No reason to restrict its use to only govt and for just subsidies
If a road is built using public money, should its usage be restricted to just government officials or can private traders be allowed to use it to transport goods too? The answer is so obvious, few would even ask such a question. So, it comes as a surprise that, in the Aadhaar hearing, the judges should say that Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act—this allows private citizens/firms to also use Aadhaar to establish the identity of anyone—appeared an area of concern. In this context, the bench argued that, while the use of Aadhaar for establishing identity before making payments from government coffers was one thing, allowing corporates to use it seemed like it was going beyond the mandate of the Act.
While the government counsel will counter this argument, a few months ago, the UIDAI also reduced access to Aadhar for various non-bank private sector players for precisely this reason. When some of these firms protested, the UIDAI’s stance seemed to be that, if someone didn’t really need the facility for his/her core business, it made sense not to make it available. An Uber, for instance, doesn’t really need to do an Aadhaar authentication to know where a passenger is or to receive payments, so why allow it to use Aadhar? But, what if Uber wanted to use Aadhaar to authenticate its drivers and their driving licenses? UIDAI allows private sector banks to do Aadhaar authentication, but why shouldn’t this facility be open to a private sector mutual fund? If the banks get to save a lot of time and money by doing an online Aadhaar authentication instead of the cumbersome procedure of looking at other identity proofs that could be fake, and don’t lend themselves to online verification, the same would surely apply to private sector mutual funds.
There are obvious safeguard protocols that need to be followed, to prevent user agencies from downloading and storing data—the virtual Aadhaar and tokenisation, of course, makes this difficult—but this applies to government users as well; indeed, some of the more egregious leaks of personal information including Aadhaar numbers (but not biometrics), has taken place from government bodies. Perhaps UIDAI was being cautious since the Supreme Court has yet to rule on this, but there is no logical reason to deny the private sector access to an innovation/service created by public money since it is the public that will benefit from this eventually. Also, given the tone of the Court’s observations, it is to be hoped the government counsel has been able to explain why, while the Aadhaar Act was about targeting government subsidies and benefits, its ambit has been extended dramatically—if not, the Aadhaar Act may itself need to be amended to include the new areas.