MUMBAI: The Maharashtra government has admitted the loss of personal data of about 3 lakh applicants for Aadhaar card, an error that has forced the inconvenience of reapplication on unwitting victims and sparked concerns over possible misuse of the data.
Containing PAN and biometric information, the data was being uploaded by the state information technology department from Mumbai to the central Bangalore server of the Unique Identification Number Authority of India when it got "lost". "The information is encrypted when uploaded. While the transmission was in progress, the hard disk with the data crashed. When the data was downloaded in Bangalore, it could not be decrypted," said an official from the state IT department, which is overseeing the enrolment of citizens for Unique Identification number (UID) or Aadhaar card. The data mostly belonged to applicants from Mumbai.
Rajesh Agarwal, secretary in the state IT department, maintained the lost data was highly encrypted and thus cannot be opened without "keys and multi-clues".
Still, fears of misuse persisted. An application for Aadhaar card requires PAN details, proof of data of birth and residence, iris images, biometric data, and, if preferred, bank account numbers.
The loss came on top of thefts of laptops with UID data from Mumbai. Though complaints were registered with the police, officials contended the crimes were not necessarily for the data. The information on laptops therefore, they said, might not have been misused.
The consequence of this multi-faceted data mismanagement is being borne by people like T V Shah. A senior citizen living in Vile Parle, he applied for Aadhaar cards for his wife and himself but has not received them yet. "For a while, they said they will send the cards soon. I even wrote to the planning commission (nodal agency), but there was no reply. It seems they have lost our personal data, including our biometric details. Now they are telling us to re-register," said Shah.
No explanations were offered to Shah as to what happened to his data.
Terrified that his personal data like PAN and SIM details may be misused, Shah is wondering if he should file a police complaint. "I remember reading news reports about a case of forgery in which one person's PAN card was misused by somebody else to obtain a SIM card. The police made the PAN holder dance from Bangalore to Delhi," he said.
As strong as his concern over data misuse is Shah's dread of re-registration. The last time, he was told on day one to bring the ration card for the enrolment form. On day two he was informed that forms were issued only from 9am to 10am. On day three he was told forms were exhausted. Days later, he was told to come before 11.30am for an appointment. The next day, he was told to come another day since the person who gave appointments was out of office.
Registration for Aadhaar cards is currently underway in Mumbai city and suburbs, Pune, Nandurbar, Amravati and Wardha.
Officials said 30 agencies are working in Maharashtra on the enrolment for Aadhaar cards. So far, 6 crore citizens have been registered and 5.25 crore UID numbers generated. In Mumbai, of its 1.24 crore residents, 90 lakh have been enrolled and 85 lakh Aadhaar cards generated.
"The data that was lost constitutes over 1% of the total data collected. We have filed police complaints," said an IT official, stressing that the department was responsible only for enrolment.
Confusion reigns over card, implementation timing
The gradually increasing currency of Aadhaar is simultaneously exposing the confusion over the system and its deficiencies. While the card is being demanded compulsorily for several services, it is also being refused by some for ostensible errors.
Rajan Alimchandani, a senior citizen, got his Aadhaar card without any hassle. The hassle began after its receipt. The Worli resident said: "My Aadhaar card bears my year of birth, but not the date of birth. When I produced it for a substitute debit card, the bank told me the Aadhaar card was invalid."
Rajesh Agarwal, secretary in the state IT department, clarified that Alimchandani's card was not invalid. "All cards issued so far bear just the year of birth. Many senior citizens are unable to provide the date of birth. Hence, only the year. Even my card bears just the year," said Agarwal.
The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is mulling placing the date of birth too on the card. Those who have been issued cards, however, may not get new ones, said sources.
T V Shah, a former hydraulic engineer with the BMC, suffered a different problem. He and his wife applied for Aadhaar cards in 2011, but were never informed of their status. In January, when he went to the BMC for continuing his pension he was told that a photocopy of his Aadhaar card was needed for the allowance to be dispensed. "The BMC finally agreed to accept the enrolment receipt. But now, I have received a letter from the UIDAI to reregister ," Shah said.
Yasmin works as a domestic help in Bandra (W) and has two daughters who study in the local civic school. Yasmin had to hire an agent to get Aadhaar cards for the daughters since the school said that "from the next academic year we have to buy textbooks, uniforms ourselves. The money will be put directly into the children's bank accounts" . "If I had not got the cards for my children, they wouldn't have been able to study."
The lost UID data was of applications being processed; it mainly belonged to people from Mumbai. Those who have received their Aadhaar cards will be unaffected
PAN details and proof of residence have been frequently misused to procure SIM cards Iris images & biometric data are identifi cation forms. They can be used to create fake identities
Affected people should notify the police and ask them to make diary entry of the loss
Victims will have to reapply — identify Aadhaar centre, and get an appointment, which can take many visits
Losing data so important - and which could be misused if it falls in the wrong hands - is an act of extreme irresponsibility; the offence is compounded when the loss happens because of the callousness of a government agency, trusted by citizens who think the data are in safe hands. Several questions arise here. What happens if the data do fall into wrong hands and citizens lose plastic money or money from their accounts? Who tracks the route of loss of data and who compensates the citizen? Government agencies must learn to act more responsibly when they have been entrusted with such valuable information.