The world’s largest digital authentication system is rolling out facial recognition, but only for telecom services


  • India’s Aadhaar card system will now use facial identification for eKYC.
  • In a phased roll-out to Aadhaar Authentication User Agencies (AUAs), telecom service providers will be the first to implement this service starting September 15, 2018.
  • Facial recognition will be a part of a two-factor authentication should iris or fingerprint authentication fail.
The largest identification database in the world, Aadhaar, isn’t mandatory for issuing SIM cards. But, if you are planning to use your Aadhaar card for eKYC (electronic know-your-customer), the face-recognition feature will start rolling out on September 15, 2018.

But, here’s the thing, when the measure was originally proposed in March, the aim was to help people who didn’t have biometrics or poor biometrics. In the case of authentication failures and financial exclusion, the purpose of facial recognition was to ensure that people with physical disabilities or leprosy wouldn’t be kept from their pensions and provident funds.

That being said, reports indicate that telecom service providers are only the first in line. The plan is for a phased rollout to cover all the other Aadhaar Authentication User Agencies (AUAs), once their devices are ready to accommodate face recognition.

According to the nodal agency, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the face recognition verification has been put in place to curbs incidences of fingerprint spoofing and cloning.

They also indicated that the measure will also increase the accountability of telecom service providers by tightening the audit process and overall security around mobile SIMs.

How does it work

The Aadhaar card face recognition feature basically means that users will have to get their picture clicked when using the Aadhaar card for eKYC. Keep in mind, this doesn’t replace fingerprint or iris verification. Those are still in place, but should verification fail at that level, facial identification will be the second factor of authentication.

The telecom companies, in turn, will save those photos on their database and send it across on their registered device for verification against the picture of you on file with the UIDAI.

Once that’s done, the telecom service providers will have to save both photos on their database for audit purposes down the line. This isn’t a suggestion, it’s a rule with consequences involved. If the telecom companies fail to do so, UIDAI has issued a circular on the financial disincentives that they will be subject to.

However, it still isn’t mandatory to fish out an Aadhaar card for obtaining a SIM. It’s only if you choose to use your Aadhaar for eKYC, that face recognition even comes into the picture. Other forms of identification are still valid as KYC documents.

Earlier this year, a survey by Velocity MR ascertained that nearly 80% of Indians didn’t trust the Aadhaar card system. While the government has continuously reiterated that the Aadhaar database is safe, the concern isn’t with the central database being secure, but with middleman agencies that don’t keep a tight lid on their security when obtaining Aadhaar details are identification proof.
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