India withdraws warning on national Aadhaar biometric ID card after online panic

India on Sunday withdrew a warning not to share photocopies of the national biometric ID card after the announcement sparked widespread panic on social media.

The Aadhaar card, which has a unique number linked to an individual’s fingerprint, face and eye scan, aims to block theft and leaks in India’s welfare programs. But critics fear it could spawn a surveillance state.

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The Press Information Office withdrew the warning two days after issuing it, saying the statement was issued in the context of an attempted misuse of an edited Aadhaar map, and that it was withdrawn “in view of the possibility of misinterpretation”.

The new statement indicates that the Aadhaar ecosystem has adequate functionality to protect user identity and privacy, and that
users are only advised to exercise “normal caution”.

Friday’s announcement had advised people not to share photocopies of their Aadhaar with any organization as this
could be misused. “Unlicensed private entities like hotels or movie theaters are not permitted to collect or retain copies of the Aadhaar card,” the initial statement read.

The warning sparked alarm on social media as screenshots of the press release and news articles went viral, with the issue among India’s top 10 trending topics on Twitter on Sunday.

“I might have stayed in almost 100 hotels that kept a copy of my Aadhar! Now this,” Twitter user @_NairFYI said.

The Unique Identification Authority of India says among its Frequently Asked Questions, “It is almost impossible to impersonate you if you use Aadhar to prove your identity.”

“People freely gave other IDs. But have they stopped using these documents for fear that someone will use them to impersonate them? No!” it says.

In 2018, India’s Supreme Court upheld the validity of Aadhaar, but flagged privacy concerns and stalled government efforts to make it mandatory for everything from banking to telecommunications services.

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