The Supreme Court has ordered the central government to link Aadhaar card details with a subscriber’s mobile number within a year, reports TOI. The court also asked the Centre to formulate a method to register every Indian mobile subscriber’s SIM card with their Aadhaar card. According to the report, the court suggested that every time a subscriber makes a recharge, they could be redirected to “fill and deposit” a form to verify his/her identity.

The court was hearing a petition filed by Lokniti Foundation, an NGO-based in Delhi, which earlier moved the Supreme Court in 2014 to create a database of DNA profiles that could be used to identify unclaimed bodies. According to this Mint report, Lokniti’s petition looked into clearing out fake mobile numbers among existing subscriber base by verifying a SIM owner’s identity and sought to make Aadhaar card mandatory for acquiring a new number.

The NGO’s petition resembles TRAI’s recommendations last month, which stated that both existing and new subscribers base should be verified under the Aadhaar-based eKYC (Know Your Customer) process to weed out SIM cards acquired using fake or forged identity. However, the Supreme Court’s new directive seems to be farfetched from Court’s earlier stance. The SC had earlier clamped down on the government multiple times (herehere, and here) for making Aadhaar mandatory for different kinds of services.

Centre’s push to increase Aadhaar saturation?

Making Aadhaar mandatory for acquiring a mobile service could have repercussions, and it is not clear how the Centre plans on a massive exercise to start linking some 1 billion SIM Cards with Aadhaar to prove identity. Currently, several telcos are providing Aadhaar-based eKYC for SIM cards after TRAI approved the feature in August last year. Telcos verify a person’s identity by scanning their fingerprint using a scanner machine, which communicates with the UIDAI server for authentication. In a similar way, the Aadhaar AUTH API can be used by any private or public company to communicate with the UIDAI servers for user authentication.

Secondly, if the Centre accepts the Supreme Court’s order, then a new customer will have to enroll for an Aadhaar in case they do not own one. Similarly, all existing subscribers will have to enroll for an Aadhaar in case they do not own one. But the exercise involving verifying millions of subscribers could have disadvantages:

-Telcos will have to undertake a massive campaign notifying users about Aadhaar linkage. They might lose some subscribers, but it is yet to be seen how this could affect them financially.

– This Scroll report points out that after Aadhaar was made mandatory for getting public ration services, 4-5% of the beneficiaries in AP did not receive their rations due to Aadhaar authentication failure. In Rajasthan, only 63% of beneficiaries received their rations, rest were “turned away” due to authentication failures. Such a scenario with Aadhaar eKYC for SIMs may lead to people losing their mobile numbers.

-The court did not make any mention of existing subscribers who do not own an Aadhaar card. But clearly, it seems like the Aadhaar linkage with SIM cards could be an exercise to obtain maximum saturation for the Aadhaar which currently covers 99% of adults in India.