By Elton Gomes
A verdict on whether Aadhaar violates India’s constitution will be passed by five senior most judges of the Supreme Court. The apex court heard roughly 27 petitions that had challenged the constitutional validity of Aadhaar and called it a violation of the right to privacy.
Over the past few days, the Aadhaar programme has seen some changes, in that face authentication has been kept on hold and workers’ details might be linked to Aadhaar to track jobs growth.
More than a billion Indians have already signed up for Aadhaar, which was set up with the intention of becoming a digital identification for all citizens to avail government services. The 12-digit Unique Identification Number was made compulsory for services including bank accounts, PAN cards, cellphone services, passport, and even driving licenses.
The Aadhaar card became the overarching proof of identity and residence, and was considered superior to all other prior identity proofs. However, as it was rolled out, several concerns emerged over privacy, data security, and recourse for citizens amidst data leaks.
Petitioners challenged the validity of Aadhaar and said that it cannot be made mandatory simply because the huge database can easily be compromised. They noted that a law that “impacts human life can’t remain a law”, as per an NDTV report.
Supreme Court to decide on validity of Aadhaar
One of the main arguments cited by petitioners opposing Aadhaar is that the 12-digit biometric number has the potential to turn into a tool of continuous, mass surveillance.
Coming out in full support of the Aadhaar scheme, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal had informed the Supreme Court that the data was safe in the Central Identities Data Repository, which was fortified by 10-metre-high and 4-metre-wide walls. He said that Aadhaar was “not a fly-by-night effort to get some brownie points”, but a serious campaign to end corruption, the Indian Express reported.
During the arguments, the Centre strongly defended its decision to link mobile phones with Aadhaar numbers. The Centre told the Supreme Court that it could have been hauled up for contempt if it did not conduct a verification of mobile users.
The apex court, however, said that the government had misinterpreted its order and used it as a “tool” to make Aadhaar mandatory for mobile users.
In March, the Supreme Court had extended the deadline for linking Aadhaar cards with bank accounts and mobile phone connections, until it was prepared to decide on petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Aadhaar.
DoT puts face authentication on hold
The telecom department has put Aadhaar-based face authentication on hold as it awaits the Supreme Court judgment on petitions challenging the issuance of new mobile connections and re-verification through the use of Aadhaar.
In a letter dated September 19 to the UIDAI CEO, the Department of Telecom (DoT) said that the judgment on the petition filed in the apex court challenging Aadhaar based e-KYC process is expected to be delivered this month, and this might require a re-examination of the entire e-KYC process for issuance of new mobile connections, as per a PTI report.
In August, media reports suggested that the UIDAI planned to make face recognition feature a mandatory requirement in the Aadhaar programme. The authority, which was given the task of issuing the 12-digit biometric number, had announced a phased rollout of the feature, starting with telecom service providers from September 15 onwards.
Workers’ details to be linked to Aadhaar
The Centre plans to link details of about 100 million employees with Aadhaar in order to create a more reliable record of jobs growth, thus reducing duplication in payroll data, four government officials told Live Mint.
The linking has been proposed as it could improve delivery of services related to pensions, employees’ provident fund, and insurance for workers prior to the general elections in 2019, one of the officials cited above said on the condition of anonymity.
“There is a lot of debate going on around job growth in India. The monthly payroll data being released since April this year is facing a constant criticism—that it’s not accurate and suffers from duplication. Once you seed all the beneficiaries with Aadhaar you may be able to find a solution to this problem of duplication,” one of the four government officials mentioned above said, as per the Live Mint report.
Arguments against Aadhaar
Shyam Divan was the first counsel to begin the arguments on behalf of the petitioners opposing Aadhaar. Diwan’s arguments challenged the Aadhaar programme, the Aadhaar Act, 2016, and related entities. He argued that the state is constitutionally bound to provide subsidies, benefits, and services to its citizens. What Aadhaar does is that it makes the delivery of such services conditional that citizens have to divulge their biometric and demographic information. Diwan further argued that the Aadhaar architecture is capable of tracking, tagging, and profiling of individuals, and it is therefore unconstitutional.
Kapil Sibal argued that in light of the judgement in Right to Privacy, collection of sensitive personal information of individuals cannot be allowed. Sibal said further that the concept of consent is absent in the Aadhaar Act. Consent seems to be ‘illusory’ as a citizen can be denied government benefits and subsidies in the absence of Aadhaar authentication.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius
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