Aadhaar data leaks: Andhra govt begins audit of department websites

The AP Cyber Security Operations Centre based in Visakhapatnam has started inspection of various government websites.
Aadhaar data leaks: Andhra govt begins audit of department websites
Aadhaar data leaks: Andhra govt begins audit of department websites
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Days after an independent researcher highlighted cases of Aadhaar details of citizens that were leaked online, the Andhra Pradesh government has started remedial measures.

According to reports, the AP Cyber Security Operations Centre (Cyber SOC) based in Visakhapatnam has taken over various government websites for inspection.

“We have started the AP Cyber Security Operations Centre to sanitise and monitor all the websites of the various government departments. All the departments are now submitting their website details and we are sanitising backend servers. Cyber SOC has taken over all the AP government websites and we are doing an audit and inspection to find out how secure the data is, where it is stored and how to protect it better. It will take about a week to complete the operation,” IT Minister Nara Lokesh was quoted as saying.

The leaks

Less than a week ago, whistleblower Srinivas Kodali had said that the Aadhaar data of at least 1.34 lakh citizens in the state was compromised, along with other details like their religion, caste and bank details.

The names were part of a list titled ‘Beneficiary Details belonging to Entry Report for Scheme Hudhud’ and were available on the website of the Andhra Pradesh State Housing Corporation. The details made it easy to ‘profile’ the citizens, which was in contradiction of the Unique Identification Authority of India's (UIDAI) stand that it does not link such details with the Aadhaar number.

A day later, Srinivas put out screenshots that suggested that the Unique Identity Number (UID) numbers of 89,38,138 MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) beneficiaries had been compromised on the website of the Andhra Pradesh Benefit Disbursement Portal.

On April 28, Srinivas claimed that the Aadhaar data of 69,83,048 children was exposed online from the website of the Andhra Pradesh Commissionerate of school education.

On April 30, he tweeted that the Aadhaar numbers of 20,71,913 pregnant women and recent mothers during the period of from 2015-2018 had been published.

“While the government has legitimate interest in collecting this data for helping track mortality rates, the linking with Aadhaar and sharing is bad,” he had explained at the time.

Is Andhra more prone to leaks?

Speaking to TNM, Srinivas pointed out that Andhra Pradesh had been one of the first states to introduce Aadhaar along with Maharashtra and Rajasthan.

“In fact, a lot of details were collected before the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act in 2016, and being a technologically advanced state, Andhra Pradesh made sure that there was 100% linking and seeding,” Srinivas said.

“When more data is collected, there will be more leaks as we can’t be sure who has access to the information. Aadhaar data is such that it can be demanded by design,” he added.

Srinivas points out that several companies collect Aadhaar details under the garb of Know your Customer (KYC).

“Several private companies now ask for the data and store it, they could even be linking it with your internet searches or your location. Say two large companies decide to go ahead with a merger. They will merge all these data sets too, and more people will now have access to that information,” he explained.

“UIDAI says Aadhaar is privacy by design, but it is actually leaky by design,” he added.

Even as the debate rages on, the state government has reportedly made Aadhaar a must for visitors to the state’s Secretariat in Amaravati. In an order issued by the General Administration Department, the security personnel were asked to only accept Aadhaar as ID to issue passes.

UIDAI still silent

UIDAI, however, is yet to respond on the matter.

“That’s how their business model works. They force everyone to register and then generate more income as broker charges for APIs, and everyone makes money in that particular ecosystem,” Srinivas claims. 

He also alleged that the Andhra Pradesh government violated the 2013 Act and continues to do so.

“Andhra Pradesh is just an example of what could happen if your data is not protected. The entire country may follow suit soon,” he added.

TNM has reached out to UIDAI for a response and this story will be updated if and when they do.

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