The Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2019, which allows voluntary use of Aadhaar as proof of identity to open bank accounts and procure mobile phone connections, was passed in the Rajya Sabha by a voice vote on Monday. Several parties, including the Trinamool Congress and DMK, opposed the legislation citing various reasons, including apprehensions over data theft and the lack of a data protection law.
The Bill, which was introduced on June 24 to replace an ordinance issued in March, was passed by the Lok Sabha on July 4.
It provides for a penalty of Rs 1 crore and a jail term for private entities in case of violation of provisions on Aadhaar data. It also gives children an option to exit the biometric ID programme on attaining 18 years of age.
Replying to a debate on the matter, Minister of Electronics and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad said Aadhaar was a foolproof system and over 123 crore people were currently using it in the country.
Allaying the Opposition’s fears on data leakages, Prasad said the Aadhaar system had enough safeguards to ensure privacy. Displaying his Aadhaar card in the House, the minister said it does not give out any information on his medical records or details of caste, religion and community.
Aadhaar data can only be shared if there is a threat to national security or a court order, Prasad said. “For banks, it needs 256-bit inscription and for Aadhaar data it is 2048-bit encryption, which is safe and secure and would not be breached,” Prasad said. The government has cancelled licences of around 50,000 Aadhaar centre operators for violations, he said.
Replying to Opposition charges that the Bill was brought to circumvent an SC order on the Aadhaar issue, Prasad said Parliament has the full right to formulate a new law. “This House and that House (Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha) have powers to undo a judgment by removing the basis of the judgment,” he said.
The minister said the data protection law was a “work in progress”. “We want to bring a comprehensive law. We have the Justice Srikrishna Committee report… we are further doing some consultation with stakeholders in this regard,” Prasad said.
The Justice Srikrishna Committee had submitted its report in July 2018.
Opposing the Bill, TKS Elangovan (DMK) alleged it has been “brought just to supersede the Supreme Court judgement. It is out of anger that the government has brought the Bill.”
YSR Congress member V Vijaysai Reddy pointed out various “loopholes”, but said his party is supporting it “out of compulsion”.
CPI’s Binoy Viswam said the data from Aadhaar would eventually reach the corporates. “We opposed it during the UPA rule and we are still opposed to it,” he said.
Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi questioned the government’s seriousness in bringing a law on data protection and said there was a “sinister” plan. “The government is avoiding data protection Act,” he alleged, saying that even the European Union has taken up protection of data seriously. He said there are several rights under the data protection law and Aadhaar is vulnerable in the absence of the right to data portability, right to object and right to erase.
Sukhendu Sekhar Ray of the Trinamool Congress expressed concern that the Bill has been brought without scrutiny by any Parliamentary panel. “This is the way the government is denigrating Parliament day by day,” he said.