India’s telecom regulator TRAI recommends (pdf) that the existing subscriber base should be verified under the Aadhaar-based eKYC (Know Your Customer) process to weed out SIM cards acquired using fake/forged identity. The DoT in partnership with telcos could initiate verification of existing SIM cards in a “phased manner” but the process should remain optional to both service providers and subscribers, added TRAI in its recommendation notice.

Subscribers could be provided with freebies or “sops” in form of free talktime or data in order to encourage them to undergo the eKYC process, the regulator said. It also said that the Aadhaar-based eKYC is a more credible verification process when compared to the existing paper-based based verification which uses a passport/driving license, etc.

In addition, TRAI recommended that outstation customers or those users who reside in a different address apart from the one mentioned in their driving license, passport, etc could also verify their identity using an Aaadaar card.

What this means for subscribers

Although TRAI denotes that the Aadhaar-based authentication process could be optional for existing subscribers, this could mean that two things:
1) Existing subscribers without Aadhaar cards will have to enroll for the Aadhaar scheme in case they get lured into the free data/talktime offer.
2) The regulator said in its recommendation “it is essential that not only the new subscriber are enrolled through e-KYC process, but the existing subscriber base should also be verified through e-KYC process.” This means that a new subscriber will have to enroll to a telecom network using an Aadhaar card, and they might have to get one in case they don’t own one.

TRAI’s recommendations will be examined by the DoT and is yet to get final approval. However it is to be noted that the regulator’s suggestion of new subscribers mandatorily authenticating their SIM card via Aadhaar is in violation of the Supreme Court’s stance. The SC had earlier clamped down on the government multiple times (here, here, and here) for making Aadhaar mandatory for any kind of service.

Telcos have already rolled out Aadhaar eKYC as per DOT guidelines

Currently different telecom operators including Airtel, Vodafone, BSNL, Telenor, Reliance Jio have voluntarily undertaken Aadhaar based verification for SIM cards. A user’s identity is verified using their fingerprint via a telecom operator’s PoS machine; the enrollment onto the network takes less than an hour. As per DoT’s regulations, telcos will need to maintain details including complete address, serial codes of all PoS counters, registered distributor centres, and details of sales agents who operate these machines. More on this here.

Corrigendum: Title of the story has been edited for better clarity