The Supreme Court issued notice Friday to the Centre and the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) on a petition challenging amendments to the Aadhaar Act which, according to the petitioner, had reintroduced provisions that allow commercial exploitation of user data by “opening up the Aadhaar system to private entities”.
The bench of Chief Justice of India S A Bobde and Justice B R Gavai issued notice on the plea by Major General (retd) S G Vombatkere and activist Bezwada Wilson. The petition, filed through advocate Vipin Nair, challenged the Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Act, 2019 and the Aadhaar (Pricing of Aadhaar Authentication Services) Regulations, 2019.
The bench tagged it with another petition, also filed by Vombatkere and Wilson in July, that had challenged the Adhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 2019 and the Regulations. Notice had already been issued on the earlier petition.
The petitioners said “they fear the deleterious impact that the impugned Act will have on fundamental rights of citizens guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution, and for the security of personal data, which is imperiled by allowing private players access to it. Furthermore, due to the deeply flawed enrolment system to create the Aadhaar database, the information available with the 2nd Respondent (UIDAI) is unverified by any government agency and lacks integrity”.
“The purported utilization of the same for e-KYC and verification of identity for the use of services is manifestly arbitrary and compromises national security and the integrity of the financial system of the country,” the petitioners claimed.
The petition pointed out that the Supreme Court, while upholding the Aadhaar project in its September 2018 judgment, had ruled against private entities or corporations using Aadhaar authentication for any purpose, irrespective of whether such use is voluntary. It had also ensured that Aadhaar cannot form a basis for commercial exploitation by the state or private players.
The Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2019, was passed by Lok Sabha on July 4 this year and was passed by Rajya Sabha on July 8. Published in the Gazette on July 24, it was notified the next day.
“The impugned Act goes against this unequivocal restriction by opening up the Aadhaar system to private entities. This is constitutionally impermissible. Sections 6, 26 and 27 of the impugned Act effectively restore the offending provisions that were struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court,” the petition stated.
It also creates a new mode of verification through the Aadhaar system called “offline verification” which is “a mode of verification of identity without authentication, using offline systems,” the petition stated, adding “how this is to be done is not defined in the Aadhaar Act or the impugned Act”.
Also, under the new Section 4(7) of the Aadhaar Act, as introduced by the impugned Act, Parliament can make Aadhaar authentication mandatory for any purpose. “The impugned Regulations which were notified in March 2019 direct private entities to pay for the e-KYC and authentication services provided by the UIDAI. Through these regulations, the UIDAI expressly seeks to commercialise, and gain financially through, large-scale collection of the citizen’s private data and the use of Aadhaar database by private entities. This is impermissible under our Constitutional scheme,” the petitioners said.
They alleged that “Section 2(3) of the Aadhaar (Pricing) Regulations 2019, clearly demonstrates that the government, by arbitrarily setting enrolment targets and empowering itself to levy penalty charges on entities who can’t achieve those targets, is exercising coercion on Aadhaar enrolment registrars and on persons who do not have Aadhaar”.