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

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

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

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The press information bureau withdrew the warning two days after issuing it, saying the release was published in the context of an attempt to misuse an edited Aadhaar card, and was being withdrawn “in view of the possibility of the misinterpretation.”

The new statement said the Aadhaar ecosystem had adequate features to protect the identity and privacy of users, and that
users are only advised to exercise “normal prudence.”

The Friday announcement had advised people not to share photocopies of their Aadhaar with any organization because it
could be misused. “Unlicensed private entities like hotels or film halls are not permitted to collect or keep copies of Aadhaar card,” the initial release read.

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

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

The Unique Identification Authority of India says among its frequently asked questions, “It is near impossible to impersonate you if you use Aadhar to prove your identity.”

“People have been freely giving other identity documents. But did they stop using these documents for the fear that somebody would use them to impersonate? No!” it says.

India’s Supreme Court in 2018 upheld the validity of the Aadhaar, but flagged privacy concerns and reined in a government push to make it mandatory for everything from banking to telecom services.

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