After the Supreme Court barred telecom operators from using Aadhaar to validate identity of mobile subscribers, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has suggested several alternative measures to the government to prevent a return to the days of paper-based identity verification.

These include entering various fields in the customer acquisition form electronically on the operator’s app, capturing GPS coordinates while capturing the customer’s live photo at the point of sale of the mobile connection, watermarking the photo and assigning a unique operator code so that the photo cannot be copied or re-used.

As additional safeguard, the system will also verify that the geotag of the customer’s picture and final submission of request by the point of sale is not more than 50 metres away, the letter added.

In a letter addressed to telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan, the lobby group said that after the court verdict on Aadhaar and instructions received by Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), a return to paper-based process should not be an option as it would reverse the steps taken by the industry towards Digital India and result in wastage of infrastructure and investment.

“Any move back to paper-based system at such scale and such large reach will take years and will also adversely impact broadband and telecom growth, more so in villages and remote corners of the country," the letter by COAI dated 5 October said. Mint has seen a copy of the letter.

This comes after the UIDAI on 1 October asked operators to submit by 15 October a plan to wind up their Aadhaar-based authentication systems in line with the court order last month. Until now, telephone companies had been pushing customers to link their numbers with Aadhaar.

Aadhaar-based real-time electronic KYC (know your customer) process to issue mobile connections was much faster compared with physical verification that used to take almost a week.

“We are proposing minor modifications to the DoT (department of telecommunications) guidelines dated 24 August 2015 allowing the customer acquisition form to be embedded with photograph and scanned images thereby digitize the end-to-end process for onboarding of new subscribers by making it paper-less," the letter said, urging DoT to roll out this process formally at the earliest so that customers are not inconvenienced due to closure of Aadhaar-based eKYC.

The DoT has so far not issued any formal instruction to telecom operators on how to proceed with customer acquisition even as UIDAI’s 15 October deadline approaches.