India withdraws warning from National Measurements Identity after online panic

A woman goes through the process of scanning the Fingerprint of the Unique Identity Database (UID) System (UID), also known as Aadhaar, at a registration center in New Delhi, India, January 17, 2018. REUTERS/Saumya Khandelwal/File Photo

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India on Sunday withdrew a warning against posting images of its biometric national identity card after the ad caused widespread panic on social media.

The Aadhaar Card, which contains a unique number linked to an individual’s fingerprints and face and eye scans, aims to prevent theft and leakage in social welfare schemes in India. But critics fear it could spawn a surveillance state.

The Press Information Office withdrew the warning two days after it was issued, saying that the statement was published in the context of an attempt to misuse the modified Aadar card, and that it was being withdrawn “in light of the possibility of misinterpretation”.

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The new statement said the Aadhaar ecosystem had enough features to protect users’ identity and privacy, and that users were only advised to exercise “natural caution”.

The Friday announcement advised people not to share copies of their Aadhaar with any organization as it may be misused. “Unauthorized private entities such as hotels or movie theaters are not allowed to collect or keep copies of the Aadhaar Card,” the initial statement read.

The warning raised alarm on social media as screenshots of the press release and news articles went viral, and the issue was among India’s top 10 trending topics on Twitter on Sunday.

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Twitter user_NairFYI said: “I’ve probably stayed in about 100 hotels that have kept a copy of my Aadhar! Now these are.”

India’s Unique Identification Authority says among its frequently asked questions, “It is almost impossible to impersonate you if you use Aadhar to prove your identity.”

“People were freely providing other identification documents. But did they stop using these documents for fear that someone would use them to impersonate them? No!” she says.

India’s Supreme Court in 2018 upheld the validity of Aadhaar, but cited privacy concerns and government rein in making it mandatory for everything from banking to telecom services.

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(Reporting by Sudarshan Varadan and Moncef Vengatel). Editing by William Mallard

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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