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Analysis of Aadhaar Act in the Context of A.P. Shah Committee Principles

Posted by Vipul Kharbanda at Mar 17, 2016 07:40 PM |
Whilst there are a number of controversies relating to the Aadhaar Act including the fact that it was introduced in a manner so as to circumvent the majority of the opposition in the upper house of the Parliament and that it was rushed through the Lok Sabha in a mere eight days, in this paper we shall discuss the substantial aspects of the Act in relation to privacy concerns which have been raised by a number of experts. In October 2012, the Group of Experts on Privacy constituted by the Planning Commission under the chairmanship of Justice AP Shah Committee submitted its report which listed nine principles of privacy which all legislations, especially those dealing with personal should adhere to. In this paper, we shall discuss how the Aadhaar Act fares vis-à-vis these nine principles.

 

Introduction

The Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 (the “Aadhaar Act”) was introduced in the Lok Sabha (lower house of the Parliament) by Minister of Finance, Mr. Arun Jaitley, in on March 3, 2016, and was passed by the Lok Sabha on March 11, 2016. It was sent back by the Rajya Sabha with suggestions but the Lok Sabha rejected those suggestions, which means that the Act is now deemed to have been passed by both houses as it was originally introduced as a Money Bill. Whilst there are a number of controversies relating to the Aadhaar Act including the fact that it was introduced in a manner so as to circumvent the majority of the opposition in the upper house of the Parliament and that it was rushed through the Lok Sabha in a mere eight days, in this paper we shall discuss the substantial aspects of the Act in relation to privacy concerns which have been raised by a number of experts. In October 2012, the Group of Experts on Privacy constituted by the Planning Commission under the chairmanship of Justice AP Shah Committee submitted its report which listed nine principles of privacy which all legislations, especially those dealing with personal should adhere to. In this paper, we shall discuss how the Aadhaar Act fares vis-à-vis these nine principles.

In order for the reader to better understand the frame of reference on which we shall analyse the Aadhaar Act, the nine principles contained in the report of the Group of Experts on Privacy are explained in brief below:

  • Principle 1: Notice - Does the legislation/regulation require that entities governed by the Act give simple to understand notice of its information practices to all individuals, in clear and concise language, before any personal information is collected from them.
  • Principle 2: Choice and Consent - Does the legislation/regulation require that entities governed under the Act provide the individual with the option to opt in/opt out of providing their personal information.
  • Principle 3: Collection Limitation - Does the legislation/regulation require that entities governed under the Act collect personal information from individuals only as is necessary for a purpose identified.
  • Principle 4: Purpose Limitation - Does the legislation/regulation require that personal data collected and processed by entities governed by the Act be adequate and relevant to the purposes for which they are processed.
  • Principle 5: Access and Correction - Does the legislation/regulation allow individuals: access to personal information about them held by an entity governed by the Act; the ability to seek correction, amendments, or deletion of such information where it is inaccurate, etc.
  • Principle 6: Disclosure - Does the legislation ensure that information is only disclosed to third parties after notice and informed consent is obtained. Is disclosure allowed for law enforcement purposes done in accordance with laws in force.
  • Principle 7: Security - Does the legislation/regulation ensure that information that is collected and processed under that Act, is done so in a manner that protects against loss, unauthorized access, destruction, etc.
  • Principle 8: Openness - Does the legislation/regulation require that any entity processing data take all necessary steps to implement practices, procedures, policies and systems in a manner proportional to the scale, scope, and sensitivity to the data that is collected and processed and is this information made available to all individuals in an intelligible form, using clear and plain language?
  • Principle 9: Accountability - Does the legislation/regulation provide for measures that ensure compliance of the privacy principles? This would include measures such as mechanisms to implement privacy policies; including tools, training, and education; and external and internal audits.

 

Analysis of the Aadhaar Act

The Aadhaar Act has been brought about to give legislative backing to the most ambitious individual identity programme in the world which aims to provide a unique identity number to the entire population of India. The rationale behind this scheme is to correctly identify the beneficiaries of government schemes and subsidies so that leakages in government subsidies may be reduced. In furtherance of this rationale the Aadhaar Act gives the Unique Identification Authority of India (“UIDAI”) the power to enroll individuals by collecting their demographic and biometric information and issuing an Aadhaar number to them. Below is an analysis of the Act based on the privacy principles enumerated I the A.P. Shah Committee Report.

Collection Limitation

Collection of Biometric and Demographic Information: The Aadhaar Act entitles every “resident” [1] to obtain an Aadhaar number by submitting his/her biometric (photograph, finger print, Iris scan) and demographic information (name, date of birth, address [2]) [3]. It must be noted that the Act leaves scope for further information to be included in the collection process if so specified by regulations. It must be noted that although the Act specifically provides what information can be collected, it does not specifically prohibit the collection of further information. This becomes relevant because it makes it possible for enrolling agencies to collect extra information relating to individuals without any legal implications of such act.

Authentication Records: The UIDAI is mandated to maintain authentication records for a period which is yet to be specified (and shall be specified in the regulations) but it cannot collect or keep any information regarding the purpose for which the authentication request was made [4].

Unauthorized Collection: Any person who in not authorized to collect information under the Act, and pretends that he is authorized to do so, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with a fine which may extend to Rs. 10,000/- or both. In case of companies the maximum fine amount would be increased to Rs. 10,00,000/- [5]. It must be noted that the section, as it is currently worded seems to criminalize the act of impersonation of authorized individuals and the actual collection of information is not required to complete this offence. It is not clear if this section will apply if a person who is authorized to collect information under the Act in general, collects some information that he/she is not authorized to collect.

Notice

Notice during Collection: The Aadhaar Act requires that the agencies enrolling people for distribution of Aadhaar numbers should give people notice regarding: (a) the manner in which the information shall be used; (b) the nature of recipients with whom the information is intended to be shared during authentication; and (c) the existence of a right to access information, the procedure for making requests for such access, and details of the person or department in-charge to whom such requests can be made [6]. A failure to comply with this requirement will make the agency liable for imprisonment of upto 3 years or a fine of Rs. 10,000/- or both. In case of companies the maximum fine amount would be increased to Rs. 10,00,000/- [7]. It must be noted that the Act leaves the manner of giving such notice in the realm of regulations and does not specify how this notice is to be provided, which leaves important specifics to the realm of the executive.

Notice during Authentication: The Aadhaar Act requires that authenticating agencies shall give information to the individuals whose information is to be authenticated regarding (a) the nature of information that may be shared upon authentication; (b) the uses to which the information received during authentication may be put by the requesting entity; and (c) alternatives to submission of identity information to the requesting entity [8]. A failure to comply with this requirement will make the agency liable for imprisonment of upto 3 years or a fine of Rs. 10,000/- or both. In case of companies the maximum fine amount would be increased to Rs. 10,00,000/- [9]. Just as in the case of notice during collection, the manner in which the notice is required to be given is left to regulations leaving an unclear picture as to how comprehensive, accessible, and frequent this notice must be.

Access and Correction

Updating Information: The Aadhaar Act give the UIDAI the power to require residents to update their demographic and biometric information from time to time so as to maintain its accuracy [10].

Access to Information: The Aadhaar Act provides that Aadhaar number holders may request the UIDAI to provide access to their identity information expect their core biometric information [11]. It is not clear why access to the core biometric information [12] is not provided to an individual. Further, since section 6 seems to place the responsibility of updation and accuracy of biometric information on the individual, it is not clear how a person is supposed to know that the biometric information contained in the database has changed if he/she does not have access to the same. It may also be noted that the Aadhaar Act provides only for a request to the UIDAI for access to the information and does not make access to the information a right of the individual, this would mean that it would be entirely upon the discretion of the UIDAI to refuse to grant access to the information once a request has been made.

Alteration of Information: The Aadhaar Act gives individuals the right to request the UIDAI to alter their demographic if the same is incorrect or has changed and biometric information if it is lost or has changed. Upon receipt of such a request, if the UIDAI is satisfied, then it may make the necessary alteration and inform the individual accordingly. The Act also provides that no identity information in the Central database shall be altered except as provided in the regulations [13]. This section provides for alteration of identity information but only in the circumstances given in the section, for example demographic information cannot be changed if it has been lost, similarly biometric information cannot be changed if it is inaccurate. Further, the section does not give a right to the individual to get the information altered but only entitles him/her to request the UIDAI to make a change and the final decision is left to the “satisfaction” of the UIDAI.

Access to Authentication Record: Every individual is given the right to obtain his/her authentication record in a manner to be specified by regulations. [14]

Disclosure

Sharing during Authentication: The UIDAI is entitled to reply to any authentication query with a positive, negative or any other response which may be appropriate and may share identity information except core biometric information with the requesting entity [15]. The language in this provision is ambiguous and it is unclear what 'identity information' may be shared and why it would be necessary to share such information as Aadhaar is meant to be only a means of authentication so as to remove duplication.

Potential Disclosure during Maintenance of CIDR: The UIDAI has been given the power to appoint any one or more entities to establish and maintain the Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR) [16]. If a private entity is involved in the maintenance and establishment of the CIDR it can be presumed that there is the possibilty that they would, to some degree, have access to the information stored in the CIDR, yet there are no clear standards in the Act regarding this potential access. And the process for appointing such entities. The fact that the UIDAI has been given the freedom to appoint an outside entity to maintain a sensitive asset such as the CIDR raises security concerns.

Restriction on Sharing Information: The Aadhaar Act creates a blanket prohibition on the usage of core biometric information for any purpose other than generation of Aadhaar numbers and also prohibits its sharing for any reason whatsoever [17]. Other identity information is allowed to be shared in the manner specified under the Act or as may be specified in the regulations [18]. The Act further provides that the requesting entities shall not disclose the identity information except with the prior consent of the individual to whom the information relates [19]. There is also a prohibition on publicly displaying Aadhaar number or core biometric information except as specified by regulations [20]. Officers or the UIDAI or the employees of the agencies employed to maintain the CIDR are prohibited from revealing the information stored in the CIDR or authentication record to anyone [21]. It is not clear why an exception has been carved out and what circumstances would require publicly displaying Aadhaar numbers and core biometric information, especially since the reasons for which such important information may be displayed has been left up to regulations which have relatively less oversight. The section also provides the requesting entities with an option to further disclose information if they take consent of the individuals. This may lead to a situation where a requesting entity, perhaps the of an essential service, may take the consent of the individual to disclose his/her information in a standard form contract, without the option of saying no to such a request. It may lead to situations where the option is between giving consent to disclosure or denial or service altogether. For this reason it is necessary that there should be an opt in and opt out provision wherever a requesting entity has the power to ask for disclosure of information, so that people are not coerced into giving consent.

Disclosure in Specific Cases: The prohibition on disclosure of information (except for core biometric information) does not apply in case of any disclosure made pursuant to an order of a court not below that of a District Judge [22]. There is another exception to the prohibition on disclosure of information (including core biometric information) in the interest of national security if so directed by an officer not below the rank of a Joint Secretary to the Government of India specially authorised in this behalf by an order of the Central Government. Before any such direction can take effect, it will be reviewed by an oversight committee consisting of the Cabinet Secretary and the Secretaries to the Government of India in the Department of Legal Affairs and the Department of Electronics and Information Technology. Any such direction shall be valid for a period of three months and may be extended by another three months after the review by the Oversight Committee [23]. Although this provision has been criticized, and rightly so, for the lack of accountability since the entire process is being handled within the executive and there is no independent oversight, however it must be mentioned that the level of oversight provided here is similar to that provided to interception requests, which involve a much graver if not the same level of invasion of privacy.

Penalty for Disclosure: Any person who intentionally and in an unauthorized manner discloses, transmits, copies or otherwise disseminates any identity information collected in the course of enrolment or authentication shall be punishable with imprisonment of upto 3 years or a fine of Rs. 10,000/- or both. In case of companies the maximum fine amount would be increased to Rs. 10,00,000/ [24]. Further any person who intentionally and in an unathorised manner, accesses information in the CIDR [25], downloads, copies or extracts any data from the CIDR [26], or reveals or shares or distributes any identity information, shall be punishable with imprisonment of upto 3 years and a fine of not less than Rs. 10,00,000/-.

Consent

Consent for Authentication: A requesting entity has to take the consent of the individual before collecting his/her identity information for the purposes of authentication and also has to inform the individual of the alternatives to submission of the identity information [27]. Although this provision requires entities to take consent from the individuals before collecting information for authentication, however how useful this requirement of consent would be, still remains to be seen. There may be instances where a requesting entity may take the consent of the individual in a standard form contract, without the individual realizing what he/she is consenting to.

Note: The Aadhaar Act provides no requirement or standard for the form of consent that must be taken during enrollment. This is significant as it is the point at which individuals are providing raw biometric material and during previous enrollment, has been a point of weakness as the consent taken is an enabler to function creep as it allows the UIDAI to share information with engaged in delivery of welfare services [28].

Purpose

Use of Information: The authenticating entities are allowed to use the identity information only for the purpose of submission to the CIDR for authentication [29]. Further, the Act specifies that identity information available with a requesting entity shall not be used for any purpose other than that specified to the individual at the time of submitting the information for authentication [30]. The Act also provides that any authentication entity which uses the information for any purpose not already specified will be liable to punishment of imprisonment of upto 3 years or a fine of Rs. 10,000/- or both. In case of companies the maximum fine amount would be increased to Rs. 10,00,000/ [31].

Security

Security and Confidentiality of Information: It is the responsibility of the UIDAI to ensure the security and confidentiality of the identity and authentication information and it is required to take all necessary action to ensure that the information in the CIDR is protected against unauthorized access, use or disclosure and against accidental or intentional destruction, loss or damage [32]. The UIDAI is required to adopt and implement appropriate technical and organisational security measures and also ensure that its contractors do the same [33]. It is also required to ensure that the agreements entered into with its contractors impose the same conditions as are imposed on the UIDAI under the Act and that they shall act only upon the instructions of the UIDAI [34].

Biometric Information to be Electronic Record: The biometric information collected by the UIDAI has been deemed to be an “electronic record” as well as “sensitive personal data or information”, which would mean that in addition to the provisions of the Aadhaar Act, the provisions contained in the Information Technology Act, 2000 will also apply to such information [35]. It must be noted that while the Act lays down the principle that UIDAI is required to ensure the saecurity of the information, it does not lay down any guidelines as to the minimum security standards to be implemented by the Authority. However, through this section the legislature has linked the security standards contained in the IT Act to the information contained in this Act. While this is a clean way of dealing with the issue, some people may argue that the extremely sensitive nature of the information contained in the CIDR requires the standards for security to be much stricter than those provided in the IT Act. However, a perusal of Rule 8 of the Information Technology (Reasonable security practices and procedures and sensitive personal data or information) Rules, 2011 shows that the Rules themselves provide that the standard of security must be commensurate with the information assets being protected. It would thus seem that the Act provides enough room to protect such important information, but perhaps leaves too much room for interpretation for such an important issue.

Penalty for Unauthorised Access: Apart from the security provisions included in the legislation, the Aadhaar Act also provides for punishment of imprisonment of upto 3 years and a fine which shall not be less than Rs. 10,00,000/-, in case of the following offences:

  1. introduction of any virus or other computer contaminant in the CIDR [36];
  2. causing damage to the data in the CIDR [37];
  3. disruption of access to the CIDR [38];
  4. denial of access to any person who is authorised to access the CIDR [39];
  5. destruction, deletion or alteration of any information stored in any removable storage media or in the CIDR or diminishing its value or utility or affecting it injuriously by any means [40];
  6. stealing, concealing, destroying or altering any computer source code used by the Authority with an intention to cause damage [41].

Further, unauthorized usage or tampering with the data in the CIDR or in any removable storage medium with the intent of modifying information relating to Aadhaar number holder or discovering any information thereof, is also punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 3 years and also a fine which may extend to Rs. 10,000/- [42].

Accountability

Inspections and Audits: One of the functions listed in the powers and functions of the UIDAI is the power to call for information and records, conduct inspections, inquiries and audit of the operations of the CIDR, Registrars, enrolling agencies and other agencies appointed under the Aadhaar Act [43].

Grievance Redressal: Another function of the UIDAI is to set up facilitation centres and grievance redressal mechanisms for redressal of grievances of individuals, Registrars, enrolling agencies and other service providers [44]. It must be said here that considering the importance that the government has given to and intends to give to Aadhaar in the future, an essential task such as grievance redressal should not be left entirely to the discretion of the UIDAI and some grievance redressal mechanism should be incorporated into the Act itself.

Openness

There does not seem to be any provision in the Aadhaar Act which requires the UIDAI to make its privacy policies and procedure available to the public in general even though the UIDAI has the responsibility to maintain the security and confidentiality of the information.

 

Endnotes

[1] A resident is defined as any person who has resided in India for a period of atleasy 182 days in the previous 12 months.

[2] It has been specified that demographic information will not include race, religion, caste, tribe, ethnicity, language, records of entitlement, income or medical history.

[3] Section 3(1) of the Aadhaar Act.

[4] Section 32(1) and 32(3) of the Aadhaar Act.

[5] Section 36 of the Aadhaar Act.

[6] Section 3(2) of the Aadhaar Act.

[7] Section 41 of the Aadhaar Act.

[8] Section 8(3) of the Aadhaar Act.

[9] Section 41 of the Aadhaar Act.

[10] Section 6 of the Aadhaar Act.

[11] Section 28, proviso of the Aadhaar Act.

[12] Core biometric information is defined as fingerprints, iris scan or other biological attributes which may be specified by regulations.

[13] Section 31 of the Aadhaar Act.

[14] Section 32(2) of the Aadhaar Act.

[15] Section 8(4) of the Aadhaar Act.

[16] Section 10 of the Aadhaar Act.

[17] Section 29(1) of the Aadhaar Act.

[18] Section 29(2) of the Aadhaar Act.

[19] Section 29(3)(b) of the Aadhaar Act.

[20] Section 29(4) of the Aadhaar Act.

[21] Section 28(5) of the Aadhaar Act.

[22] Section 33(1) of the Aadhaar Act.

[23] Section 33(2) of the Aadhaar Act.

[24] Section 37 of the Aadhaar Act.

[25] Section 38(a) of the Aadhaar Act.

[26] Section 38(b) of the Aadhaar Act.

[27] Section 8(2)(a) and (c) of the Aadhaar Act.

[28] For example, see: http://www.karnataka.gov.in/aadhaar/Downloads /Application%20form%20-%20English.pdf.

[29] Section 8(2)(b) of the Aadhaar Act.

[30] Section 29(3)(a) of the Aadhaar Act.

[31] Section 37 of the Aadhaar Act.

[32] Section 28(1), (2) and (3) of the Aadhaar Act.

[33] Section 28(4)(a) and (b) of the Aadhaar Act.

[34] Section 28(4)(c) of the Aadhaar Act.

[35] Section 30 of the Aadhaar Act.

[36] Section 38(c) of the Aadhaar Act.

[37] Section 38(d) of the Aadhaar Act.

[38] Section 38(e) of the Aadhaar Act.

[39] Section 38(f) of the Aadhaar Act.

[40] Section 38(h) of the Aadhaar Act.

[41] Section 38(i) of the Aadhaar Act.

[42] Section 39 of the Aadhaar Act.

[43] Section 23(2)(l) of the Aadhaar Act.

[44] Section 23(2)(s) of the Aadhaar Act.

 

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