Following Aadhaar being made compulsory for Income Tax returns, it will now be mandatory to link mobile numbers to Aadhaar. The Department of Telecom has issued a note saying that all telecom operators will have ensure that their subscribers link mobile numbers to Aadhaar number within a year. A copy of the DoT notification is available here.
This follows orders from the Supreme Court dated 6th February 2017, passed in a Write Petition (C) No 607/2016 filed by Lokiti Foundation vs Union of India, where the court had said that “an effective process has been evolved to ensure identity verification, as well as, the addresses of all mobile phone subscribers for new subscribers. In the near future, and more particularly within one year from today, a similar verification will be completed, in case of existing subscribers.”
The DoT believes that this statement “amounts to direction which is to be completed within a time frame of one year.”
Shortly after the observation from the Supreme Court, “A meeting was held on 13.02.2017 in the Department with the telecom industry wherein UIDAI, TRAI and PMO representatives also participated to discuss the way forward to implement the directions of the Supreme court.”
The verification process
1. Reverification of all subscribers using E-KYC process: “All mobile operators shall re-verify all existing mobile subscribers (prepaid and postpaid) through Aadhaar based E-KYC process. All mobile operators are expected to inform existing subscribers through an advertisement in the print/electronic media, as well as SMS about the orders of the Supreme Court for re-verification, and shall upload complete details of this on their website. For this, licensees has use/share common device ecosystem through mutual agreements between them.”
2. SMS based verification of SIM cards: the operators will send a verification code to the mobile number of the subscriber. Before initiating the E-KYC process, the telecom operator shall verify the verification code from the subscriber so as to confirm that the SIM card of the mobile connection is physically available with the subscriber. After this is done, the telecom operator will start the E-KYC process.
Before updating the old subscriber detail the telecom operator “shall seek confirmation from subscriber about the reverification of his/her mobile number after 24 hours through SMS. If the subscriber does not respond within 3 daylight hours to SMS, the licensee shall treat reverification as positive and overwrite the subscriber database by E-KYC process data.”
3. More than one number: The telecom operator may also reverify more than one mobile connection issued by it in one licensed service area to a subscriber through a single ekyc process, but not bulk connections.
4. Data cards: “Mobile connections used for data services only by subscriber, on which incoming calls/sms are not available, the physical possession of SIM card of such connections shall be verified through verification code on alternate mobile number submitted by the subscriber.”
Important to note that this doesn’t appear to be a violation of the Supreme Court’s orders on making Aadhaar not mandatory for more than a few services, if and only if, this is seen as a direction from the Supreme Court, and not just an observation. For a government which has an intent to make Aadhaar mandatory for each citizen, and also link the surveillance system Centralised Monitoring System and NATGRID, any excuse and opportunity to mandate Aadhaar is sufficient. This is especially worrying in the light of the fact that the attorney general has said in the court that Indians have no fundamental right to privacy, and the government of India has shown no inclination to push forward with a privacy law. As such, digitally connected citizens are at the mercy of the government.