The Supreme Court Monday restrained the Centre and the Unique Identification Authority of India from sharing the vast biometric database of Aadhaar cards with any third party or agency without the consent of the registered person.
It also ruled that people cannot be denied any service or benefit for not having an Aadhaar card. The UIDAI database has personal information of 60 crore people and is processing more than 10 lakh enrollments a day.
Emphasising on the confidentiality of the database, the court said the UIDAI shall be prohibited from handing out any information to a third party — government or private — unless the card-holder consented.
On using the database in criminal investigation, a bench led by Justice B S Chauhan said that information about fingerprints and other data could be shared only after a suspect approves it.
While issuing notices on a petition moved by the UIDAI against an order of the Bombay High Court that seeks to examine if its biometric database can be used in criminal investigation, the court agreed to hear the case along with a bunch of other petitions challenging the very validity of the Aadhaar card.
The CPI(M) and some civil liberties organisations have repeatedly charged the government with compromising vital data of Indian citizens while the BJP has questioned giving Aadhaar cards to illegal migrants, besides the absence of a legislative enactment to validate the Aadhaar scheme.
During the court proceedings on Monday, the bench also took up grievances being raised before it on making the Aadhaar number compulsory for delivery of social services and subsidies. The court questioned why authorities were still insisting on production of Aadhaar cards by applicants when it had held otherwise last year.
The bench then ordered that no person shall be deprived of any benefit or services for want of the Aadhaar card and that the government shall ask its departments to issue necessary circulars making this clear. The court said any order passed by authorities to make Aadhaar mandatory shall be withdrawn immediately.
The latest controversy involved an order of a Goa court, asking the UIDAI to give the CBI biometrics of all residents enrolled with Aadhaar in the state to help solve the gangrape of a seven-year-old girl. The court noted that the database, which includes recording of fingerprints, iris and facial images of applicants, was supposed to be devoid of duplication and tamper-proof.
The girl was raped in a school in Goa’s Vasco city 14 months back but the case is yet to be cracked. However, there were some chance fingerprints recovered from the scene of crime and the magistrate thought UIDAI could match these fingerprints with its database to help ascertain the identities of the assailants.
Aggrieved by this order, the UIDAI moved Bombay High Court and claimed validation of the magistrate’s order will open the floodgates of such directives by other courts as well other authorities. It added the UIDAI system was developed “for civilian use and for non-forensic purposes”.
But the high court recorded that the UIDAI had agreed to test the competence of its database in comparing the chance fingerprints with its biometric record and also asked the director general of the Central Forensic Science Laboratory to examine the technological capabilities of the UIDAI database.
The UIDAI, however, termed the high court’s order wrong and erroneous and petitioned the Supreme Court. It added questions relating to right to privacy of users was also a subject matter of the bunch of PILs currently being adjudicated by the SC and hence no order could be passed to share information of the applicants in the meantime.