Moody's Says Aadhaar Biometrics Leads to Denials in Hot, Humid Climate; UIDAI Denies
Moneylife Digital Team 26 September 2023
Raising serious doubts about biometrics used in India's Aadhaar system, rating agency Moody's Investors Service says for people in hot and humid conditions, biometrics results in service denials. Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the agency that provides the 12-digit number, however, has refuted Moody's opinion, calling it 'baseless'. This, however, is not the first time that doubt has been raised over Aadhaar biometrics. Last year, the comptroller and auditor general (CAG) pointed out several issues, like faulty biometrics and unpaired documents in the UIDAI database. Plus, the CAG pointed out that the success rate of Aadhaar fingerprint authentication transactions remained a cause of dissatisfaction among the users due to biometric authentication failures.
 
In its report 'Decentralised Finance and Digital Assets', the rating agency identifies Aadhaar as the world's largest digital ID programme, allotting unique identification numbers to millions of Indian residents. 
 
"UIDAI administers Aadhaar, aiming to integrate marginalised groups and expand welfare benefits access. Aadhaar enables access to public and private services, with verification via fingerprint or iris scans and alternatives like one-time passcodes (OTPs). 
 
"However, the system faces hurdles, including the burden of establishing authorisation and concerns about biometric reliability. The system often results in service denials, and the reliability of biometric technologies, especially for manual labourers in hot, humid climates, is questionable," Moody's says.
 
CAG had also expressed doubts over Aadhaar biometrics, saying that "During 2018-19, more than 73% of the total 3.04 crore biometric updates were voluntary updates done by residents for faulty biometrics after payment of charges. The huge volume of voluntary updates indicated that the quality of data captured to issue initial Aadhaar was not good enough to establish the uniqueness of identity."
 
Interestingly, UIDAI and the Union government have been promoting Aadhaar as a unique ID all these years. However, the CAG report discards this as, during the performance audit, it found flaws in the de-duplication process and issue of Aadhaars on faulty biometrics and documents.
 
In October 2020, UIDAI further explained to CAG that fingerprint authentication might fail in the first attempt for various reasons, but subsequent attempts may succeed. It claimed there had been an improvement in transaction-wise fingerprint authentication success rate to 74%-76% in 2019-20 from 70%-72% in 2016-17.
 
Coming back to Moody's, the report also raises concerns regarding the security and privacy of users in an Aadhaar-based system. Aadhaar and Worldline (a new crypto-based digital identity token), despite their innovation and scale, have 'drawn scrutiny, especially concerning privacy and security', Moody's says, citing instances where certain entities gained access to the Aadhaar information of Indian citizens, which potentially could lead to data breaches. 
 
UIDAI, which launched its de-facto numbering ID, Aadhaar, however, denied the opinion of Moody's. "The (Moody's) report avers that the use of biometric technologies results in service denials for manual labourers in India's hot, humid climate, an obvious reference to India's Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). However, it is evident that the authors of the report are unaware that the seeding of Aadhaar in the MGNREGS database has been done without requiring the worker to authenticate using their biometrics and that even payment to workers under the scheme is made by directly crediting money in their account and does not require the worker to authenticate using their biometrics."
 
"The report ignores that biometric submission is also possible through contactless means like face and iris authentication. In addition, the option of mobile OTP is also available in many use cases," it says.
 
UIDAI also denied security and database concerns expressed by Moody's. It says, "The factual position in this regard has been repeatedly disclosed in response to Parliament questions, where Parliament has been categorically informed that till date no breach has been reported from the Aadhaar database."
 
Several activists and Moneylife have been, in vain, highlighting these issues since 2010, as all successive governments have ignored them. In fact, despite the Supreme Court verdict, the Union government continues to make the 'voluntary' Aadhaar mandatory for everything.  
 
You may want to read our coverage on Aadhaar... here is the link...
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