Aadhaar card data collection under cloud as Supreme Court red flags privacy concerns

By: | Updated: January 6, 2017 6:37 AM

The Supreme Court on Thursday said that there is “positivity” emerging out of the Unique Identification (UID) scheme and questioned how the biometric information collected for Aadhaar cards affected a person “adversely”.

The 12-digit Aadhaar number has already been issued to 1.08 crore people in the country. (PTI)The 12-digit Aadhaar number has already been issued to 1.08 crore people in the country. (PTI)

The Supreme Court on Thursday said that there is “positivity” emerging out of the Unique Identification (UID) scheme and questioned how the biometric information collected for Aadhaar cards affected a person “adversely”. However, it said that data collection by private agencies is not a “good idea”.

The 12-digit Aadhaar number has already been issued to 1.08 crore people in the country. People can link their Aadhaar with their bank accounts and use Aadhaar-enabled payment system for funds transfer, balance enquiry, cash deposits or withdrawals and inter-banking transactions.

After senior advocate Shyam Divan sought urgent hearing and setting of a Constitution bench of nine judges to hear the plea citing privacy concerns, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice J S Khehar said that Aadhaar linkage to opening of bank accounts has benefited people. “Bank accounts are being opened using Aadhar. There is a positivity emerging out of the scheme,” he observed.

He further questioned Divan on “how it affects a person adversely”?

When the senior counsel told the court that there is a serious privacy issue and it is like being under surveillance, Justice Khehar said: “Surveillance to what. Is it a big deal? Even I gave all my papers when asked for. Let them know where I am.”

The bench refused to expedite the hearing of Aadhaar cases challenging the constitutional validity of the scheme. “We are not inclined to give immediate hearing as there are limited resources but biometric data collection by private agencies is not a great idea,” the CJI said.

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When asked by the bench, senior counsel Harish Salve, who had earlier appeared for the Delhi government, said that it is favouring Aadhaar scheme. If the government wants to know where a person is, it can anyway do that, he said, adding that one’s location can be even tracked through a driving licence and a passport.

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), established by UPA-2 in 2009, issues Aadhaar cards to the citizens. Under the programme, every citizen is to be provided a12-digit unique identification number for which biometric information is collected.

The Supreme Court five-judge Constitution bench had on October 15, 2015 extended use of the Aadhaar card on voluntary basis to avail other government schemes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, employee provident fund and pension schemes. The social welfare schemes, aimed at reaching the door steps of the “poorest of the poor” were in addition to the other two schemes — public distribution system and LPG schemes — allowed earlier by the apex court in its August 11, 2015 interim order.

“We make it clear that the aadhaar card scheme is purely on voluntary basis and not made mandatory” till the matter is finally decided, the bench said, while referring the issue – whether privacy is a fundamental right — to a larger bench of nine or 11 judges, it had said.

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