Millennium Post

Aadhaar is legal

The Supreme Court on Wednesday delivered its verdict on the legal standing of Aadhaar and said that the unique identification number given to the citizens is constitutionally valid, paving the way for making Aadhaar mandatory for availing benefits and subsidies under different social welfare schemes. The apex court, however, rejected the tendency to make Aadhaar mandatory by service providers such as banks, mobile companies, and educational institutes. The court also scrapped the practice of private companies using Aadhaar to establish the identity of their employees. The clause that permitted a Joint Secretary-rank official to authorise security agencies to get Aadhaar-related information has also been cancelled. The five-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said in its verdict that approved the Aadhaar law by a 4:1 majority, "There is a legitimate goal and requirement to have the Aadhaar law." Justice DY Chandrachud delivered a dissenting judgment and called the Aadhaar law, passed as a money bill in Parliament, "a fraud on the Constitution". Both Congress and BJP welcomed the court verdict and said that their stand was vindicated. "It is a historic order'... Aadhaar's concept has been accepted after judicial review," said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. Congress called the court verdict a slap on the government's face and said that the court has appreciated the idea of Aadhaar and retained its core features. The petitions seeking clarity on the legal status of the Aadhaar law mainly raised the privacy issues associated with the unique number identification mechanism, which collects biometric data of the citizens and offers a unique identification number. In August 2017, the Supreme Court had ruled that the individual privacy is a guaranteed fundamental right in the Constitution. In March 2018, the Supreme Court had expressed concerns over possible misuse of Aadhaar authentication data.

Aadhaar was launched by the UPA government in 2009 as a new identification mechanism for the citizens which would also be used in disbursing government benefits and ensure that the benefits reach the intended person without any interface with local officials. Aadhaar was conceived as a full-proof mechanism to remove the element of corruption in disbursing government funds. Though the Supreme Court order makes it optional to provide a copy of Aadhaar to open bank accounts, those expected to receive government funds or subsidies will need to have their Aadhaar number linked with their bank accounts. The government says it saves nearly Rs 90,000 crore every year by routing individual subsidies and other social welfare benefits through Aadhaar. Using Aadhaar also helps the government ensure that the benefits reach the bonafide person without anyone seeking a cut to release the funds. But for those who do not receive such government subsidies and benefits, Aadhaar was becoming a problem. First, a person who wants an Aadhaar number has to share personal and biological data such as phone number, fingerprint, and photograph with the agency that generates Aadhaar number, UIDAI. In today's digitalised world, these are crucial information that can be used by fraudsters and vested interests in many ways -- from banking frauds to linking someone with illegal activities. Despite the claims of UIDAI that Aadhaar data is safe and free from manipulation, hacking experts and data journalists often pointed it out that the Aadhaar data is not all that safe and that it can be hacked and misused. The second problem that the people confront with regard to Aadhaar is that from banks to mobile companies, every organisation is now seeking the Aadhaar number to offer their services. This causes unnecessary strain for the Aadhaar-holders besides exposing the Aadhaar data including the phone number of the person to business entities from where the data can be copied, transferred or stolen.

Now, the Supreme Court has made it clear that banks, mobile companies as well as educational institutions cannot demand Aadhaar for availing their services. But those who want to avail of government schemes will have to have an Aadhaar and also linked to bank accounts. As per reports, there are 122 crore people having Aadhaar in the country. This number is much higher than the total number of people on the voters' list or with the voter cards. So, as far as providing an identity proof is concerned, Aadhaar has reached out to a large number of people and helped them have an official identity. Now, this system needs to be strengthened with the adequate safety of the data and by removing the chances of misuse by making it necessary where it is not. Let it be a clean system with specified goals. And, the Supreme Court in its verdict on Wednesday has done exactly that. While it has taken note of the merits of having an Aadhaar for disbursing government benefits, it has made it optional to provide Aadhaar details for other services.

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