The government of India has started looking into a report that a database with information on its more than 1 billion citizens is being sold online.
Citing The Tribune newspaper, Reuters reported that information on the Indian citizens was being hawked on social media for $8. The paper said it purchased login credentials to the Aadhaar database, enabling it to access the names, telephone numbers and home addresses of millions of people. In exchange for the information, the newspaper paid $7.89 to a user on a WhatsApp social media group.
The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), which is in charge of the biometric identity card scheme, told Reuters it appears to be a case of misuse – but that crucial data, such as biometric information, is “safe and secure.”
“Mere display of demographic information can’t be misused without biometrics,” it said in a statement. The agency also said access to bank accounts required more authentication via fingerprints and iris scans.
The breach is just the most recent controversy surrounding a program that has raised the ire of privacy advocates. The Supreme Court in India is currently holding hearings to decide if a push to link the database to private and public services would violate individuals' privacy rights.
“The perils of making Aadhaar mandatory and linking it to bank accounts, as insisted upon by the [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi government, are visible here,” Sitaram Yechury, a leader of India's Communist Party, said in a Twitter post. “Do we need more proof to stop this madness?”
Reuters noted that in December, telecommunications firm Bharti Airtel and Airtel Payments Bank were blocked from using Aadhaar details to confirm the identities of customers.
Under the Aadhaar system, the government gathered iris scans and digital fingerprint data from most of the 1.2 billion citizens of India. After providing that data to the government, Indians have received identification cards, which they can use to collect government benefits.
Attorneys from Modi’s government argued to the Supreme Court that any assurance of overall fundamental rights could hurt the country’s plan to eradicate poverty and enact social welfare programs via the identification system.