“Therefore, there is no data leak, there is no systematic problem, but, if any one tries to be smart, the law ignites into action.”

– Ravi Shankar Prasad
IT Minister, in the Rajya Sabha
10th April 2017

Contrary to this claim, government websites and other places where Aadhaar is used are bleeding Aadhaar data with no end in sight.

May 2018:

April 2018:

March 2018:

  • Search query “mera aadhaar meri pehchaan filetype:pdf” is shown to return thousands of results containing printable Aadhaar cards, many of them from government websites and some inexplicably from completely irrelevant websites.
  • ZDNet reported a data breach in state-owned utility website involving an incorrectly secured API that allowed retrieving information of bank linked with Aadhaar numbers – even for Aadhaar holders who were not customers of the utility.

February 2018:

January 2018:

  • UIDAI was forced to restrict access to Aadhaar data after The Tribune breach report that exposed access to Aadhaar data being sold on WhatsApp for as little as Rs. 500 paid via PayTM.
  • India Today conducted a sting operation that found Aadhaar enrollment centres willing to sell data of Aadhaar applicants for as little as Rs. 2 to Rs. 5 per record.

October 2017:

  • Several universities publish Aadhaar data of students in blatant violation of specific orders by UGC to not do so.
  • Rashtrapati Bhavan published Aadhaar details of meritorious students. Source: GoNews24/7
  • Punjab Medical College publishes Aadhaar details of 12,200 students on its website. Source: Go News 24/7

July 2017:

May 2017:

  • Directorate of Higher Education, Pune, publishes AADHAAR related bank account details of 57,000 students. Source: Go News 24/7
  • Website of the Joint Director of Higher Education publishes Aadhaar and bank account details of around 10,000 students. Source: Go News 24/7

April 2017:

  • Khadi & Village Industries Commission has an entire database online with Aadhaar numbers mentioned. This has been verified by MediaNama.
  • Kendriya Sainik Board Secretariat has published a file online with Aadhaar numbers. Source: Go News 24/7
  • Gujarat Social Welfare Department publishes AADHAAR related bank accounts and private information of 33000+ citizens Source: Go News 24/7
  • Jharkhand Govt removes student Aadhaar data from website.
  • Swatcch Bharat website leaks people’s data. Source: GoNews
  • Chandigarh Public Distribution scheme website discloses Aadhaar number. Source: @roadscholarz on Twitter.
  • Kerala Sevana Pension Site: Has uploaded excel sheets with details, including Aadhaar Numbers of pensioners for whom delivery has failed (for reasons including invalid bank account number, “door not opened”, Address not available and deceased, among others) for: Agricultural Labour Pension, Old Age Pension Scheme, Disability Pension Scheme). We’ve checked and verified this. Source: Anand Venkatanarayan on Twitter.
  • Jharkhand Directorate of Social Security: Over a million Aadhaar numbers leaked by a website run by the Jharkhand Directorate of Social Security. Report by Hindustan Times.
  • Venkaiah Naidu, a Cabinet Minister published a photograph on Twitter, of himself, handing an oversized replica of an Aadhaar card, with Aadhaar number disclosed, to a citizen. The tweet has since been deleted. Here’s a screenshot, with personal info redacted. Naidu is the Minister for Urban Development, Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation, Information & Broadcasting. Here’s textile Minister Smriti Irani’s tweet which still has a photograph with Aadhaar number publicly disclosed (you’ll need to zoom in).
  • Kerala Scholarship Egrantz site was publishing student profiles with their Aadhaar number. This has since been fixed. Source: The News Minute. First reported by Malayalam Manorama, months ago.
  • Telangana government organisation Mahatma Jyotibha Phule Telangana Backward Classes Welfare Residential Educational Institutions Society publishes Aadhaar data of 4000 minority students, studying in 5th to 10th standard. Source: GoNews
  • Bihar’s Minority Welfare Department had published information on 30,000 students, including Aadhaar number and bank account number. Source: GoNews.
  • Punjab Minority Welfare Department had published Aadhaar related data, as well as bank account number, for 12,000 students on its website. Source: GoNews

March 2017:

  • Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation is leaking Aadhaar number and personal data of Swatchh Bharat Mission beneficiaries. Source: @gggodhwani on Twitter. We’ve verified this independently and have screenshots
  • Ministry of HRD had published excel sheets with user Aadhaar information. These have since been removed. Source: MediaNama
  • Cricketer MS Dhoni’s Aadhaar details were tweeted by an enrolment agency on 28th of March 2017. Source: DailyO

February 2017:

  • Telangana: A government agency published Aadhaar information for 500,000-600,000 children. Srinivas Kodali, who discovered this, declined to disclose the name of the agency. Update: Sources have told MediaNama that this was a Telangana agency.

(We’ll update as more instances surface, or are pointed out)

Things to remember

1. Aadhaar’s database may be secure, but its data isn’t: Prasad may have emphatically said in Parliament that “Let me say proudly that data is secure”, but that is factually incorrect. The obfuscation used often is to suggest that the database is secure, even if the data publicly available. As indicated below, several government departments have already published Aadhaar data online, making it easily accessible. In many of these instances, the data could have easily been scrapped and stored. Parallel databases some of this data can be created and stored, and replicating biometrics is going to be remarkably easy: college students have done this. Fingerprints can even be replicated from photographs. In fact, the instances mentioned above are cases of Aadhaar linked personal information.

2. Personal data isn’t just biometric data: Your demographic information, including your name, date of birth, address, fathers name and mobile number are often important personal information, which is linked to Aadhaar. Prasad might say that “anything with which you can be profiled is not there”, but this is factually incorrect: demographic information is used for profiling. This is personal information that is sufficient to identify you for several services. As an example, click here to read how BJP member and current UIDAI member Rajesh Jain, who also runs a digital marketing firm Netcore, talked about using demographic data for targeting for election campaigns.

3. Law and regulations don’t seem to be applicable to government: While the UIDAI has filed FIRs against private parties, there doesn’t appear to be any filed against government officials releasing this data. This arbitrariness raises questions of whether government departments are getting preferential treatment, and are, for all practical purposes, above the law. The rules are very clear:

  • “The Aadhaar number of an individual shall not be published, displayed or posted publicly by any person or entity or agency.”
  • “Any individual, entity or agency, which is in possession of Aadhaar number(s) of Aadhaar number holders, shall ensure security and confidentiality of the Aadhaar numbers and of any record or database containing the Aadhaar numbers.”
  • “…no entity, including a requesting entity, which is in possession of the Aadhaar number of an Aadhaar number holder, shall make public any database or record containing the Aadhaar numbers of individuals, unless the Aadhaar numbers have been redacted or blacked out through appropriate means, both in print and electronic form.”

(source: AADHAAR (SHARING OF INFORMATION) REGULATIONS, 2016, point 6)

4. You have no rights over your own data: When a minister violates the law, is the law applicable to them? What happens when a government department violates the law? Should the law be applicable to them? What if the law that is violated by the minister or government agency impacts you? Shouldn’t you be able to take them to court? Who polices the government and its departments here?

The Aadhaar rules only allow for a grievance redressal mechanism (page 34, section 32 here), and the Aadhaar Act explicitly denies you the right to go to court to seek damages for the release of your personal data. The Aadhaar law says: “No court shall take cognizance of any offence punishable under this Act, save on a complaint made by the Authority or any officer or person authorised by it”.

Thus, only the UIDAI can act against the government.

5. No active monitoring of Aadhaar leaks: Government appears to only dependent on social media complaints and press reports, and there doesn’t appear to be any move to prevent leakage of data at a state or agency level.