Defending its biometric identification system, the government on Tuesday told the Supreme Court that it can use Aadhaar for ‘all and sundry’ and its use can’t be restricted to what is prescribed under the Aadhaar Act. Terming the privacy concerns regarding Aadhaar ‘bogus’ and ‘wholly misplaced,’ Attorney General (AG) Mukul Rohatgi told a bench headed by Justice AK Sikri that Aadhaar was essential when the country was witnessing all-round progress, especially technologically, and it was an essential requirement to keep pace with the growth.
“What do you want? A vacuum? It cannot be like that. An individual has a social contract with the state under which no constituent can say that I don’t want to be identified. Identification is necessary for an orderly society. We must keep pace with technology. The petitioners cannot claim to live in a utopia where they imagine there is no state authority,” he argued.
Rohatgi said as constituents of a society, citizens cannot claim immunity from identification. Citing the example of census surveys, the top law officer said these census data record caste, gender, religion and even marriages,and citizens cannot claim exemption from it. “There are many legislations which require biometrics. Like the Indian Registration Act, which requires fingerprints. The real difference between that and Aadhaar is now the fingerprints are on an electronic trail,” he said, adding that even mobile phone companies can track the exact whereabouts of an individual through one’s phone.
“An identification system is essential for governance, and it cannot be relinquished for so-called privacy. Can petitioners say that they don’t have a PAN card, no driver’s licence or credit card and that they live in the Himalayas… the government is entitled to put technologies for better use,” the AG contended.
However, he said there are safeguards for privacy under the Aadhaar Act and the authority has to ensure security and confidentiality of data. He further argued that Aadhaar is also mandatory to avoid fake PAN card and has also emerged as an effective tool to check the menace of terror funding and black money circulation. The PAN programme had become suspect as it could be faked while Aadhaar is a “secure and robust” system by which the identity of an individual cannot be faked, the AG said.
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“The right to forget is a luxury only the rich can afford, and the rich don’t need access to PDS (public distribution system),” Rohatgi said, while informing the bench that the government has saved over `50,000 crore on benefits for poor due to Aadhaar.
He said around 10 lakh PAN cards have been cancelled, while of the 113.7 crore Aadhaar cards issued so far, not even a single case of duplication has been found. Of 29 lakh PAN card holders, only five crore are I-T assessees, he said.
Rohatgi further contended that no ban can be placed on Parliament from making laws. “Powers of Parliament to legislate are supreme and sovereign,” he said, adding that the SC order directing the government to make Aadhaar voluntary was an interim order and the court cannot restrain Parliament from passing a new law.
The SC is hearing three petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Section 139 AA of the income tax Act which was introduced through the latest Budget and the Finance Act 2017. It provides for mandatory quoting of Aadhaar or enrolment ID of Aadhaar application form for filing of I-T returns and making an application for allotment of PAN number with effect from July 1 this year. The hearing will continue on Wednesday.