Debating Nandan Nilekani’s Aadhaar Claims
(Photo: iStock)
(Photo: iStock)

Debating Nandan Nilekani’s Aadhaar Claims

A string of critical commentary and analysis of the Aadhaar system led its creator and former Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) chief Nandan Nilekani to defend the project, which was introduced in 2009 as an optional 12-digit identification tool for Indian citizens. Under the Modi-led NDA government’s rule, it has been projected as the single choice for all our identity verification-related needs.

In the interview with the The Hindu Business Line, Nilekani junked allegations claiming loopholes in the biometrics process used by the UIDAI for the Aadhaar project, which is linked to important Public Distribution System schemes like ration disbursements.

However, his defence raised more questions, and in a rebuttal published in Medianama, Anand Venkatanarayanan counters the claims made by Nilekani.

1. High Error Rate in Aadhaar’s Biometrics

Terming the 95 percent success rate being attributed to the Aadhaar based mechanism as “useless” at the scale at which it is being implemented, highlighted the flaw in Nilekani’s argument.

Elaborating his point, Venkatanarayanan explained that due to the nature of the Aadhaar based system, almost everyone who tries to use the system will, at some point or the other, face authentication failures. However, some of these will be clustered around a smaller set of people, who would thus find “the older system of not using biometrics far better than the newer system.”

2. Aadhaar Has Led to 50k Cr in Savings

Rebutting Nilekani’s second claim, Venkatanarayanan says the system would count as savings, all denials of entitlements, to even those who were denied because of authentication errors inherent in the system.

3. OTP as an Alternative to Biometrics

Venkatanarayanan debunks Nilekani’s third claim by raising questions over the coverage and reliability of mobile networks in rural areas that are essential for receiving OTPs which serve as an alternative to the biometrics system.

4. The Curious Case of Mismatches

Countering Nandan Nilekani’s claim, Venkatanarayanan adds that the reason behind the Aadhaar system not working properly is because the UIDAI system design is flawed.

He goes on to add that UID technology and system design in the current form is not the solution, “as it is rigid, fragile and only works when there is a lot of certainty about the operational vectors involved”.

5. Aadhaar Comparable to Facebook, Google

Venkatanarayanan also argues that Aadhaar linked UIDAI system’s 95% success rate is nothing to brag about as its failures will lead to the project’s downfall.

Google and Facebook would not exist if their authentication works only 95% of the time or if 5% of WhatsApp messages don’t get delivered.

6. Theft of Data from Aadhaar’s Database

Arguing that while there is not enough information about security leaks, there, however, is enough data to show that the ecosystem around it is prone to leakage.

Venkatanarayanan, in his argument, explains that because of the model that the project uses, it leaves it prone to theft of data at source, not during enrolment, but during verification process when information is being gathered.

He explains that because of the sensitive nature of the hardware being used, the pervasive use of biometrics exposes the ecosystem to being compromised.

“Aadhaar Has Helped Millions”

Venkatanarayanan calls Nandan Nilekani’s claim as “factually incorrect”. He adds that the number of people who have an ID because of Aadhaar, is nowhere close to the claims made by Nilekani.

Read here: Nanadan Nilenkani’s full interview with The Hindu Business Line.

Read here: Anand Venkatanarayanan rebuttal published in Medianama.

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