Telecom companies are unlikely to meet the Unique Identification Authority of India’s (UIDAI) deadline of October 15 for submitting their exit plans on closing down their Aadhaar-based authentication systems. They say the communications ministry, which is their parent ministry, is yet to instruct the operators on the way forward. “We would like to hear from the DoT (Department of Telecommunications) what the appropriate course of action should be for the operators. Hopefully, we will get these instructions before October 15, so that the operator can respond in time,” said Rajan Mathews, director general of Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI). “Otherwise, it would be inappropriate for the telcos to go forward without directions from telecom department and extension of time may be needed,” he said.
The tussle between telcos and the two regulatory bodies started when earlier this week UIDAI, in a stringent letter, asked telcos to submit plans by October 15 to close down their Aadhaar-based authentication systems in line with last week’s Supreme Court order, and added that any non-compliance of the ruling may lead to contempt of court proceedings. “It is highly unlikely that we will be able to meet the deadline set by UIDAI. If these instructions had come from DoT, post its discussion with UIDAI, we would have complied,” said a senior industry executive, asking not to be named.
“Till there is more clarity on how to destroy the data collected via Aadhaar or what does one do if the hard copies of subscriber details have already been destroyed because the telco had Aadhaar-related information, what exit plan to submit?,” the executive added.
The biometric authority’s letter came a few days after Supreme Court barred private companies from using Aadhaar to validate the identity of customers. DoT’s March circular had recommended the use of Aadhaar for biometric verification for eKYC, or electronic-know your customer. But the apex court struck it down, declaring it “unconstitutional” as it did “not meet ‘necessity stage’ and ‘balancing stage’ tests to check the primary menace which is in the mind of the respondent authorities.
Although Aadhaar based KYC was voluntary, over 90% of new subscriptions come using the unique ID due to factors such as convenience, though some avoid it on fears around recommenprivacy and data leakage. Over 500 million, or some 50% of India’s mobile phone user base, have linked their Aadhaar to their phone number. “We take directions only from DoT, tomorrow another regulatory body may start directing us, this will lead to confusion,” said a senior executive from another major telecom firm.
However, another executive said it would be difficult to totally ignore responding to a regulatory body, especially since it is from the one that is central to Aadhaar.
While the industry said it is in discussions with the telecom department, another aspect of UIDAI letter has put the operators in a spot. The biometric regulatory body had said that the operators should accept all requests for delinking the Aadhaar from the mobile number and should do fresh KYCs following DoT’s rules within six months from the date of such a request to avoid de-activation of the number. Moreover, the carriers should let subscribers know of the way to delink their Aadhaar from the mobile numbers.
But operators say six months may not be sufficient timeline. “Once the requests start pouring in, of which there are high chances, then we are talking about thousands who may want to delink their Aadhaar and for that we will need more time,” said another industry executive, who did not want to be named. – Gadgets Now