The biometric project, which collects 10 fingerprints, iris scan and other information such as name, date of birth and address, has been criticized by a number of privacy groups who worry that the data could at some point be misused by the government. There is also a risk that such large databases could be hacked, putting at risk information of people. It is not clear what are the measures taken by UIDAI to protect the authenticity and correctness of the biometric information, and prevent access by foreign powers, Duggal said.
The Aadhaar number now allows different agencies including private organizations to collect and exchange data between them, which may be useful to marketers, for example, Prakash said. Previously, it wasn't practical as the agencies would have difficulty ensuring that the information was about the same person, he added.
The Supreme Court has also ruled that illegal immigrants should not be enrolled under the Aadhaar program, which is meant to facilitate subsidized services to Indian citizens. The Aadhaar, which does not collect citizenship information, is likely to be misused by illegal migrants, activists have said.
One of the many challenges facing the Aadhaar program is that village-level politicians and influence peddlers cook up data to enroll under subsidy schemes people who are not eligible for benefits, or people who are nonexistent. The traditional paper ration card scheme and voter rolls are usually stuffed with nonexistent people or people who do not typically qualify for benefits.
Aadhaar was expected to remove these discrepancies by more accurate collection of data on people who enrolled under the scheme. But a number of users have complained that the Aadhaar cards they have received have errors in their names, addresses and other details. One newspaper reported that an Aadhaar applicant received a card that had the face of a dog in place of his photograph.
UIDAI aims to provide 600 million Aadhaar numbers to residents by 2014.