The recent “cooker blast" in Mangaluru, which has officially been declared an act of terror by the police department, has sent tremors across coastal Karnataka. The accused, Mohammed Shariq, had an Aadhaar card that didn’t belong to him, officials have confirmed. The card belonged to Premraj Hutagi, a resident of Hubballi, who works as a track maintainer at Tumakuru railway station. Premraj lost the card last year and acquired a duplicate one.
Shariq was using Premraj’s Aadhaar card in a clear case of identity theft, said officials. He put his own image in place of Premraj’s and used the identity card to get a rented house and everything else wherever required.
On the other hand, Premraj applied for a duplicate copy of the Aadhaar card and got one. In fact, he lost two Aadhaar cards in two years and got duplicate copies on both occasions.
Until the police came knocking on his door, Premraj says he didn’t have a clue that his identity was being misused and a bomb went off in a different part of the state where the whole planning was done using his Aadhaar ID.
Analysts say the incident raises a fundamental question: how serious are we about identity documents and how should we safeguard them?
To begin with, an Aadhaar card of a person contains their name, a unique number, date of birth, permanent address, and photograph. It also stores their biometric data like iris and fingerprints in the backend. But, shockingly, there is no competent authority to verify the data on a particular Aadhaar card, said officials.
“Common people may assume that police, intelligence, banks have access to details of Aadhaar card, but that is not true,” explained Arjun CR, police inspector, cyber cell, Bengaluru South. “UIDAI is the only authority dealing with Aadhaar card data and only they can verify it. There is no channel or port with police or intelligence as well to check if an Aadhaar card is original or not. Hence, we see multiple cases wherein fraudsters have carried Aadhaar cards in the name of the dead as well. When anyone wants to verify their Aadhaar card or wishes to change details, they get an OTP on their registered mobile number. That’s the only way for people to know if someone is trying to manipulate their ID.”
This is not just the case with an Aadhaar card, but with every document that validates one’s identity, said the inspector.
“Take the GST number, for example. There is no need to steal a GST number, it is out there in the open. On the products, in advertisements, literally everywhere. A fraudster can easily use somebody’s GST number to do unethical business and the original owner may end up paying the price for it,” he said. “So the data that we are speaking of, or the identity theft as such – it is all laid out there in the open. You buy a pair of shoes at a store. They would want your phone number and mail ID to generate a bill. You then pay by credit card, and every detail you give to get that credit card is automatically accessible to the person at the counter. A little smartness and tech knowledge are all that is required to get anybody’s data. You have probably given out your name, address, bank details, phone number, mail ID, PAN details, Aadhaar number, and income details directly or indirectly – all just to buy a pair of shoes. What identity safety are we speaking about here?”
There are thousands of ways in which one’s identity can be robbed in our country, observers say, adding that strict laws are the need of the hour to safeguard public privacy.
So what should a common man do?
Experts say that consider Aadhaar or any ID as your most precious treasure. Safeguard it like your expensive money or jewellery. It’s always better to carry a soft copy of your Aadhaar card than the hard copy. Once you realise that your Aadhaar card is lost, visit the nearest police station and lodge an FIR. This will safeguard you if anyone misuses your document. Once you get a duplicate copy of your document, it will be the same number as the lost one.
Identity threat is bigger than nuclear threat, asserted a senior official working with UIDAI who chose to stay anonymous. “Data is a treasure in itself and it is highly expensive. Anybody with substantial data on anything may be wanted by many. Data monetisation is very rampant these days. The only way to safeguard data is by awareness. But until now the governance has concentrated more on creating a system to form a universal identification for the citizens. They are yet to bring in security of data and privacy strictly," he explained.
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