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Aadhaar: The privacy concerns

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Aadhaar: The privacy concerns
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The Supreme Court on August 11 ruled that the Aadhaar card would not be mandatory for the Indian citizens to avail benefits of government’s welfare schemes directing the concerned authorities that no personal information of the card holders shall be shared by them.

The apex Court has asked the government to publicise widely through various media that the Aadhaar card was not mandatory stating that it should only be used to disburse Public Distribution Schemes (PDS) food grains, kerosene, LPG and other subsidies. It said that the biometric data collected as part of the scheme cannot be used for any other purpose except in criminal investigations with the permission of the court. A Constitution bench of the court would also decide whether collecting biometric data for preparing Aadhaar cards infringed a person’s privacy and if right to privacy was a fundamental right. The Aadhaar card, issued by Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI,) is a twelve digit individual identification number that incorporate all the personal details of an individual serving as a proof of identity and address anywhere in the country. The scheme was formed during the tenure of the previous UPA government. Despite more than one similar court rulings, the Centre as well as the state governments continued to impose the scheme on the people. But an intriguing factor is the lack of any legal backing for forming such an authority and implementing the scheme. No laws related to Aadhaar were formed in both houses of the Parliament and the scheme was implemented without the knowledge or permission of the Parliament. The cards were issued on the basis of an executive order of January 28, 2009. According to the latest estimates, 89.3 crore Aadhaar cards have been issued. As per the February 2015 reports, 5630 crore were spent for the scheme so far.

Former Karnataka High Court Judge K S Puttasaamy had filed a PIL in the Supreme Court in 2012 challenging the Aadhaar as a mandatory system by several states and the Centre. He had pointed out that it was ‘unconstitutional as the biometric data collected under it was an incursion and transgression of individual privacy’ and sought a stay on the implementation of the scheme. The Supreme Court on September 23, 2013, had passed an interim order that nobody be denied any facilities and benefits or ‘suffer’ for not having the card. The Supreme Court was also considering a PIL filed by an ex military man Thomas Mathew. Mathew had filed an application seeking initiation of contempt proceedings against the Centre and others, including RBI, and the Election Commission. The court has decided to refer the matter to a Constitution Bench to review whether collecting biometric data for preparing Aadhar cards infringed an individual's privacy and if the right to privacy was a fundamental right.

The Centre had neglected the court rulings and gone ahead with the scheme. The consumers who did not link their bank accounts to Aadhaar card wasn’t entitled to any subsidy. Aadhaar cards have become necessary for getting admission to schools in Kerala. Even when the present government says that Aadhaar is not compulsory to avail the benefits, it is indirectly imposing the scheme with such moves. Unifying the citizen data and other government documents are essential for a smooth functioning of the system. It’s the students who suffer the most due to the inefficiency of the officials as well as the system. But things haven’t changed much even after implementing the Aadhaar scheme. The centre should have maintained transparency about the scheme. The project therefore is surely cynical and evokes skepticism. The controversies triggered by the privacy issues related to the matter are grave and should be dealt with seriously. The Supreme Court as well as the Parliament should be re-analysing the matter in depth and only then go ahead with the scheme.

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