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What’s in a Number: Virtual ID or Aadhaar ID?

Atheer – Stuti Saxena

In a bid to ensure transparency in administrative dealings and to secure people’s privacy, the Indian government has come up with a new reform to validate citizens’ identity while they are availing different public services.

In place of the original Aadhaar ID, citizens are now required to share their Virtual ID in order to avail a diverse set of public services. Virtual ID is nothing but a random 16-digit number that will be unique for every citizen. Furthermore, citizens won’t be required to share their original twelve-digit Aadhaar ID for procuring government or other non-government services. It has been proposed that the process of Virtual ID issuance shall be completed by the 1st of June 2018 and all government bodies, non-government agencies and other interested parties shall accept Virtual IDs in place of the original Aadhaar ID for conducting identity checks.

Any citizen holding an Aadhaar ID can generate a Virtual ID by logging into the UIDAI web portal. While this move is lauded to ensure that limited identity of the citizen can be revealed to any agency, the downside of this reform is not hard to find. There are innumerable questions which merit a re-visit now.

For one thing, the timing of the introduction of this reform is questionable. Why has it been introduced by the government at this point in time, when most identification procedures have been completed with the original Aadhaar ID? For instance, it was stipulated that all telephone operating companies and banks are required to register customers’ Aadhaar ID by the close of February/March 2018. With this deadline fast approaching, what is the relevance of introducing the Virtual ID now? Besides complicating the identity verification process, it’s a toll on  government exchequers and the agencies soliciting customer verification.

Secondly, given the differential literacy levels in the country, what is the feasibility of this government reform as far as the rural pockets of the country are concerned? To what extent will illiterate people, or those with erratic or no internet connection, be able to generate their unique Virtual ID?

Finally, it is argued that with existing identity metrics in place, is there even a need for a new Virtual ID? To be candid, why was Aadhaar launched in the first place, given that different measures of identity verification already exist? For instance, there is a birth registration number for every citizen, passport numbers, driving licenses, marriage certificates, Tax Permanent Account Numbers (PAN), ration card numbers for those availing services through government fair price shops and NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) cards for those registered to avail NREGA dues. In addition, customers are also issued electricity and telephone bills. Likewise, those availing banking services have bank account numbers, just as anyone paying house tax and water tax is issued with bills.

Why then is there an additional burden being imposed on citizens with the introduction of the Aadhaar and Virtual IDs? Why didn’t the government seek to integrate the aforementioned identification measures instead of wasting resources on reforming and re-reforming the Aadhaar ID?

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