New Delhi: After the Unique Identification Authority of India’s (UIDAI’s) helpline number was added to the contact list of users through an update available on the Android platform, the government agency in charge of the Aadhaar database of over one billion Indians, stepped in to defend the unique ID project, saying that “some vested interest are trying to create unwarranted confusion in the public”.
The toll free number 1800-300-1947 in the contact list of Android phones is an “outdated and invalid number,” UIDAI said on Friday.
UIDAI has not asked or advised anyone, including any telecom service provider or mobile manufacturer or Android, to include 18003001947 or 1947 in the default list of public service numbers, it said. “UIDAI’s valid toll free number is 1947, which is functional for more than the last two years.”
On Thursday, French security expert Elliot Alderson took to Twitter to ask: “Do you have @UIDAI in your contact list by default?”
The news stormed social media and people checked their phones to find UIDAI’s helpline number pre-saved on their device without their knowledge. Based on a series of tweets that followed, it was established that the number entered users’ phones through an update on the Android platform.
“We are aware of this and are looking into it,” said Google in response to queries from Mint. Calls to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) seeking comments on the issue remained unanswered.
In an apparent dig at UIDAI and the telcos, Alderson tweeted on Friday: “People noticed that the @UIDAI number is saved by default on their phone: @UIDAI: This is not me! Telecom providers: No, this is not us! … Do I have to ask to Harry Potter if he magically added this number to people phones?”
Giving a clean chit to the telcom companies, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) director general Rajan S. Mathews said: “The inclusion of a certain unknown number in the phonebooks of various mobile handsets is not from any telecom service provider.”
“This doesn’t seem to be a malware- or hacking-related instance,” said Amber Sinha, lawyer and senior programme manager at the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), a Bengaluru-based think tank. “There are some pre-saved numbers, which comes with the operating system and its update. If the UIDAI claims that it did not ask telecom service providers or mobile manufacturers or Android to include the number, then only Google or the operating system developers can give clarity on this.”
This is not the first time that privacy warriors have launched a crusade against UIDAI and challenged the security framework put in place by it.
Last week, Twitter users publicly shared personal details, including bank accounts, email IDs, PAN and frequent flyer number of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) chairman R.S. Sharma, after he posted his 12-digit Aadhaar number and dared people to harm him.
Sharma, himself a former chairman of UIDAI, had revealed his Aadhaar number on Twitter, prompting many of his followers to dig up information about him.
Following this, UIDAI on Tuesday advised people to refrain from revealing their Aadhaar numbers on public platforms, including on social media.
The draft Personal Data Protection Bill, 2018, submitted to the government on 27 July by the expert panel headed by former Supreme Court judge B.N. Srikrishna, categorises the Aadhaar number as sensitive personal information. There are more than 1.21 billion Aadhaar number holders in the country.