UIDAI temporarily bars Airtel from conducting Aadhaar-based SIM verification

"We can confirm that we have received interim order from the UIDAI regarding temporary suspension of Aadhaar linked e-KYC services till their satisfaction on certain processes relating to Airtel Payment Bank's onboarding of customers".

Of these, about 11 lakh gas customers belong to Indian Oil while the balance is evenly split between Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum, according to a communication sent by a state oil company to National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) that maps bank accounts with Aadhaar and oversees retail payments and settlement systems in the country. Through this, Airtel Payments Bank accounts were being linked to receive LPG subsidy.

UIDAI, in an interim order, "suspended e-KYC licence key of Bharti Airtel Ltd and Airtel Payment Bank Ltd with immediate effect", sources with direct knowledge of the development said. However, accounts can be opened through alternate methods, if available.

In one of the biggest setbacks for Airtel so far, UIDAI has temporarily barred Airtel from carrying out Aadhaar-based SIM verification using e-KYC for its mobile customers and has suspended the license of its Airtel Payments Bank. "The company is engaging with UIDAI to resolve this at the earliest". We are also undertaking to complete the said actions on priority and have commenced with checks of our process flows. Being compliant with all guidelines is paramount to us. "In the interim, any inconvenience to our customers is regretted", the company spokesperson said. Subsidies of nearly 4.7 million LPG customers amounting to Rs 167 crore is said to have been transferred to such accounts.

Since users were submitting their Aadhaar details and biometrics for the e-KYC process, they were used to open Airtel Payments Bank accounts in their names, without their consent.

The subsidy amount that has been transferred in this manner was initially believed to be over Rs 40 crore and the accounts linked without permission are estimated to be over 20 lakh.

The 12-digit biometric Aadhaar number is highly sensitive and Supreme Court is now looking into various aspects of it focusing mainly on ensuring security and privacy.

Last month, UIDAI had ordered an investigation against Airtel for alleged violations of the Aadhaar Act.

The action follows allegations of Bharti Airtel using the Aadhaar-eKYC based SIM verification process to open payments bank accounts of its subscribers without their "informed consent". Amidst a brazen violation of user's privacy and breach of trust in opening accounts without their users' express consent, we are forced to ask, "What more violations has Airtel committed?" Further, UIDAI issued the second notice on November 24, but Airtel was reportedly found violating UIDAI's eKYC rules even then. This was done without customer consent.

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