Aadhaar is meandering in a legal maze

By A L I Chougule – Since July 2017, privacy has been at the center of Aadhaar debate. According to legal experts, there are three aspects to privacy issue: bodily integrity, information privacy and threat of state surveillance.

Whether the act of collecting finger prints and iris scans violates the bodily integrity of citizens, and therefore, the fundamental right to privacy is an important question before the SC.

Equally crucial argument is whether the Aadhaar Act violates the right to informational self-determination or informational privacy.

An important aspect of informational privacy is whether citizens know what exactly is happening with their personal information and the manner in which the information shall be used. The third and forceful aspect of the privacy argument is that Aadhaar will enable the State to mount constant surveillance on citizens.

Apart from privacy issue, the necessity to have an Aadhaar card to avail benefits or otherwise is also a subject of litigious debate. In an attempt to make the Aadhaar an all-encompassing identity for authentication, the government has lately been adding a slew of welfare schemes and services to Aadhaar. The government has also made Aadhaar necessary for filing income tax returns.

However, the apex court’s order of October 15, 2015, said that Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory for welfare schemes.

The court has restricted the voluntary use of the card to six schemes and prohibited the government from making it mandatory for receiving any other benefit or service.

The SC has consistently maintained that Aadhaar is voluntary and not mandatory and there is no compulsion to submit it for availing services.

To start with, the Aadhaar project was introduced as an optional 12-digit identification tool in January 2009. The optional nature of Aadhaar had come up for discussion when the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010, was introduced in parliament by UPA-2 government.

The bill was referred to the standing committee on finance which raised concerns over Aadhaar’s security by giving an example of an ID project in the UK which was later abandoned due to high cost, untested technology and the ‘changing relationship between the state and citizens’.

In response to the committee’s concerns, the government stated that while the UK ID card was mandatory, Aadhaar number is not mandatory. The government also clarified that the main aim of Aadhaar ‘is to enhance the delivery of welfare benefits and services’.

Things took a different turn when the implementation of the project – in absence of a legislative backing – was challenged in the SC in November 2012. Since then, Aadhaar has remained mired in complex arguments in court. more>

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