Supreme Court hearing: Privacy non-negotiable under Aadhaar Act, says govt

Venugopal explained that “even demographic data is protected in Aadhaar...One doesn’t have to give phone number etc if they have apprehension of misuse”. Senior counsel Gopal Subramanium, appearing for the petitioner, contended that the “enrolling authority under Aadhaar were private parties and not the Government of India”.

Written by Ananthakrishnan G | New Delhi | Published: July 28, 2017 3:17 am
Aadhaar, Aadhaar Act, Right to Privacy, SC Aadhaar The government told the Supreme Court on Thursday that “privacy and confidentiality are non-negotiable under the Aadhaar Act”. (File)

The government told the Supreme Court on Thursday that “privacy and confidentiality are non-negotiable under the Aadhaar Act”. Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) — nodal agency for implementing Aadhaar — conveyed this to a nine-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India J S Khehar during discussions on the safety of data collected for Aadhaar enrolment.

Justice S A Bobde, who is a part of the bench which also includes Justices J Chelameswar, S K Kaul, R F Nariman, A M Sapre, R K Agarwal, D Y Chandrachud and Abdul Nazeer, ticked off the debate wondering “is there a clause on protection of data in Aadhaar Act?” Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, answered in the affirmative and referred to Chapter VI of the Act which deals with “protection of information”.

Stretching the argument, Justice Chandrachud said, “If you have one billion (Aadhaar) cards and 80 million phone numbers, I don’t want the state to pass on my details to some 2000 service providers who will send WhatsApp messages everyday to buy ACs and all kinds of cosmetics.”

He continued: “No one is denying it (Aadhaar) is a social welfare measure. But it is vital commercial information for service providers. Do you have a robust mechanism? You must have a robust mechanism to ensure that this data does not go to those commercial service providers..”.

Venugopal explained that “even demographic data is protected in Aadhaar…One doesn’t have to give phone number etc if they have apprehension of misuse”. Senior counsel Gopal Subramanium, appearing for the petitioner, contended that the “enrolling authority under Aadhaar were private parties and not the Government of India”.

Justice Nariman took note of the chapter on “protection of information” in the Aadhaar Act and sought to know “is this not legislative recognition of privacy as a fundamental right”.

Mehta said it was not so but added that he will deal with the issue in detail later. UIDAI has already taken the stand that “though it (privacy) is a right and an enforceable right, (it is) not a fundamental right”.

A-G Venugopal, meanwhile, repeated what he formulated on Wednesday — that privacy could be a “wholly qualified fundamental right” though the Centre’s view was that every aspects of it should not be treated as a fundamental right. “Even assuming it is a fundamental right, it is a multi-faceted right and every facet will not automatically and ipso facto qualify to be a fundamental right”, he said.

On informational privacy, the AG said, “In any case where the fundamental right of others will be defeated if informational privacy is claimed, no such informational privacy can ever be a fundamental right.” Stating that the state had a “blanket power” against informational privacy, he said, “(The) state is entitled to ask for fingerprints and iris scans. No reason for denying that. But if (information sought for) is wholly irrelevant or uncharacteristic, then informational privacy kicks in. If it is information relevant to state, there is no question of privacy. For purpose of Aadhaar if it is asked whether you (subscriber) have (an) illegitimate affair, then it is wholly irrelevant.”

In other developments in the case, Maharashtra on Thursday opposed the demand to make privacy a fundamental right, saying the question was debated at the time of drafting the Constitution and dropped.

Senior Counsel A Sundaram, who represented the state, said: “Privacy is a statutory right, a common law right and constitutionally recognised right, but not a fundamental right.”

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  1. R
    Reader
    Oct 9, 2017 at 8:10 am
    A centralized and inter-linked biometric database like Aadhaar will lead to profiling and self-censorship, endangering freedom. Personal data gathered under the Aadhaar program is prone to misuse and surveillance. Aadhaar project has created a vulnerability to identi-ty fraud, even identi-ty theft. Easy harvesting of biometrics traits and publicly-available Aadhaar numbers increase the risk of impersonation, especially online and banking fraud. Centralized databases can be hacked. Biometrics can be cloned, copied and reused. Thus, BIOMETRICS CAN BE FAKED. High-resolution cameras can capture your fingerprints and iris information from a distance. Every eye hospital will have iris images of its patients. So another person can clone your fingerprints and iris images without your knowledge, and the same can be used for authentication. If the Aadhaar scheme is NOT STOPPED by the Supreme Court, the biometric features of Indians will soon be cloned, misused, and even traded.
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    1. C
      Concerned
      Aug 10, 2017 at 3:36 pm
      s: wired /2013/01/biometrics/
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      1. C
        Concerned
        Aug 10, 2017 at 11:00 pm
        11 Body Parts Defense Researchers Will Use to Track You s: wired /2013/01/biometrics/
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      2. R
        Reader
        Aug 7, 2017 at 10:23 am
        Why the United Kingdom's biometrics-linked National Ident-ity Card project to create a centralized register of sensitive information about residents similar to Aadhaar was scrapped in 2010?? The reasons were the massive threat posed to the privacy of people, the possibility of a surveillance state, the dangers of maintaining such a huge centralized repository of sensitive information, and the purposes it could be used for, and the dangers of such a centralized database being hacked. The other reasons were the unreliability of such a large-scale biometric verification processes, and the ethics of using biometric identification.
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        1. R
          Reader
          Aug 7, 2017 at 10:22 am
          The US Social Security Number has no biometric details, no photograph, no physical description and no birth date. All it does is confirm that a particular number has been issued to a particular name. Instead, a driver's license or state ID card is used as an identification for adults.
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          1. R
            Reader
            Oct 9, 2017 at 8:13 am
            The US government DOES NOT collect the biometric details of its own citizens for the purpose of issuing Social Security Number. The US collects the fingerprints of only those citizens who are involved in any criminal activity (it has nothing to do with SSN), and the citizens of other countries who come to the US.
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            Robin Joseph
            Jul 30, 2017 at 7:09 pm
            Privacy is the g father ,dignity is the g mother, of all fundamental rights.How can we say to our g father to get out of the house and live in streets ? Religious and moral extremists is causing all obstructions and confusions in otherwise sacred cons ution.They want to regulate our uality, character , and thinking as if they are living inside our body.The grevious hurts caused by them includes child marriages deniel of including which resulted in increased rapes and insanity death punishments and killings etc. Now they want to stop as seeing the prones. Next will be stopping and mass sterilisation. I wonder why the judiciary has lost its backbone and brains to protect the privacy,dignity and free choice of its citizens and have become slaves of morality, religion and personal laws. The author of the above article is a highly ranked law student who wants to save this nation from the clutches of moral and religious extremists.
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