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Insights into Editorial: Aadhaar and the Right to Privacy

Insights into Editorial: Aadhaar and the Right to Privacy

Recently, the Supreme Court of India refused simultaneous applications by multiple agencies demanding relief from the Supreme Court’s interim order limiting the use of Aadhaar pending the Court’s final decision. The court has referred these government applications to a constitutional bench. With this, on one side the court has assured Indians that a decision on their fundamental rights will not be long delayed and on the other side it has increased pressure on the government.

The court has asked the government to address the most basic questions in a democracy governed by the law: what are the privacy rights of its citizens; and are they protected equally, with the same justice for the rich and the poor alike?

What has been the government saying?aadhar

  • The Government of India (GoI) has repeatedly been saying that it is the government’s position that Indian citizens have no constitutional right of privacy.
  • It argues that the poor, whose welfare is at stake in the continuance of subsidy payments and other benefits, must be prepared to surrender their right of privacy, if any, in order to continue receiving benefits.

How these arguments are being seen?

  • These arguments were sharply rejected by the supreme court, which recognises that the poor have the same rights as the rich in any democratic society.
  • The government’s stand may give rise to the doubt whether it is truly committed to protecting its citizens from violations of their privacy by the unauthorised use of information provided by them.

Why there is a need to protect citizen information?

  • Identifying citizens for providing various services, maintaining security and crime-related surveillance and performing governance functions, all involve the collection of information. In recent years, owing to technological developments and emerging administrative challenges, several national programmes and schemes are being implemented through information technology platforms, using computerised data collected from citizens.
  • With more and more transactions being done over the Internet, such information is vulnerable to theft and misuse. Therefore, it is imperative that any system of data collection should factor in privacy risks and include procedures and systems to protect citizen information.

What should the government do?

  • Instead of arguing that privacy is not a fundamental right, it should assure the court that it has the technology and systems to protect the data collected.
  • It should assure the citizens of India that it will do everything possible to prevent unauthorised disclosure of or access to such data.
  • It should recognise all dimensions of the right to privacy and address concerns about data safety, protection from unauthorised interception, surveillance, use of personal identifiers and bodily privacy.
  • The data controller should be made accountable for the collection, processing and use to which data are put.

Conclusion:

The government’s most basic obligation is to protect its citizens’ rights — both their right to sustenance and their right to the privacy that enables freedom — equally. It should recognise both the need for Aadhaar and the need for stringent rules concerning access to and security of citizens’ biometric data, in order to preserve their privacy. The Constitution does not specify ‘right to privacy’ as a fundamental right, but the law on the subject has evolved considerably in India, and privacy is now seen as an ingredient of personal liberty.