Aadhaar-enabled transactions need to pass tech, legal tests

NEW DELHI: In an attempt to mitigate the impact of demonetisation and push the cashless agenda, the government recently announced its ambitious plans for Aadhaar-enabled financial transactions. The government claims the initiative, which would convert mobile phones into e-wallets, would empower even the hinterlands turn into a truly cashless economy.

However, there are several roadblocks to realising this dream. For one, the Centre needs mobile manufacturers to come out with in-built iris or thumb identification system to implement the initiative. This would be a massive challenge, a fact that the government itself has admitted. There are more than 180 million smartphones in the country and the numbers are growing exponentially, at the rate 80-100 million phones every year. For the plan to be implemented, the government needs to ensure that operating systems of smart phones have open Authenticating Protocol Interface, which helps integrate biometric-based applications with phones.
Though the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) claims to have ‘satisfactorily tested’ the possibility of making such phones and their safety and security features, the liveliness of biometrics remain a challenge. Currently, many high-end phones have fingerprint system, but only as a proprietary feature. “The biometrics captured and stored in a cellphone needs to be encrypted before being used for financial transactions for safety purposes. It would require an improvement in the phone’s hardware,” says a government official.

For instance, to convert a mobile phone camera into an iris scanner, the manufacturers would have to change the filter and link it to an additional software. While the cost per phone to make this change, according to the government note, is only about `135-140, there are over 35 crore bank accounts linked to Aadhaar. “The Ministry of Information and Technology also needs to engage smart phone operating system providers so that authenticating protocol interface from Aadhaar is integrated with android operating system. This, though cost effective, requires time and may take from 6 months to 1 year,” the official further adds.

Apart from technological changes, the legal tussle over the use of Aadhaar with the Supreme Court has rattled the Centre. A letter from IT secretary Aruna Sundararajan says the government is extra cautious about its stand in the court and has advised departments and states to consult UIDAI and the IT Ministry before making any submission on the usage of Aadhaar. The letter was written after AG Mukul Rohatgi chaired a meeting with UIDAI and officials handling DBT.
“In the meeting, the AG advised that instructions may be issued to all ministries, that in order to ensure uniformity in the stand taken by government in the matter, all ministries and State governments may consult UIDAI, Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology, before any stand is taken in any court with regard to cases filed in relation to usage of Aadhar,” Sundararajan’s letter said.