MeitY pings UIDAI on Aadhaar-social media linking

NEW DELHI: The Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) has written to the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) — which issues a unique Aadhaar number to Indian residents — seeking its opinion on linking social media accounts to the 12-digit identification number.

This comes after the Supreme Court sought the central government’s view on the matter last month.

“The ministry has asked for UIDAI’s opinion on the matter,” said a senior government official.

The official said although MeitY had not yet formulated a final opinion on the matter, such linkages seem difficult since the unique identity number can be linked only to government welfare schemes and subsidies that are funded out of the Consolidated Fund of India.

“Aadhaar can’t be linked for anything beyond the Consolidated Fund of India, that’s the law,” said the official, requesting anonymity.

In 2018, the apex court had restricted Aadhaar’s mandatory use only to permanent account number (PAN), income tax returns and for central government subsidies funded from the Consolidated Fund of India.

This was later incorporated in the Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2019, which was amended recently to allow telecom and banking companies to use Aadhaar to collect Know Your Customer information, albeit with a customer’s consent.

Even if the Aadhaar number is linked to social media accounts, it would serve no purpose, the official said.

“In the event of a crime, the government will require the mobile number or other details linked with the Aadhaar number, which is not permitted under the Aadhaar Act,” the person said.

The Aadhaar authentication regulations bar agencies from accessing any detail of Aadhaar holders unless they are approved as authorised user agencies.

In a hearing last month, the top court agreed to hear the pleas of US-based social media company Facebook urging it to transfer four public interest litigations (PILs) that had sought such a linkage. The PILs were pending before the Madras, Bombay and Madhya Pradesh High Courts.

The bench, comprising justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose, issued notices to the central and the Tamil Nadu governments, besides other entities such as the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) and Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) after arguments touched upon the merits and technical aspects of moving the cases to the top court.

Apar Gupta, executive director at the IFF, which has been made an intervener in the case, told ET that its position is that such a linkage would be unconstitutional and violate the Aadhaar Act.

“Even in the unamended Aadhaar Act, the focus was on usage of Aadhaar for subsidy schemes, and private usage was not contemplated. This will really impair and damage the privacy of individuals,” Gupta said.

The apex court said the PILs on Aadhaar-social media linkage and traceability on encrypted platforms such as WhatsApp would continue to be heard in the Madras High Court, but that the lower court could not pass final orders on the high-profile case.

The original PIL in the Madras High Court was filed by Antony Clement Rubin in July last year seeking interlinking of the Aadhaar database with social media profiles for authentication of identity.

A division bench of the Madras High Court, comprising Justices S Manikumar and Subramonium Prasad, has since expanded the scope of the PILs to include issues including curbing cybercrime and enabling traceability to catch perpetrators of misinformation and rumours on social media platforms.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for September 13.