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Analysis of Key Provisions of the Aadhaar Act Regulations

Posted by Amber Sinha at Mar 31, 2017 10:00 PM |
In exercise of their powers under of the powers conferred by Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016, (Aadhaar Act) the UIDAI has come out with a set of five regulations in late 2016 last year. In this policy brief, we look at the five regulations, their key provisions and highlight point out the unresolved, issues, unaddressed, and created issues as result of these regulations.

This blog post was edited by Elonnai Hickok


Introduction

At the outset it is important to note that a concerning feature of these regulations is that they intend to govern the processes of a body which has been in existence for over six years, and has engaged in all the activities sought to be governed by these policies at a massive scale, considering the claims of over one billion Aadhaar number holders. However, the regulation do not acknowledge, let alone address past processes, practices, enrollments, authentications, use of technology etc.  this fact, and there are no provisions that effectively address  the past operations of the UIDAI. Below is an analysis of the five regulations issued thus far by the UIDAI.

Unique Identification Authority of India (Transactions of Business at Meetings of the Authority) Regulations[1]

These regulations framed under clause (h) of sub-section (2) of section 54 read with sub-section (1) of section 19 of the Aadhaar Act, deal with the meetings of the UIDAI, the process following up to each meeting, and the manner in which all meetings are to be conducted.

Provision: Sub-Regulation 3.

Meetings of the Authority– (1) There shall be no less than three meetings of the Authority in a financial year on such dates and at such places as the Chairperson may direct and the interval between any two meetings shall not in any case, be longer than five months

Observations:

The number of times that UIDAI would meet in a year is far too less, taking in account the significance of the responsibilities of UIDAI as the sole body for policy making for all issues related to Aadhaar. In contrast, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India is required to meet at least once a month. Other bodies such as SEBI and IRDAI are also required to meet at least four times[2] and six times[3] in a year respectively.

Provision: Sub-Regulation 8 (5)

Decisions taken at every meeting of the Authority shall be published on the website of Authority unless the Chairperson determines otherwise on grounds of ensuring confidentiality.

Observations:

The Chairperson has the power to determine withholding publication of the decisions of the meeting on the broad grounds of ‘confidentiality’. Given the fact that the decisions taken by UIDAI as a public body can have very real implications for the rights of residents, the ground of confidentiality is not sufficient to warrant withholding publication. It is curious that instead of referring to the clearly defined exceptions laid down in other similar provisions such as the exceptions in Section 8 of the Right to Information Act, 2005, the rules merely refer to vague and undefined criteria of ‘confidentiality’.

Provision: Sub-Regulation 14 (4)

Members of the Authority and invitees shall sign an initial Declaration at the first meeting of the Authority for maintaining the confidentiality of the business transacted at meetings of the Authority in Schedule II.

Observations:

The above provision, combined with the fact that there is no provision regarding publication of the minutes of the meetings of UIDAI raise serious questions about the transparency of  its functioning.

Unique Identification Authority of India (Enrolment and Update) Regulations[4]

These regulations, framed under  sub-section (1), and sub-clauses (a), (b), (d,) (e), (j), (k), (l), (n), (r), (s), and (v) of sub-section (2), of Section 54 of the Aadhaar Act deals with the enrolment process, the generation of an Aadhaar number, updation of information and governs the conduct of enrolment agencies and associated third parties.

Provisions:

Sub-Regulation 8 (2), (3) and (4)

The standard enrolment/update software shall have the security features as may be specified by the Authority for this purpose.

All equipment used in enrolment, such as computers, printers, biometric devices and other accessories shall be as per the specifications issued by the Authority for this purpose.

The biometric devices used for enrolment shall meet the specifications, and shall be certified as per the procedure, as may be specified by the Authority for this purpose.

Sub-Regulation 3 (2)

The standards for collecting the biometric information shall be as specified by the Authority for this purpose.

Sub-Regulation 4 (5)

The standards of the above demographic information shall be as may be specified by the Authority for this purpose.

Sub-Regulation 6 (2)

For residents who are unable to provide any biometric information contemplated by these regulations, the Authority shall provide for handling of such exceptions in the enrolment and update software, and such enrolment shall be carried out as per the procedure as may be specified by the Authority for this purpose.

Sub-Regulation 14 (2)

In case of rejection due to duplicate enrolment, resident may be informed about the enrolment against which his Aadhaar number has been generated in the manner as may be specified by the Authority.

Observations:

Though in February 2017,  the UIDAI published technical specifications for registered devices[5], the regulations  leave unaddressed issues such as lack of appropriately defined security safeguards in the Aadhaar. There is a general trend of continued deferrals in the regulations by stating that matters would be specified later on important aspects such as rejection of applications, uploading of the enrolment packet to the CIDR, the procedure for enrolling residents with biometric exceptions, the procedure for informing residents about acceptance/rejection of enrolment application, specifying the convenience fee for updation of residents’ information, the procedure for authenticating individuals across services etc.c. There is a clear failure to exercise the mandate delegated to UIDAI, leaving key matters to determined at a future unspecified date. The delay and ambiguity around when regulations will be defined is  all the more problematic  in light of the fact that the project has been implemented since 2010 and the Aadhaar number is now mandatory for availing a number of services.

Further it is important to note that a number of policies put out by the UIDAI predate these regulations, on which the regulations are  completely silent, thus neither endorsing previous policies  nor suggesting that they may be revisited. Further, the regulations choose to not engage with the question of operation of the Aadhaar project, enrolment and storage of data etc prior to the notification of these regulations, or the policies which these regulations may regularise. For instance, the regulations do not specify any measures to deal with issues arising out of enrolment devices used prior to the development of the February 2017 specifications.

Provision: Sub-Regulation 32

The Authority shall set up a contact centre to act as a central point of contact for resolution of queries and grievances of residents, accessible to residents through toll free number(s) and/ or e-mail, as may be specified by the Authority for this purpose.

(2) The contact centre shall:

  1. Provide a mechanism to log queries or grievances and provide residents with a unique reference number for further tracking till closure of the matter;
  2. Provide regional language support to the extent possible;
  3. Ensure safety of any information received from residents in relation to their identity information;
  4. Comply with the procedures and processes as may be specified by the Authority for this purpose.

(3) Residents may also raise grievances by visiting the regional offices of the Authority or through any other officers or channels as may be specified by the Authority.

Observations:

While the setting up of a grievance redressal mechanism under the regulations is a welcome move, there is little clarity about the procedure to be followed, nor is a timeline for it specified. The chapter on grievance redressal is in fact one of the shortest chapters in the regulations. The only provision in this chapter deals with the setting up of a contact centre, a curious choice of term for what is supposed to be the primary quasi judicial grievance redressal body for the Aadhaar project. In line with the indifferent and insouciant terminology of ‘contact centre’, the chapter is restricted to the matters of the logging of queries and grievances by the contact centre, and does not address the matter of procedure or timelines, and even the substantive provisions about the nature of redress available. Furthermore, the obligation on the contact centre to protect information received is limited to ‘ensuring safety’ an ambiguous standard that does not speak to any other standards in Indian law.

Aadhaar (Authentication) Regulations, 2016[6]

These regulations, framed under  sub-section (1), and sub-clauses (f) and (w) of sub-section (2) of Section 54 of the Aadhaar Act deals with the authentication framework for Aadhaar numbers, the governance of authentication agencies and the procedure for collection, storage of authentication data and records.

Provisions:

Sub-Regulation 5 (1)

At the time of authentication, a requesting entity shall inform the Aadhaar number holder of the following details:—

(a) the nature of information that will be shared by the Authority upon authentication;

(b) the uses to which the information received during authentication may be put; and

(c) alternatives to submission of identity information

Sub-Regulation 6 (2)

A requesting entity shall obtain the consent referred to in sub-regulation (1) above in physical or preferably in electronic form and maintain logs or records of the consent obtained in the manner and form as may be specified by the Authority for this purpose.

Observations:

Sub-regulation 5 mentions that at the time of authentication, requesting entities shall inform the Aadhaar number holder of alternatives to submission of identity information for the purpose of authentication. Similarly, sub-regulation 6 mentions that requesting entity shall obtain the consent of the Aadhaar number holder for the authentication. However, in neither of the above circumstances do the regulations specify the clearly defined options that must be made available to the Aadhaar number holder in case they do not wish submit identity information, nor do the regulations specify the procedure to be followed in case the Aadhaar number holder does not provide consent.

Most significantly, this provision does little by way of allaying the fears raised by the language in Section 8 (4) of the Aadhaar Act which states that UIDAI “shall respond to an authentication query with a positive, negative or any other appropriate response sharing such identity information.” This section gives a very wide discretion to UIDAI to share personal identity information with third parties, and the regulations do not temper or qualify this power in any way.

Sub-Regulation 11 (1) and (4)

The Authority may enable an Aadhaar number holder to permanently lock his biometrics and temporarily unlock it when needed for biometric authentication.

The Authority may make provisions for Aadhaar number holders to remove such permanent locks at any point in a secure manner.

Observations:

A welcome provision in the regulation is that of biometric locking which allows Aadhaar number holders to permanently lock his biometrics and temporarily unlock it only when needed for biometric authentication. However, in the same breath, the regulation also provides for the UIDAI to make provisions to remove such locking without any specified grounds for doing so.

Provision: Sub-Regulation 18 (2), (3) and (4)

The logs of authentication transactions shall be maintained by the requesting entity for a period of 2 (two) years, during which period an Aadhaar number holder shall have the right to access such logs, in accordance with the procedure as may be specified.

Upon expiry of the period specified in sub-regulation (2), the logs shall be archived for a period of five years or the number of years as required by the laws or regulations governing the entity, whichever is later, and upon expiry of the said period, the logs shall be deleted except those records required to be retained by a court or required to be retained for any pending disputes.

The requesting entity shall not share the authentication logs with any person other than the concerned Aadhaar number holder upon his request or for grievance redressal and resolution of disputes or with the Authority for audit purposes. The authentication logs shall not be used for any purpose other than stated in this sub-regulation.

Observations:

While it is specified that the authentication logs collected by the requesting entities shall not be shared with any person other than the concerned Aadhaar number holder upon their request or for grievance redressal and resolution of disputes or with the Authority for audit purposes, and that the authentication logs may not be used for any other purpose, the maintenance of the logs for a period of seven years seems excessive. Similarly, the UIDAI is also supposed to store Authentication transaction data for over five years. This is in violation of the widely recognized data minimisation principles which seeks that data collectors and data processors delete personal data records when the purpose for which it has been collected if fulfilled. While retention of data for audit and dispute-resolution purpose is legitimate, the lack of specification of security standards and the overall lack of transparency and inadequate grievance redressal mechanism greatly exacerbate the risks associated with data retention.

Aadhaar (Sharing of Information) Regulations, 2016 and Aadhaar (Data security) Regulations, 2016[7]

Framed under the powers conferred by sub-section (1), and sub-clause (o) of sub-section (2), of Section 54 read with sub-clause (k) of sub-section (2) of Section 23, and sub-sections

(2) and (4) of Section 29, of the Aadhaar Act, the Sharing of Information regulations look at the restrictions on sharing of identity information collected by the UIDAI and requesting entities. The Data Security regulation, framed under powers conferred by clause (p) of subsection (2) of section 54 of the Aadhaar Act, looks at security obligations of all service providers engaged by the UIDAI.

Provision: Sub-Regulation 6 (1)

All agencies, consultants, advisors and other service providers engaged by the Authority, and ecosystem partners such as registrars, requesting entities, Authentication User Agencies and Authentication Service Agencies shall get their operations audited by an information systems auditor certified by a recognised body under the Information Technology Act, 2000 and furnish certified audit reports to the Authority, upon request or at time periods specified by the Authority.

Observations:

The regulation states that audits shall be conducted by an information systems auditor certified by a recognised body under the Information Technology Act, 2000. However, there is no such certifying body under the Information Technology Act. This suggests a lack of diligence in framing the rules, and will inevitably to lead to inordinate delays, or alternately, a lack of a clear procedure in the appointment of  an auditor. Further, instead of prescribing a regular and proactive process of audits, the regulation only limits audits to when requested or as deemed appropriate by UIDAI. This is another, in line of many provisions, whose implication is power being concentrated in the hands of  UIDAI, with little scope for accountability and transparency.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it must be stated that the regulations promulgated by the UIDAI leave a lot to be desired. Some of the most important issues raised against the Aadhaar Act, which were delegated to the UIDAI’s rule making powers have not been addressed at all. Some of the most important issues such as data security policies, right to access records of Aadhaar number holders, procedure to be followed by the grievance redressal bodies, uploading of the enrolment packet to the CIDR, procedure for enrolling residents with biometric exceptions, procedure for informing residents about acceptance/rejection of enrolment application have left unaddressed and ‘may be specified’ at a later data. These failures leave a gaping hole especially in light of the absence of a comprehensive data protection legislation in India, as well the speed and haste with the enrolment and seeding has been done by the UIDAI, and the number of services, both private and public, which are using or planning to use the Aadhaar number and the authentication process as a primary identifier for residents.

[1] Available at https://uidai.gov.in/legal-framework/acts/regulations.html

[2] https://www.irda.gov.in/ADMINCMS/cms/frmGeneral_Layout.aspx?page=PageNo62&flag=1

[3] http://www.sebi.gov.in/acts/boardregu.html

[4] Available at https://uidai.gov.in/legal-framework/acts/regulations.html

 

[5] Available at:  https://uidai.gov.in/images/resource/aadhaar_registered_devices_2_0_09112016.pdf

[6] Available at https://uidai.gov.in/legal-framework/acts/regulations.html

[7] Available at https://uidai.gov.in/legal-framework/acts/regulations.html

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