Aadhaar adds new security layer with 16-digit ‘Virtual ID’

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On Wednesday, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) launched a new layer of security called as ‘Virtual ID’ to prevent Aadhaar from being shared, which is sought to address privacy and security reasons. They also added that a safety feature to make sure only need-based sharing of information, by way of a limited KYC, even as it mentioned that the system and data were safe.

The UIDAI’s Virtual ID will be issued from March and allow over 119 crore Aadhaar holders to generate a 16-digit temporary number that can be shared with a bank, insurance company or telecom service provider instead of 12-digit Aadhaar number. All of these service providers will have to advance their systems to compulsorily allow for the new instrument from June. One can select to use the Virtual ID as many times as one wants, or keep generating a new one every time you have to share your unique ID. “It will not be possible to locate an individual’s Aadhaar number by using the Virtual ID,” an official said.

In order to take precautionary safety measures, another safety feature introduced that limits the sharing of information to focus on preventing possible misuse and data theft. In the current system, the five details of the Aadhaar holder is shared – name, date of birth, address, photo and mobile number – with the service provider at the time of authentication. But only need-based sharing of data would be required for the new feature. The former UIDAI chief Nandan Nilekani tweeted on Wednesday that “Aadhaar is here to stay! Happy that the @UIDAI has introduced virtual ID and limited KYC in the spirit of continuous innovation to enhance privacy and security”.

“This is a unique innovation to strengthen privacy and security of 119 crore Aadhaar holders. This is unparalleled in the world,” UIDAI CEO Ajay Bhushan Pandey said. According to an official, the agencies had been provided enough time to migrate to the new system by updating the system needed to offer the additional option of Virtual IDs to users. The official said that “Departments will tell us the data that is required to be shared and we will design the protocol accordingly”. “Aadhaar holder can use Virtual ID in lieu of Aadhaar number whenever authentication or KYC services are performed. Authentication may be performed using the Virtual ID in a manner similar to using Aadhaar number,” a UIDAI circular said.

To generate their Virtual ID, the users can visit the UIDAI website that will be valid for a defined period of time, or till the user decides to change it. Through Virtual ID feature, it will reduce the collection of Aadhaar numbers by various agencies. According to the UIDAI, agencies that start authentication will not be permitted to produce Virtual IDs on behalf of Aadhaar holders.

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