Bharti Airtel is facing allegations from UIDAI for misuse of Aadhaar-linking. The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) sent the interim notice to the Airtel, stated as a temporary suspension of Bharti Airtel from carrying out e-verification using Aadhaar. The statutory authority of Adhaar had received reports on infringement of Adhaar e-KYC based process by Airtel from different sources.
Delving into the reports, UIDAI took a step towards canceling the e-KYC license key temporarily. This is going to be the strongest action by UIDAI yet, of course, a strong warning to various telecom operators as well.
A license key is given to every telecom operator under the Authentication User Agency Agreement, which is signed between UIDAI and telecom operators. Similarly, a key was given to Bharti Airtel Ltd and Airtel Payments bank Ltd in February 2015 and September 2016 respectively. The reports now suggest that Airtel has been using Aadhaar e-KYC based process for opening Airtel payment accounts without "informed consent" at the time of e-verification of SIM cards.
The UIDAI has also objected to allegations regarding the Airtel payments bank accounts that are apparently linked with LPG subsidy. Few of the sources suggest that these accounts are receiving LPG subsidies as well.
Additionally, it has also been revealed that nearly 23 lakh Airtel payment accounts are opened. In this regard, an estimated 47 crores have been received into the accounts including the LPG subsidy without user consent.
UIDAI, in an interim notice, mentioned “suspended e-KYC license key of Bharti Airtel Ltd and Airtel Payment Bank Ltd with immediate effect,” - this means Airtel will not be able to conduct the e-verification or link customer SIM cards to Aadhaar, until UIDAI permits.
Airtel payment bank is legally unfit for opening an account using efficient and paperless Aadhaar e-KYC process, but it has an option of choosing an alternate method.
Bharti Airtel Ltd Spokesperson talked about the implications and said: "We can confirm that we have received an 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."
They also added, "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 with all guidelines is paramount to us. In the interim, any inconvenience to our customers is regretted."
As per the agreement signed between UIDAI and Airtel, the Bharti Airtel and Airtel payment bank are duty bound and under a legal obligation to ensure security and privacy of identity information of the residents. In addition to the suspension of the ‘e-KYC License key’, UIDAI also instructed PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct an audit of Airtel company to establish if their systems and processes are in accordance with Aadhaar act.
UIDAI will further consider the revocation or suspension or decide the necessary action for violation of Aadhaar act, 2016. The act states, obtaining explicit consent of the individual is mandatory while using the Aadhaar services. Violations are liable to be punished with a fine of rupees one lakh per day and termination of authentication user agreements with the UIDAI.
On reviewing the Airtel mobile app, UIDAI found a consent box along with welcome message flashing as “Upgrade or create My Airtel Payment Bank wallet using existing Airtel mobile KYC”. This is observed as a violation of Aadhaar act and regulations.