Fears of the Aadhaar card being used to turn India into a surveillance state have mounted after several users woke up on Thursday, Aug 2, to find a new contact in their phone books - the UIDAI helpline.
The number was saved automatically for people with and without Aadhaar cards who use Android phones. It took Twitter by storm after French hacker Robert Baptiste asked people to check if they had the UIDAI helpline in their contacts.
Within hours, hundreds of users posted screenshots of their phones showing the new contact, calling out the body for adding the number without their explicit consent. Baptiste went on to tweet that the addition of the helpline could just be "the tip of the iceberg", hinting at additional trackers on Indian phones.
At this point, it is unclear if the number was installed by the manufacturers or carriers and how only certain handsets have the number saved.
The UIDAI has so far refused to comment on the issue, but some experts believe that they must have issued guidelines to manufacturers to download the number as an emergency number. The authority has announced that they have changed their helpline number from 1800-300-1947 to 1947.
One possible explanation is that the UIDAI has made the helpline an emergency contact, which, as per norms, would be saved to all handsets via the SIM card, but so far it is the only helpline to be saved apart from the 112 emergency number.
Others believed that it was automatically saved from the mAadhaar app, but that was soon debunked after several Twitter users pointed out that they had the number saved even without installing mAadhaar.
The UIDAI was at the centre of a huge controversy last week after TRAI chairman RS Sharma publicly posted his Aadhaar number online, to challenge people on the security of the system. However, it did not take long for hackers to post his address and other personal details online.
Why is #UIDAI number pushed into my contact list? Please check yours, is there too? #Aadhaar @Aruntm @fs0c131y @airtel @ET_CISO @VashistaVinay @amarindersingh @CyberMahaGuru Because of it being in my contact list, it gets replicated to all apps that have access to my contacts— Archie Jackson (@archie_jackson) August 3, 2018