In Supreme Court, Centre admits Aadhaar data leak, critics cite ‘civil liberties’

Meanwhile, critics of the government’s decision to make Aadhaar mandatory for obtaining PAN cards cautioned that the move would “dilute civil liberties and dominate the citizens”.

Written by ANANTHAKRISHNAN G | New Delhi | Updated: May 4, 2017 9:00 am
Aadhaar, Aadhaar card, UID, Mandatory aadhaar, SC aadhaar, Aadhaar duplicity, Biometric data, fake PAN card, Centre defends Aadhaar, India news, Indian Express Aadhaar Card, (Representational image)

THE CENTRE on Wednesday acknowledged in the Supreme Court that personal data of Aadhaar card-holders had been leaked. Meanwhile, critics of the government’s decision to make Aadhaar mandatory for obtaining PAN cards cautioned that the move would “dilute civil liberties and dominate the citizens”. The Centre’s acknowledgment came a day after Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi, while defending the move to make Aadhaar mandatory for PAN cards, told the apex court that “one cannot have an absolute right over his or her body”.

“The leaks are not from UIDAI database. There is not a single leak from the UIDAI database,’’ said Arghya Sengupta, who was appearing for the Centre. “Aadhaar is currently the most foolproof method that has evolved. But technology is not foolproof. Technology is evolving and I cannot say what will happen after 20 years, whether it will still be safe. But as of now, biometrics is the safest.’’ Meanwhile, counsel for the petitioners, who have challenged the validity of amendments in the Income Tax (IT) Act requiring tax-payers to provide their Aadhaar card details while applying for a Permanent Account Number (PAN) and for filing IT returns, contended that an Aadhaar-like system had not been implemented in any country which calls itself democratic.

“Through this, a person can be tracked and remain under electronic surveillance throughout his life,” senior advocate Shyam Divan told the bench. The decision, he asserted, was in “complete collision” with the norms laid down by the UIDAI, which clearly states that Aadhaar is “voluntary”. Pointing out that Aadhaar “enrollers”, who collect citizens’ data and biometrics, are private parties and there is serious threat of misuse or leakage of data, Divan said: “There are cases where such information has been commercially sold. The law says life and body is paramount and if the fingerprints of an individual are stolen, it might end his identity… If we fail here, there is tremendous possibility that state will dilute civil liberties and dominate its citizens. The concept of civil liberties will go then.”

“Even today, UIDAI website says that every citizen is entitled to voluntarily obtaining Aadhaar,” he said. “Instrumentalities of state do not defraud the public. UIDAI has given the correct interpretation, that is, Aadhaar is voluntary. The language of the statute and understanding of UIDAI is clear. Aadhaar is entirely voluntary,” he said, adding that the application form for Aadhaar enrollment also says it is voluntary. Referring to reports that newborns in Haryana need Aadhaar for their birth certificates, he said the issue raised questions of civil liberties of the highest constitutional level, and the court was duty-bound to protect the rights of citizens.

Divan argued that there was a “complete collision” between the Aadhaar Act and Section 139AA of the IT Act, which makes Aadhaar mandatory for filing Income Tax returns and applying for PAN cards with effect from July 1 this year. The bench, comprising Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan, was hearing a clutch of petitions filed by retired army officer S G Vombatkere, Dalit activist Bezwada Wilson and senior Kerala CPI leader Binoy Viswam. Defending the Centre’s decision to make Aadhaar mandatory for filing Income Tax returns, Sengupta said, “The object is not to discriminate, but to ensure that duplicate PAN cards are weeded out and consequent deleterious effects of PAN duplication are avoided.’’

The counsel, who heads Delhi-based think-tank Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, said: “Conscientious objectors are essentially offenders of the law because they feel they have good moral reasons to do so. If that is so, most laws would be discriminatory”. He drew parallels with the national anthem case, saying there may be people who do not want to stand up for the anthem. The Centre also argued that there was “no absolute right to informational self-determination’’ — right to decide which information can be shared with state agencies — and that even if any privacy provisions existed, it had to be interpreted in the context of Indian realities and not western laws.

On the question of privacy, Justice Sikri sought to know if those living in a tax regime could decide how they wanted to pay taxes. “Gender is a personal choice, but can we say the same when we live in a tax regime?’’ the judge asked. The Centre responded by saying that Parliament had decided “that you may have to do something which they (petitioner) do not want to do”. “There could be many things which could be objected to but the law cannot be said to be discriminatory… State has a right to ask for information and state does it also. We cannot impart on the conception of privacy prevailing in different parts of the world,” it said.

Rejecting the Centre’s stand, Diwan contended that Aadhaar had become an instrument of oppression and discrimination. “This is not an elite concern but a very civil rights one,’’ the senior counsel pointed out, adding that older people face a genuine problem as their fingerprints get erased with time and they find it impossible to provide their biometric data. The hearing will continue on Thursday.

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  1. J
    Jagzap R L
    May 5, 2017 at 1:35 pm
    Simple Example Straight Solution Iwish to secure my life by instal security systems to my home which allows access to it by using my fingure print/biometry. With future technology or modern technology like 3D printers and nano-technology it may become possible to breach the system. If biometric data we provided today is going to cost my life, it will be against the law of my fundamental right to protect my life from such posdible threat. I have UNIQUE finger print texture which does not match 100 to any one in this universe. This clearly means it is mine for sure. I have 100 right on my biometric code. God has given it foe me for special purpose to open the doors of heaven. No one can steal it from me. Only The God can have it back if She/He wish to. Well I shall never cheat my God by ending my life agains God's will. God has sent me for best cause. But if any ignorent person or an ins ution wants guarantee, I shall sign and register an affidavit saying 'I shall never suicide'
  2. A
    Amit Chaturvedi
    May 5, 2017 at 12:08 pm
    As Aadhar data is been leaked and it may be, in near future , we may be getting unsolicited marketing calls, let us activate Do not Disturb service and for every such call complain in TRAI and ask for Compensation for harassment. This is the best form of agitation. Our Data may be 'FOOL PROOF' but it should be rather 'Smart Proof' rather 'Extra Smart Proof'
  3. M
    May 4, 2017 at 9:59 pm
    The arguments presented by Mr.Shyam Divan are irrefutable. Judicial system should not favour बचत पर ब्याज घटाओ Bhartiya Janta Party सरकार.
  4. M
    May 4, 2017 at 2:43 pm
    People shall understand that this the only government saving hinduism. otherwise hinduis will get ruined and become rubbish. please save hinduism by supporting modi government. He is the god. He saves hinduism from muslims. He kills lot of muslims and saves hinduism. Gopal couldnot save hinduism mahadev could not save hinduism saraswathi couldnot save hinduism. Modi only is capable of saving hinduism.
  5. P
    Parth Garg
    May 4, 2017 at 1:35 pm
    It is the State's pious obligation to protect the personal data of its citizens safe from unscrupulous elements. Failure will compromise peoples privacy.
  6. S
    S. Gowrishankar,
    May 4, 2017 at 11:43 am
    Yes. Adhaar should not be mandatory. It violates fundamental freedom to life and security of citizens and leaves it in the hands of ic bureaucrats. We cannot trust those bureaucrats like we cannot trust this supreme court rather ic court.
  7. A
    Ajit Shaurya
    May 4, 2017 at 11:19 am
    Considering the porous nature of how information is maintained in India and half-educated buffoons put in charge of critical iden y related data, this is a disaster waiting to happen. Making Aadhaar compulsory is a good thing, but prior to that, adequate privacy related protections need to be ins uted, which is certainly not the case at the moment.
  8. S
    May 4, 2017 at 11:16 am
    i have aadhaar card and updated the biometrics many times. but the catch is my fingerprints are almost faded because of skin conditions eventhough i do not do hard labour. and none of the fingers can be used for authentication because of this i am unable to identify myself due to authentication failure. i am facing serious problems obtaining new sim card, in banks etc. my aadhaar no. is rendered useless. and the best part is the vendors flatly told me there is no other way and denies service. i wrote this problem to UIDAI countless times tel my skin condition. every time same reply " update your biometrics in nearest enrollment center".its like they dont even want to listen to their flaws. this scheme was supposed to be inclusive but it excluded me and god knows how many more are facing the same problem. UIDAI just won't listen and proceed to force this disgusting scheme on everyone, they will fail to authenticate you and there goes yor civil rights in the dumpster.
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