Privacy matters

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Published: July 24, 2015 12:29:24 AM

Aadhaar’s benefits trump privacy concerns. But govt must not treat right to privacy as completely secondary

The anti-Aadhaar camp continues to cite threat to privacy as a ground to stall the seeding of the biometric-enabled unique identity number being made mandatory for welfare progammes. Bogeys of how unsafe citizens’ (and non-citizens’) biometric and other particulars are in the hands of the government as well as the private parties that have been enlisted by the Unique Identification Authority of India have been raised to drum up opposition to it.

However, even though it is clear as day that Aadhaar-seeding along with direct cash transfers can considerably reduce the government’s subsidy burden and check leakages in welfare schemes, the government positing at the Supreme Court that right to privacy is not fundamental is not the best move. The apex court is hearing petitions against Aadhaar, and Attorney General of India Mukul Rohatgi has submitted that given a six-member and an eight- member bench of the apex court both held, in the 1950s, that right to privacy of an individual was not fundamental as per the Constitution, the matter be referred to a Constitution bench of the court.

The matter is not as black-and-white as the government is making it out to be. For one, the apex court, in several verdicts delivered by smaller benches in later years, has held the right to be fundamental, as part of the right to life and personal liberty, under the Article 21 of the Constitution. Rohatgi appealed to the court to balance between the petitioners’ rights to privacy with the rights of  the beneficiaries of the government’s welfare schemes who need “fool-proof” delivery. While the court needs to indeed consider this part of the government’s submission, any attempt to summarily get the right to privacy to lose sanction under Article 21 will have consequences beyond Aadhaar. In the spirit of its appeal to the apex court, the government, too, needs to temper its stand on the right to privacy.

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