Unique Identification Authority of India CEO Ajay Bhushan Pandey today got a unique opportunity to make a PowerPoint presentation in the Supreme court to defend the government’s ambitious Aadhaar scheme. The CJI’s courtroom was the centre of attraction for lawyers, litigants and journalists as probably for the first time, two projectors were installed to enable the UIDAI CEO to make a case in favour of Aadhaar. Pandey, a 1984-batch IAS officer of Maharashtra cadre heading UIDAI since 2010, allayed concerns about data security and said the Aadhaar data is protected by a 2048-bit encryption and “once biometrics comes to us, it will never go away”. Making use of two projectors, he said breaking the Aadhaar encryption may take “more than the age of the universe for the fastest computer on earth”.
The bench questioned the CEO on his plea that Aadhaar was infallible, asking why the UIDAI blacklisted 49,000 registered operators. Pandey said the agents were blacklisted for indulging in corruption, carelessness and harassment of the public. “It sounds somehow strange that you blacklisted 49,000 of your operators for harassing people,” the bench asked. “Initially, we trusted these operators, but they ended up registering trees, Lord Hanuman, Jamun trees etc,” Pandey responded. On the issue of failure of authentication, he said if a biometric authentication does not work, the officers have been instructed to check the Aadhaar card and see that the case is genuine. “A person should not be denied benefits because there is failure in authentication,” the CEO, who will continue with his presentation on March 27, said. The bench then asked him about the death of a woman in Jharkhand after she was denied ration for want of Aadhaar authentication. The CEO said he was aware of the case and it was not the case of failure of authentication.
The authentication was done and Aadhaar details matched, it was a case of dishonesty on part of the shopkeeper of the fair price shop. It was the “failure of honesty” and not the failure of Aadhaar, Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who represents UIDAI, said. The UIDAI CEO said from July 1, Aadhaar would include the face besides the fingerprints and iris for authentication. At the start of the presentation, a technical snag led to not functioning of one of the projectors facing the lawyers and litigants. The glitch was rectified later.