Amid opposition over concerns regarding privacy, the Lok Sabha on Thursday passed a Bill that will allow the voluntary use of Aadhaar as proof of identity for opening bank accounts and procuring mobile phone numbers.
The Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2019, was passed by a voice vote following assurances from Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad that there were ample safeguards against the misuse of data by government or private entities, and that Aadhaar would remain voluntary.
Once passed by the Rajya Sabha, the Bill will replace an ordinance issued in March.
“The proposed amendment is strictly in compliance with the Supreme Court’s order. It is completely voluntary. The voluntary nature of compliance is based upon the consent of the owner of Aadhaar. The private entities are exempted from taking any biometrics, Aadhaar number, etc and if they do, they can go to jail and a penalty of Rs 1 crore can also be imposed subsequently. Therefore, all these safeguards, whereby they are prohibited from violating the regime, have been in place,” Prasad said.
On the issue of privacy, which was raised by several opposition members, Prasad said, “The amendments address the privacy and security concerns. It provides that no service or benefit of any scheme will be denied for lack of Aadhaar.”
Some members had raised the issue of the right to be forgotten. In reply, Prasad said, “The right to be forgotten is a concept which flows from the data protection laws… But we need to also acknowledge that the right to be forgotten is a concept which is still evolving. The norms are still to be concretised globally.”
He later assured the house that a Data Protection Law would be brought in and that it was a “work in progress”.
To assuage the fears of data misuse, Prasad displayed his own card in the House and said it only discloses his name, his father’s name, his date of birth, his residential address, and does not give out any information about medical records or details of his caste, religion and community.
The minister said Aadhaar data can only be shared when there is a threat to national security or if there is a court order. “Even if I, as an Information Technology Minister, seek Aadhaar data, I will be subject to three years of punishment,” Prasad said.
Opposing the Bill, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Leader of the Congress in the House, said the Supreme Court had criticised the government for violating privacy in Aadhaar. He said, “Aapne Aadhaar udhaar liya hai (You have loaned the concept of Aadhaar, referring to the UPA).” In response, Prasad, also the Law Minister, said the NDA government gave legal status to Aadhaar.
Other Opposition members who opposed the Bill included Asaduddin Owaisi (AIMIM), Ram Mohan Naidu Kinjarapu (TDP) and N K Premachandran (RSP), who alleged the government was seeking to benefit private entities through the legislation. Premachandran also demanded that the Bill be sent to the Standing Committee or the Select Committees of Parliament.
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