In 2018, the court came across a remarkable case which questioned the validity of the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016. A retired Judge; Justice Puttaswamy filed a suit against the Union of India, questioning certain provisions of the act.
The judgement ordered the appropriate government to amend certain provisions of the Aadhaar Act. These were those provisions which peeped into the private information of an individual. This is one of those several cases who blamed Aadhaar for infringing their ‘right to Privacy’.
History of Aadhaar
Back in 2003, after the Kargil War, the BJP Government, who was headed by the Prime Minister Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was concerned about the security of the country and for the same reason they wanted to have a closer look of the citizens wanted to identify them.
Under the Congress Government, in the year 2009, Aadhaar or UIDAI came into force. This rectangular card came after the government realised that the former National Population register, which was an outcome of the amendment of the Citizenship Act in 2004, was working inefficiently.
The government also believed that welfare activities will also get a push because of this card. It was only in 2016, that the central government called for giving a unique number to every resident. The idea was also backed by the thought that Aadhaar will make the process of distributing subsidiaries better through designated bank accounts.
What is an Aadhaar?
Aadhaar is a 12 digit unique identification number which is given to an Indian Citizen by the Indian Government. It is the most sophisticated identity program in the world. Aadhaar should be considered to give the proof of residence, as it is not a proof of citizenship neither it grant any right to domicile in India. The Aadhaar has been linked to some of the subsidies and unemployment benefits schemes also, like getting the cylinders at subsidiary rates or wages in MGNREGA.
Aadhaar: Mandatory or not?
The government is widening the scope of Aadhaar but it is not mandatory. The Supreme Court, on September 23, 2012 issued an interim order that the government cannot deny from rendering services to any individual who do not own Aadhaar.
The Supreme Court did so because India is a land where there is a certain section of population which is deprived of education and they are unaware of the events which are happening around them. If the government makes Aadhaar mandatory, then would suffer. The Supreme Court has been issuing several rulings and is keeping a check on its effects and shortcomings.
Aadhaar Card and Privacy Issues
The new Aadhaar bill was an extension of the former act which was enacted by the UPA Government. There were several changes by the government. When Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi were serving the as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, he showed his resentment over the Aadhaar.
He felt that this was a strategy of the government to raise money and the purpose of strengthening the security of the nation will be left unfulfilled. The new amended act gave right to a public and private entity to use the Aadhaar number for the purpose of verification of an individual and from this onward; our ears are getting so much to hear about the data leakage through government websites or its mobile apps.
The cases of data leakage
There was a case that accused the Aadhaar for data leakage and also compelled the government to reveal that about 210 government websites made the Aadhaar details public on internet. The Centre for internet and Society also pointed out that about 130 million Aadhaar numbers along with other valuable data were available on the internet.
These are two out of several instances in which data was found on the internet. The purpose of Aadhaar was to provide welfare to the people, protecting the nation from threats by strengthening the security of the nation, the foremost to know the identity of the residents. But, the picture turned out to be something different from what it was imagined in mind.
What is the Aadhaar doing today? Apart from identifying its citizens, the Aadhaar is providing sensitive personal information of an individual to the government. The government is trying to link the Aadhaar number everywhere like in banks, for getting subsidies, for getting sim cards and according to the recent notification Aadhaar number could also be linked to know a person’s health history which provides enormous amount of any kind of data.
The government is entering into a person’s private life by keeping a close scrutiny of a person’s financial, health and personal information. This information could be leaked at any platform as the technology today is very advance.
The danger of Aadhaar if that is power as a tool of mass surveillance. This is a threat to the nation and the implications could be disastrous. There are several issues of privacy infringement due to the use of Biometrics information in the project; this is a breach of territorial as well as one’s data privacy.
Once a person is registered under the Aadhaar, all his information about the phone calls, bank balances, railway bookings, and may be health records will be accessible to the government. In a country like India, where a person is blessed with Right of Privacy by the Constitution of the country, the government cannot peep into the person information of any individual.
The right to Privacy, though not specifically mentioned in the constitution but it a penumbral right under the constitution. Penumbral right means the right which is declared by the Supreme Court as implicit to the Fundamental Right to life and liberty. Not only constitution, but there are various other statutes as well who promotes right to privacy.
Rights come with certain restraints. The government of the country has a right to have information about his residents, but there is certain information which will infringe the right to privacy of an individual which will be unjustified.
Lack of strong legislation
The people who upholds a stand that Aadhaar violates the privacy of an individual say this because Aadhaar is not backed by any legislation which could have the power to stop the government abuse. We all know that the biometrics information collected data from all those people who wanted to get themselves registered under the Aadhaar and this information is prone to get abused if there is not proper legislation to stop the same. The government wanted to target people to make them enjoy the welfare schemes of the government, but think a bit, a government scheme could even reach individuals without any Aadhaar.
Not a violation, Supreme Court
The Supreme court which has the highest authority believed that Aadhaar secures the interests of the poor and deprived persons and gives them an opportunity to live a dignified life. The court dismissed the petition which claimed that Aadhaar violates the right to privacy, claiming that the data which was provided by an individual at the time of enrolling himself to get a 12 digit unique identity was minimal and this data cannot amount to infringement.
The court said that data which is collected whether the fingerprints or the photograph of the individual are safe with the government and presently are not available on the internet. Though previously the court encountered certain cases amounting to leakage of data, but now the data is kept secured. The private entities cannot use the 12 digit number for verification. The banks and other private entities cannot make Aadhaar compulsory for KYC, i.e. know your customers.
Whenever the government promotes certain schemes, the pros and cons to the situation accompany them. If we look at an example, when there is no Aadhaar card, the terrorist will try to take advantage of this lenient situation and when the personal data of an Aadhaar card is leaked on the internet the similar groups will try to take advantage of this carelessness.
Therefore, there is no defect in the Aadhaar; the defect is present in the system which is not taking any serious steps to make laws related to Aadhaar strong. Aadhaar number is as similar as getting any other identity card like Passport, the PAN card, or the License.
If these cards are not walking into the privacy of an individual, than how could the Aadhaar card infringe privacy? The same Aadhaar card today restricts a terrorist to get a sim card and little things like this prevent our society from havoc. The government needs to strengthen its system and with this the Aadhaar card will be able to gain the confidence of the people.