Former chief of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and current chief of National Health Authority and CoWin RS Sharma slammed his former organisation on Wednesday, saying it defeated logic that the UIDAI was issuing physical Aadhaar cards or allowing offline verification. He said it was fallacious that Aadhaar was considered a secret number which cannot be published.
Sharma was speaking at the Aadhaar 2.0 conference where the way ahead for UIDAI was being debated. “What is so secret about the Aadhaar number? One fundamental flaw that started developing is — that Aadhaar is a secret artifact, that Aadhaar should be kept in a vault. That number is a random number devoid of any intelligence whatsoever. But we have created a mindset that it is a secret number,” he said.
“Once you start on a fallacious foundation, everything becomes fallacious. You came up with a data vault, you said Aadhaar cannot be published. It is my Aadhaar, I can publish it. Someone says if you publish your Aadhaar, Mr Sharma you can go to jail. I say that I am ready to go to jail. This whole concept that the Aadhaar is a secret number is a problem,” Sharma added.
He also questioned the UIDAI over why it was printing physical Aadhaar cards.
“Aadhaar is a digital artifact. Initially, we said it is a number on a piece of paper, not a card. Then we said if you want durability, you can keep it as a plastic card at best. Then UIDAI started issuing those cards directly, printing those cards. I do not see the logic of that honestly. Why should UIDAI get into this?” Sharma said.
He said Aadhaar is a digital artifact which has lot of advantages over physical artifacts that can be cloned and forged. “The line on the Aadhaar letter said – ‘prove your identity online’. Now, an online artifact is being converted into an offline one. Now, we also introduced an offline verification which became a part of Aadhaar Act. I do not know why. Because ultimately offline verification is somebody doing it while the Aadhaar authority does now know. Why should that be recognised as an activity by Aadhaar?” Sharma asked at the conference.
He went on to say that that the Supreme Court judgment on Aadhaar was “misinterpreted” to create many regulations. “Aadhaar from an agency which should promote digital identity has become a regulator of digital identity,” Sharma said.
He said the Aadhaar Act says identity information should be safely kept. “But Aadhaar number is not identity information — that is your name, demographics, fingerprints and iris. Only Aadhaar number is not an identity. This is like putting numbers on currency notes in a vault saying the number will not be disclosed,” Sharma said.
He added that the Supreme Court judgment was followed by an amendment that every person who has Aadhaar shall have the right to voluntarily use it to prove his identity. “But if I got to some shop, and a person asks for my identity, he needs to be an AUA (Authentication User Agency) of Aadhaar to ascertain my identity. But UIDAI has stopped issuing private EUAs — I want to drink water from a tap but there is no water in the tap. Things need to be unshackled. This is not what the SC had said, but this is what we have made it out to be,” Sharma said.
He added that the UIDAI should not be cowed down by some people talking about privacy all the time. “Respect the concept of privacy but in the name of privacy, do not kill the purpose. Privacy should not compromise the functionality,” he said.
Sharma cited the example of the National Health Authority, which he heads, issuing digital health IDs to people. “Someone asked me how you have given health IDs without consent. I say when you went for vaccination, you gave your Aadhaar. I have gifted you a number (health ID), it is up to you to use that number or not. What crime have I committed? People go to ridiculous extent to speak of privacy. We started a programme to help people take pride in sharing your vaccination status through a badge. Some people said it a great breach of privacy. Some people are opposing for the sake of opposing. Let’s not get cowed down by criticism. We need to promote Aadhaar,” Sharma said.
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