1. Stern action by UIDAI! Aadhaar linked e-KYC licence of Bharti Airtel, Airtel Payments Bank suspended; know what it means for customers

Stern action by UIDAI! Aadhaar linked e-KYC licence of Bharti Airtel, Airtel Payments Bank suspended; know what it means for customers

The action follows allegations of Bharti Airtel using the Aadhaar-eKYC based SIM verification process to open payments bank accounts of its subscribers without their 'informed consent'.

By: | Published: December 16, 2017 5:51 PM
UIDAI, bharti airtel, Airtel Payments Bank, e KYC, Aadhaar, Aadhaar linked e KYC verification of SIMs, aadhaar sim linking, airtel Big and very stern action. (Photo from PTI)

In a big and very stern action, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has temporarily barred Bharti Airtel and Airtel Payments Bank from conducting Aadhaar linked e-KYC verification of SIMs and bank clients. Basically, in simple words, UIDAI has temporarily barred Bharti Airtel and Airtel Payments Bank from conducting Aadhaar-based SIM verification of mobile customers using eKYC process as well as e-KYC of payments bank clients.

The action follows allegations of Bharti Airtel using the Aadhaar-eKYC based SIM verification process to open payments bank accounts of its subscribers without their ‘informed consent’. UIDAI also took strong objection to allegations that such payments bank accounts are being linked to receive LPG subsidy. UIDAI, in an interim order, suspended e-KYC licence key of Bharti Airtel Ltd and Airtel Payment Bank Ltd with immediate effect, sources with direct knowledge of the development said.

What does this order mean for Airtel and its customers?

This essentially means Airtel would not be able to, in the interim, carry out ‘electronic-verification’ or link mobile SIMs of its customers with their 12-digit biometric national ID Aadhaar though the efficient and paperless eKYC (or electronic Know Your Customer) process of UIDAI.

Also, Airtel Payments Bank will not be able to open a new account with Aadhaar e-KYC. However, accounts can be opened through alternate methods, if available.

What Airtel has to say on this?

When contacted, an Airtel spokesperson said: “We can confirm that we have received interim order from the UIDAI regarding temporary suspension of Aadhaar linked e-KYC services till their satisfaction on certain processes relating to Airtel payment banks onboarding of customers.” “We are engaging with the authority and are hopeful of an early resolution. We are also undertaking to complete the said actions on priority and have commenced thorough checks of our process flows. Being compliant to all guidelines is paramount to us. In the interim, any inconvenience to our customers is regretted,” the spokesperson said.

23 lakh customers received Rs 47 crore in Airtel bank accounts?

More than 23 lakh customers have reportedly received as many as Rs 47 crore in their Airtel bank accounts, which they did not know had been opened. Sources said it was brought to the notice of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) that at the time of mobile verification using Aadhaar e-KYC, the Airtel retailers were also opening Airtel Payments Bank accounts, without the informed consent of the user. Government LPG subsidy was also getting transferred to these accounts, without their consent.

UIDAI observed that as per agreement with the authority, Airtel and Airtel Bank are duty bound and under obligation to ensure security and privacy of residents’ identity information.

Security and privacy of Aadhaar data is a highly sensitive matter and the Supreme Court is looking into its various aspects.

PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct an audit of Bharti Airtel

Suspending the ‘e-KYC licence key’, UIDAI ordered PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct an audit of Bharti Airtel and Airtel Payments Bank to ascertain if their systems and processes are in compliance with the Aadhaar Act.UIDAI may consider revocation of suspension or decide
further necessary action upon receipt of the report.

Airtel’s actions in violation of different sections of the Aadhaar Act

The alleged actions of Airtel and Airtel Payments Bank were found to be in violation of different sections of the Aadhaar Act, 2016, which mandates obtaining explicit consent of the individual. Violations are liable to be punished with Rs 1 lakh per day fine and termination of authentication user agreements.

Both Bharti Airtel and Airtel Payments Bank were appointed as Authentication User Agencies (AUA) by UIDAI and had entered into an agreement with UIDAI in February 2015 and September 2016 respectively for the purposes of availing authentication services provided by the authority.

Sources said in response to the first notice of September 18, Airtel and Airtel Bank stated that they have amended their process and the opening of a bank account is completely de-linked from the process of re-verification of mobile connection. These replies were found to be unsatisfactory by UIDAI, which issued another notice on November 24. The company responded by saying no bank account was opened without the consent of the customers and additional safeguards have been introduced. The replies too were found to be unsatisfactory as UIDAI continued to receive numerous complaints of the unauthorised opening of Airtel Payments Bank accounts.

Sources said the interim order listed out some of the complaints and went on to state that Airtel and Airtel Bank had made false statements to deceive and mislead UIDAI. When UIDAI reviewed the Airtel mobile app, it found that when the app is opened, along with the welcome message a pre-ticked consent box is momentarily flashed on the screen which states “Upgrade or create my Airtel Payment Bank wallet using
existing Airtel mobile KYC.” This was found to reflect blatant disregard of Aadhaar Act and Regulations.

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  1. R
    Dec 17, 2017 at 6:43 am
    In the midst of this confusion, what happens to online linking of Airtel mobiles with Aadhaar ? This must be sorted out by UIDAI and Airtel very , very urgently to avoid harassment of mobile users.
    1. S
      Dec 17, 2017 at 1:20 am
      The damage has been for eternity/perpetually.The very idea,of misusing,the Mobiles,for OTP,is to use the machine as a GPS via."pinching",by "towers" for tracking.Some Telcos,are,foreign,most Private.Privacy lost,Money in Banks forced.Permanent bail out of Banks.This will lead to ,complacency and,hence,CORRUPTION,as Money will be aplenty,with Banks..
      1. R
        Dec 16, 2017 at 10:16 pm
        UK’s Biometric ID Database was dismantled. Why the United Kingdom's biometrics-linked National Identi-ty Card project to create a centralized register of sensitive information about residents similar to Aadhaar was scrapped in 2010?? The reasons were the massive threat posed to the privacy of people, the possibility of a surveillance state, the dangers of maintaining such a huge centralized repository of personal information and the purposes it could be used for, the dangers of such a centralized database being hacked, and the unreliability of such large-scale biometric verification processes. The Aadhaar program was designed in 2009 by mainly considering the 'Identi-ty Cards Act 2006' of UK, but the UK stopped that project in 2010, whereas India continued with the biometrics-based program. We must think why the United Kingdom abandoned their project and destroyed the data collected. (Google: 'Identi-ty Cards Act 2006' and 'Identi-ty Documents Act 2010' )
        1. R
          Dec 16, 2017 at 10:16 pm
          The US Social Security Number (SSN) card has NO BIOMETRIC DETAILS, no photograph, no physical description and no birth date. All it does is confirm that a particular number has been issued to a particular name. Instead, a driving license or state ID card is used as an identification for adults. The US government DOES NOT collect the biometric details of its own citizens for the purpose of issuing Social Security Number. The US collects the fingerprints of only those citizens who are involved in any criminal activity (it has nothing to do with SSN), and the citizens of other countries who come to the US.
          1. R
            Dec 16, 2017 at 10:15 pm
            A centralized and inter-linked biometric database like Aadhaar will lead to profiling and self-censorship. Personal data gathered under the Aadhaar program is prone to misuse and surveillance. Aadhaar project has created a vulnerability to identi-ty fraud, even identi-ty theft. Easy harvesting of biometrics traits and publicly-available Aadhaar numbers increase the risk of impersonation, especially online and banking fraud. BIOMETRICS CAN BE FAKED. High-resolution cameras can capture your fingerprints and iris information from a distance. Every eye hospital will have iris images of its patients. So another person can clone your fingerprints and iris images without your knowledge, and the same can be used for authentication. If the Aadhaar scheme is NOT STOPPED by the Supreme Court, the biometric features of Indians will soon be cloned, misused, and even traded. If the biometric details of a person are COMPROMISED ONCE, then even a new Aadhaar card will not help that person.
            1. Mani Menon
              Dec 16, 2017 at 8:51 pm
              Why is the government fighting shy to inform us, the people, the reason for this linking in the first place?!
              1. S
                Dec 16, 2017 at 7:08 pm
                This is a criminal breach of trust by Airtel, mere banning ekyc is not sufficient the company should be charged with fraud on multiple counts...
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