Insights into Editorial: Aadhaar programme reduces a person to 12 digits, says Supreme Court Judge
Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Supreme court Judge, who wrote the lone dissenting opinion declaring Aadhaar unconstitutional, held that the unique identity scheme reduces a person to a 12-digit number.
Justice Chandrachud observed, “If the requirement of Aadhaar is made mandatory for every benefit or service which the government provides, it is impossible to live in contemporary India without Aadhaar.”
Today, Aadhaar is the world’s largest biometric and identity database with 122.56 Cr numbers issued to Indian citizens or persons living in India for more than 180 days. These have been used for around 2,322 Cr authentications.
Background: Origin of Aadhaar:
Following the report of the Kargil Review Committee, a Group of Ministers recommended a multipurpose National Identity Card.
Government announced in its National Common Minimum Programme that for sharp targeting of Government subsidies, a detailed roadmap would be unveiled.
In March 2006, the Government unveiled a plan for a “unique ID” (UID) for Below Poverty Line (BPL) families, to be implemented by the Ministry of Information Technology.
UIDAI was notified on January 22, 2009, in June, Nandan Nilekani, co-founder of Infosys, was appointed its first Chairman. The first 12-digit Aadhaar number was issued on September 29, 2010.
Finally, the Government passed a law in 2016, giving Aadhaar a legislative sanction.
Concern regarding the usage of Aadhaar:
When Aadhaar was seeded into every database, it becomes a bridge across discrete data silos, which allowed anyone with access to this information to re-construct a profile of an individual’s life.
The Judgement panel ruled the programme had merits, but struck down provisions in the act that made its use mandatory in applications for services ranging from bank accounts to mobile telephone connections and school admissions.
The court also ruled unconstitutional the use of Aadhaar by companies to establish an individual’s identity.
Supreme Court Judge pointed out that “Neither the Central government nor UIDAI have the source code for the deduplication technology which is at the heart of the programme. The source code belongs to a foreign corporation. UIDAI is merely a licensee”.
Sections of the Aadhaar Act that the Supreme Court struck down: (Sections 33(1), 33(2), 47, 57):
Section 33(1) which allows disclosure of information, including identity and authentication records, if ordered by a court not inferior to that of a District Judge. Individuals should be given the opportunity of a hearing.
Section 33(2) which allowed identity and authentication data to be disclosed in the interest of national security on direction of an officer not below the rank of Joint Secretary to the Government of India.
A Judicial Officer (preferably a sitting High Court Judge) should be associated with it and that the government should bring in legislation to this effect.
Section 47 which referred to cognizance of offences. Under this Section, no individual was allowed to file a complaint if he/she felt their data was leaked or misused.
The law only allowed the court to take cognizance of a complaint filed by UIDAI or anyone authorised by it.
Any individual will now be allowed to file a complaint if he/she feels their data has been compromised.
Section 57 refers to the use of Aadhaar data by any “body corporate or person” to establish the identity of an individual. It gives statutory support to mobile companies, private service providers to seek individuals’ Aadhaars for identification purposes.
Justice Sikri, in his judgment, found this section to be unconstitutional. It was under this provision that private companies like Paytm and Airtel Payments Bank sought Aadhaar details from customers.
Supreme Court: Majority Judgement Conclusions:
Supreme Court felt that the technology has become a vital tool for ensuring good governance in a welfare state.
Schemes such as PDS, scholarships, Mid-day Meals and LPG subsidies involve huge amount of money and Aadhaar helped welfare reach of the poor as a fool-proof mechanism.
Aadhaar upholds Aadhaar as a reasonable restriction on privacy. It fulfils Government’s aim to provide dignity to the marginalised.
Aadhaar unique ID cannot be duplicated, whereas, PAN, Ration Card can be duplicated. It upheld the passage of the Aadhaar Act as a Money Bill.
The authentication records should not be retained for more than 6 months. Archiving of records for five years is bad in law.
SC struck down Section 33 (2), which allowed the disclosure of Aadhaar information for national security reasons on the orders of an officer not below a Joint Secretary level.
Efficiency in governance could not steamroll fundamental freedoms.
If so, there was a danger of a society crossing the line which divided democracy from authoritarian cultures.
However, the other side of argument that, it does not violate the Right to Privacy of the citizens, instead it empowers marginalized sections and procures dignity for them along with services, benefits and subsidies by leveraging the power of technology.
The Supreme Court restored the original intent of the Programme to plug leakages in subsidy schemes and to have better targeting of welfare benefits.
The judgment narrows the scope of Aadhaar, but provides a framework within which it can work.
The majority judgment also says Aadhaar Act passes the “triple test” laid down by the ‘Privacy’ judgment, under which there ought to be a law, a legitimate state interest and an element of proportionality in any law that seeks to abridge the Right to Privacy.