Government on Thursday started the process of promulgating an ordinance to allow the voluntary use of Aadhaar in creating bank accounts and initiating mobile phone connections. Following an earlier ruling by Supreme Court which disallowed compulsory production of Aadhaar as an identifier in private transactions, NDA government had introduced a bill in Lok Sabha to allow its voluntary use. The ordinance became necessary as the bill did not clear Rajya Sabha.
Given the breadth of its coverage, Aadhaar is without doubt the most widely available identifier in India. After having been conceptualised and initiated as a tool to combat India’s leaky welfare system, government overreached in making it necessary for even some private transactions. This was set right by the Supreme Court.
Given the heightened threat of identity theft when biometrics are involved, Aadhaar architecture has now been tightened. In the event of voluntary usage in private transactions, the new architecture allows for masking of important details. Also, people have a choice to opt out after the age of 18. Perhaps, the most important amendment brought in is a legal provision which explicitly bars denial of service if an authentication mechanism does not work. This is an important addition as authentication accuracy is a function of many factors including maintenance of machines and networks. Consequently, the ordinance plugs some important loopholes before allowing for voluntary use of Aadhaar in private transactions.