TECHNOLOGY is a “very powerful tool” that enables mass surveillance, the Supreme Court said on Thursday, and referred to the Cambridge Analytica controversy to underline how data is being misused even to win elections.
“You can’t deny that technology is a powerful tool that enables surveillance,” Justice D Y Chandrachud, who is part of a five-judge bench hearing a batch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the Aadhaar Act, told UIDAI counsel Rakesh Dwivedi.
The remarks came when Dwivedi said that Aadhaar was not required for the government if it really wanted to do surveillance and that it would employ other means. “No government needs Aadhaar for surveillance… If the government wants to do, it will do without Aadhaar,” he said.
The bench also referred to the testimony of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg before the US Congress and said “you open the newspapers every day and see reports of how elections in even some of the most powerful nations were influenced”.
Dwivedi countered this saying that was Facebook data and that it was “inapt” to compare it with UIDAI’s work. Answering questions on why UIDAI was storing metadata of users, he said “it was only limited data solely for the purpose of authentication”.
He said UIDAI does not have access to data that would help it keep a tab on the movements of users. The requesting entity only sends the request for authentication to Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR) and no other information is sent, he contended. “UIDAI neither has the tools to track users nor is it empowered by the law to do so,” he said, and referred to provisions in the Aadhaar Act that make sharing of personal information of users a punishable offence.
“The Act does not preclude you (UIDAI) from employing such a technology,” the bench said. “Yes it does,” replied Dwivedi.
The bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and also comprising Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar and Ashok Bhushan red-flagged certain provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and rules made under it, and asked the Centre how bank accounts could be made inoperational if they are not linked to Aadhaar.
“The question is does PMLA authorise you to lay down such a penal provision? The answer is no,” Justice Chandrachud told Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.
Mehta insisted that the rules, once approved by Parliament, become law. He added that the “consequences” were merely an “ancillary” to “non-compliance” of the rules.
“PMLA’s Rule 9 (4) has been challenged by the petitioners on the ground of proportionality,” the top court said, adding “what is the need to make Aadhaar compulsory when there are other officially valid documents available?”