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Who is collecting your Aadhar data?

Nandan Nilekani

onfirming the fears of the Parliamentary Standing Committee about the security of the data collected for the Aadhar scheme, an investigation carried out by this newspaper shows that sensitive biometric data and personal information which you hand over to private enrolment agencies for getting you Aadhar number, is far from safe.

Enrolment agencies that have been given the responsibility of collecting valuable information about Indian citizens, are flouting the rules laid down by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) by outsourcing the task of enrolment to local players illegally. The UIDAI does not have any information about who these sub-franchisees are, and is yet to crack down on the widespread collection of data by such illegal operators. Several enrolment agencies this paper contacted admitted that they were outsourcing the work through manpower agencies or that they were on the lookout for franchisees.

When this reporter, posing as a software retailer from Bangalore, contacted the proprietor of an enrolment agency in Maharashtra over phone, he was offered a franchise to collect Aadhar numbers in Mumbai. In spite of being informed that he had no knowledge of Marathi or prior experience with data collection, he was told that the agency would supply him with 30 machines for around Rs 50 lakh and that he could start operating in Mumbai at his convenience. While many agencies are outsourcing the work despite the legal prohibition, others who are more wary say they are unclear on how to operate within the model provided by UIDAI.

"A case has been registered in Bangalore on the sub-contracting of Aadhar enrolment by Alankit Finsec to other private parties. The same company had reportedly sub-contracted enrolment work in Chandigarh to a private person, who in turn had outsourced it to other people. In Mysore, three people were booked for taking bribe to create false identities and in Hubli, three laptops used for collecting Aadhar data has been stolen," says Mathew Phillip, a social activist who has filed suit in the Bangalore Sessions Court alleging that the Aadhar scheme was illegal and unsafe. Viney Chawla, Alankit's company secretary, admitted to outsourcing data collection but said the practice has been discontinued after instructions from the UIDAI.

"The entire process by which all these companies have been given contracts by UIDA is highly suspicious. There was no tender process but rather an empanelment on request. Most of these companies have no prior experience with either biometrics, or data collection on a large scale. The operators they hire have no expertise in verifying the documents and data that is submitted for issuing the Aadhar numbers," says Venkatesh Bubberjung, a lawyer and anti-UID activist from Bangalore.

The list of companies that have been empanelled by the UIDAI seems to bear out Venkatesh's concerns. In 2010, a tea estate named Barunagar Tea Estates was given a contract to collect Aadhar data in Assam. A travel and ticketing agency in Chennai called Hermes I Tickets was empanelled to collect data from Bihar, Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The current enrolment agencies include a computer showroom and repair shop, printing presses, educational and philanthropic trusts, the National Association of Street Vendors, a sugar mill, insurance companies, BPOs, financial companies, coal and steel companies, construction companies and others.

A large section of the enrolment agencies have been granted rights to collect biometric, demographic and personal data in states whose language they do not know, and about which they have no local knowledge. For example, an educational society in Ranga Reddy district by the name Gouthami Educational Society has been tasked with collecting data from Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Karnataka. Jina Technologies from Guntur district in Andhra Pradesh has been empanelled to enrol from Kerala and Tamil Nadu, but not Andhra Pradesh.

This flawed model accounts for the enrolment agencies turning to local agents to carry out the work. "There is no way any company can cover the immense amount of data that has to be covered. While we may manage without outsourcing, we are completely dependent on local manpower agencies to provide us with operators in a particular area," the vice-president of a company empanelled for enrolment said on the condition of anonymity.

Emails sent to UIDAI chairperson Nandan Nilekani and Anil Khachi, deputy director of enrolments, were not answered till the time of going to press. UIDAI spokesperson Awadhesh Kumar Pandey was unavailable for comment.

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