After a newspaper report claimed breach in Aadhaar database and that access to crucial info was available for an amount as little as Rs 500, concerns over the security of personal data have heightened. While the report could not be independently verified, even if the database cannot be breached, the worry is not unfounded.
A study by a think tank affiliated with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) too suggests that. A staff paper published by the Institute for Development and Research in Banking Technology has flagged serious safety issues.
The paper, which attempts to trace the adoption of biometrics in India by the banks and the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), also studies costs and benefits of Aadhaar.
“Aadhaar faces a number of challenges over the short and long-term. The primary challenge is to protect the data from prying and excessive profit seeking excess of the business world. It is wellknown that businesses are increasingly operating in a highly competitive world in which ethical boundaries are rapidly being pulled down. The problem is compounded because they have to satisfy their shareholders in a competitive business environment that rarely looks beyond the quarterly profits and the operational dynamics of stock market listing,” it says.
However, the paper says, cyber vulnerabilities of Aadhaar are a bigger concern than the possible commercial misuse of data. “In an era when cyber threats are frequent, the major challenge for UIDAI is to protect the data under its control since the biometrics is now an important national asset which has huge ramifications for various government programmes and the banking system,” it says.
The paper says Aadhaar is a sitting duck for cyber criminals. “Thanks to Aadhaar, for the first time in the history of India, there is now a readily available single target for cyber criminals as well as India’s external enemies. In a few years, attacking UIDAI data can potentially cripple Indian businesses and administration in ways that were inconceivable a few years ago. The loss to the economy and citizens in case of such an attack is bound to be incalculable,” it says.
The paper says the benefits of biometric authentication to the consumers have been mixed, with not much benefit to those in the last mile. “In the realm of business and administration, it promises to have a larger impact than previously thought. There is a need for caution in the manner in which Aadhaar is used by the government, especially as more programmes and economic activities are linked to it. Only time will tell if the benefits outweigh the costs or vice versa,” it says.