individual. However, the Indian Cabinet has passed an act yesterday, which allows the use of Aadhaar as an identity document, subject to authentication.
The use of Aadhaar as an identity document is slated to become robust and secure with the Indian government taking heed of all the concerns around the system. It would be used by state governments to issue subsidies as well.
The Indian government, in their latest iteration to the laws regulating Aadhaar use, have allowed for its use as a personal identifier. However, the use of the personal identification number on the Aadhaar is still limited. No private entity, other than the government-approved ones, can use the Aadhaar number or store it for any purpose.
The government is even looking into options for issuing temporary random numbers masking the actual identity number of the individual for usage.
Private entities can access the necessary information, except the biometric and iris scans, to validate an individual. Once validated, the entities can then save the Aadhaar in their records only after masking the first 8 digits of the personal identifier. This is called Aadhaar masking.
Anyone can log in to their Aadhaar account and download digital masked Aadhaar cards. The card with the first 8 digits masked is by law an identifier for any individual owner. It could be used to identify, to open bank accounts, and to showcase your residence.
What does it mean for businesses and individuals going forward?
These are exciting times to be alive. The need for digital identities is a pressing one going forward. The level of fraud and identity thefts have made it a necessary shift.
Businesses will be able to get better information about the person they are talking to, providing service to, or selling a product to. The cases of fraud and impersonation will fall as the system and technology behind the databases evolve. Aadhaar is here to stay.
Yet there is a need to make the system better and to have security layers in place. The government is working towards it, and we Indians will be some of the first people in the world to have superior identity systems in place.
For individuals, it would be an asset that would help them access different services both government and private. It will reduce the moving parts for any subsidies and services from the government and in the future be the best identifier of you being an Indian.
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