You no longer need to hand over your Aadhaar number to get a mobile connection

Following the culmination of a four-month-long hearing in the Supreme Court last month, it seems that the Indian government is acting on the privacy concerns related to the Aadhaar biometric identification programme.

Starting July 1st, Indians won’t be required to surrender their 12-digit Aadhaar ID to telecom operators as part of the know-your-customer (KYC) norms when purchasing a new SIM card. Instead, according to a directive issued yesterday by India’s Department of Telecommunications (DoT), Indians can submit a temporary 16-digit virtual ID to authenticate their details.

The DoT has given telecom operators until the end of the month to adjust their systems to comply with the new norms. Furthermore, during the authentication process, they will not be allowed to store the Aadhar or virtual ID information of their customers in any of their systems or databases.

The ruling has been received favourably so far. Rajan S Mathews, the Director General of the Cellular Operators Association of India, stated, “We believe that this step will provide convenience and confidence to the subscribers to get an authentic verification conducted without having the fear of giving their Aadhaar number”.

A temporary ID

On April 2nd, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) announced the launch of the Virtual ID programme, tweeting
a link to a page where an Aadhar enrollee can generate the ID. In addition to obtaining a SIM card, the Virtual ID can also be used to open a bank account or receiving government handouts.

The Virtual ID gives people the option of authenticating their identities and complying with KYC requirements without sharing their Aadhaar card information. The 16-digit number is temporarily mapped with the user’s Aadhar number and can be regenerated a number of times. The UIDAI’s goal was to prevent the Aadhar details of enrollees being leaked and misused by offering a temporary ID as a substitute.

The Supreme Court is still deliberating on whether it should be mandatory to link Aadhar information with mobile subscriptions, bank accounts and a number of other services. If the Virtual ID scheme is implemented successfully, it could pave the way for a decision in favour of the Aadhaar programme.

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