If Google can access Aadhaar data, why can't we, asks police

aadhaar-rep-image Representational image | Reuters

With Google admitting that it got access into mobile phones of users to put the Aadhaar helpline into their contact list, Indian law enforcement agencies are questioning why they are being barred from accessing the Aadhaar database for the limited purpose of crime detection and prevention.

There is a raging debate as to why the police forces and other law enforcement agencies are not getting access to the Aadhaar database even in a limited way, citing “privacy concerns”. This fresh demand is coming at a time when mobile service providers and others like the internet giant Google are suspected to have been accessing the Aadhaar data of citizens directly or indirectly for delivery of services.

“I would like to have an access to the Aadhaar database for the limited purpose of identification of unidentified dead bodies and solving cases of murder where the bodies are unidentified. The primary duty of the police is prevention and detection of crimes. In order to solve a case, if we have limited access to the Aadhaar database, it will help in solving cases very fast ,” Goa DGP Muktesh Chander told THE WEEK .

Chander is a cyber expert who has been pitching for granting police access into Aadhaar database that contains identities, addresses, age and other details of all residents in the country. Chander was the first centre director of the National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre (NCIIPC) under the National Technical Research Organisation, tasked to find ways to safeguard critical infrastructure in the country against cyber attacks and security breaches.

According to him, the Aadhaar database can become a very important tool in national security as it would allow the investigating agencies a quick access into the criminal database of citizens as well.

“When the police has a suspect in its custody who is refusing to divulge his identity and uses an alias, we can get his real name and details in a single step if we can ask him to put his finger on the device and access his Aadhaar details,” Chander explained. He said there can be safeguards put in place to ensure that there is no misuse. The police forces, at the level of a senior officer, can send a request for identification to the Aadhaar authorities who can study the case details and assist the agencies, he added.

But to put a blanket ban on accessing Aadhaar by the police simply because there are other security and privacy concerns that remain unaddressed till now does not mean we refuse to understand the requirements of the police forces in the fast-changing technology driven environment, said another police official. For now, the police forces rely on local setups like the fingerprint bureaus within some of the police forces, where only fingerprints of convicted criminals are maintained for future reference under the Prisons Act.

The Delhi police had set up the computerised remote identification of suspects (CRIS) in 2007—the first of its kind database for quick identification of the background of criminals like their name, age and address. This was done under the guidance of Chander who was then the additional CP crime branch in Delhi police.

Replicated on a larger scale, if the Aadhaar database can be used by the police forces, it will allow them to access backgrounds of not just convicted persons, but all citizens to help in solving the pile of criminal cases that remain pending in files for want on an identity proof.