The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has reportedly restricted the access of about 5,000 officials to the Aadhaar portal after a January 4 report on the Tribune said demographic details of those enrolled in the system were available for as little as Rs 500.
The Economic Times reports, “All the privileges given to designated officers for access have been immediately withdrawn,” said a top government official who didn’t want to be named. UIDAI has overhauled its system to enable access only by entering the biometrics of the person whose details were sought to be verified.
According to The Tribune’s original investigation Rs 500 was enough to get an administrator-level login ID and password, that allowed unfettered access to all Aadhaar data with the exception of biometrics.
Under the earlier system, state governments had authorised certain officials — both government and private operators — to have access to the database. Economic Times quotes the anonymous official saying that, the system previously allowed a designated officer to view the demographic details of an Aadhaar holder such as name, address, date of birth, etc, by entering the 12-digit unique identity number, so that changes could be made easily. UIDAI gets over 500,000 daily requests for changes, he said.
Going forward, access needs to be authenticated by the fingerprint of the Aadhaar holder and the data available will be restricted to that person. “It may inconvenience some people who wanted speedy access to their details, but the move is expected to prevent future breaches,” the official said.
UIDAI had denied that its security protocols were faulty and has filed a police complaint in the wake of the news report. The FIR was viewed as an effort to muzzle the reporting of Aadhaar’s security flaws. The ET report says the official denied that the FIR has been filed against the reporter or the paper.
He said it was against “unnamed people” and merely cited the details of the Tribune article and mentioned the name of the reporter, since this was needed to provide details of the alleged racket. The newspaper report had alleged there were about 100,000 illegal users and that the unauthorized breaches may have started six months ago.
Tacit admission of the breach?
Despite vehemently denying that any breach has occurred the decision to restrict access of a large group of officials and a softened response to the Tribune’s original report suggests that the UIDAI and the government are tacitly admitting that loopholes exist and they may have been exploited.
UIDAI had told media outlets on Sunday that it was not “shooting the messenger” and that it respected free speech and freedom of the Press.
The union minister for electronics and information technology Ravi Shankar Prasad also chimed in on Monday, “Govt is fully committed to freedom of Press as well as to maintaining security & sanctity of #Aadhaar for India’s development,” he tweeted.“FIR is against unknown. I’ve suggested @UIDAI to request Tribune & its journalist to give all assistance to police in investigating real offenders.”
Govt. is fully committed to freedom of Press as well as to maintaining security & sanctity of #Aadhaar for India’s development. FIR is against unknown. I’ve suggested @UIDAI to request Tribune & it’s journalist to give all assistance to police in investigating real offenders.
— Ravi Shankar Prasad (@rsprasad) January 8, 2018
UIDAI tweeted in response: “UIDAI is committed to the freedom of Press. We’re going to write to @thetribunechd & @rachnakhaira to give all assistance to investigate to nab the real culprits. We also appreciate if Tribune & its journalist have any constructive suggestion to offer.”
UIDAI is committed to the freedom of Press. We’re going to write to @thetribunechd & @rachnakhaira to give all assistance to investigate to nab the real culprits. We also appreciate if Tribune & its journalist have any constructive suggestion to offer. https://t.co/H3OtQSiFeJ
— Aadhaar (@UIDAI) January 8, 2018
The Economic Times report also quotes Harish Khare, editor-in-chief of The Tribune saying, “We welcome the change in the stance of the government. They had also asked us for our comments, which we have sent and also put up on our website. We are ready to help, the whole purpose is to plug the loopholes in the system.”